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Published January 16, 2013

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a classic piece of science fiction and the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner, although the book is quite a bit different from the movie. It wrestles with an issue that is still very relevant today: the ever thinning boundary between human and machine. 

It is the year 2021 in San Francisco and most life on Earth has been wiped out after a devastating nuclear war. Most people have emigrated to Mars at the urging of the government to start a new life with complementary android servants: those left behind have either degenerated from exposure to the radioactive dust or are forced to stay as a result of their jobs. One such unlucky employee is Rick Deckard: a bounty hunter whose job is to "retire" androids, or andys that have escaped from their owners. This is done in the same manner that people are "retired"- guns, or in this case, laser guns. Recently he's been presented with an incredible challenge: hunt down 6 Nexus-6 type androids, the most advanced android ever created (and very hard to kill). These androids pass easily as bouncers, policemen, and even opera singers. 

Rick's moral justification for retiring androids-and indeed the moral justification of most humans left on Earth-is that they are incapable of empathy and fundamentally inhuman. An android will not attempt to help another android in distress if it does not reap some benefit by doing so. To Rick and many others there's something evil about a creature that has no empathy but mimics humans almost perfectly. In fact, the Nexus 6 models are so lifelike that the only ways one can detect them are through a bone marrow or empathy test. The empathy test, otherwise known as the Voight-Kampff test, measures the autonomic responses (blushing, pupil dilation, etc.) of the subject to inquiries about forbidden subjects such as eating dog, animal cruelty, and owning prohibited substances. A human will have consistent and uncontrollable reactions to these questions; an android either has delayed responses or no response at all.

Rick is comfortable with his job, if not with his life; living on a gradually dying planet has taken an obvious toll on all of the characters in this book. He owns an electric sheep that he tends regularly (he used to have a live one) as animal keeping is considered near sacred in the aftermath of the war and widely encouraged. His wife Iran is a despondent housewife who spends most of her time watching TV and toying with a device called a mood organ: a machine that can induce any emotion in the user. It's a regular routine that's comfortable for him until he starts falling for one of the very androids he's supposed to kill.

You should love this book because not only is it a classic work and the inspiration for Blade Runner, it's actually a good read. As mentioned before, this is quite a bit different from Blade Runner, but that doesn't make it a bad book. There are numerous themes not mentioned here that compliment the main plot beautifully - modern-day constructed religions, TV shows that somehow air all day, a repairshop for electric animals that poses as a veterinary office - all highlighting how difficult it is for humans to grasp what is truly genuine. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one book every card-carrying science fiction fan should own. 

I'm a Goonswarm diplomat who loves frigates and fast tackle. Find me on Reddit as AldaniToralen or on Twitter @Aldani_Toralen
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Del Rey
Price: $9.75