Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Page Turners: Do androids dream of electric sheep?

Friday 8 December---the PT meeting
It was fabulous to finally read this book. I read it while travelling and very much enjoyed it. Inevitably, I compared it with what I remembered of the film Bladerunner. To me, it seemed as though the book contained a whole lot more depth, particularly about the post-apocalyptic society.

The motive of the main character, a bounty hunter (Rick Deckard), is to kill androids in order to make the bounty payment . . . so he can purchase a real live animal. In this society, animals have been driven almost to extinction by (one assumes radioactive) 'dust'. Animals are purchased via 5-year plans, with exorbitant prices listed in a market price catalogue. Rick and his wife have a (secretly) fake electronic sheep, which is shameful. All he wants is a real animal---they are a status symbol in this society, but also seem to be indicative of one's responsibility to 'take care of an animal'. I found this scenario fascinating.

A key theme in this book is empathy. The characters use 'empathy boxes' to have shared religious experiences/hallucinations about a guy called Mercer, who evidently could bring animals back to life. (This is never satisfactorily explained.) An 'empathy test' is used to distinguish androids from human. Rick begins to suspect he has empathy for the androids he's supposed to kill . . . The androids themselves have a profound lack of empathy. In fact, one of them (Rachel) tries to play Rick into falling in love with her, only to reveal that her aim was to prevent him from ever being able to kill androids. It's a tactic she's used before . . .

The basic plot is the same as Bladerunner: androids escape their offworld masters, and are hunted down by Rick Deckard.

It interested me that others in the PT group didn't like it as much as I. Some found it cram packed with too many ideas, too influenced by PK Dick's drug history and five wives, too confusing to have meaning, somewhat puerile and adolescent, full of plot holes that are not believable.

While I agree with some of these comments, my overwhelming impression was positive. I found the ideas and character journeys so very interesting.

I particularly liked one observation that the book is about 'entropy'---it's about the decay of everything to the lowest state of order . . . animals, humans, even stuff (which manifests as 'kipple').

Another observation was that perhaps the androids seemed lacking in empathy because of the way they had been treated. . . However, this doesn't explain Rachel's behaviour, nor the androids' attitudes towards the 'chicken head', John Issidore.

We seemed to agree that the androids are rather too easily killed at the end, but that this is a major point of difference between humans and android: humans keep fighting and have hope, whereas the androids seem to just give up in the end and accept the inevitable.

Thursday 14 December---the movie
Some of us gathered to watch Bladerunner. I was itching to see it again! As remembered, the plot is essentially the same, if a bit simplified. A major difference between them is the depiction of the society. The depiction of LA is a huge contributing element to the movie's success. It's visually stunning. But the main image---that of an over-crowded city that's always dark and gloomy and raining---is totally different from the book. In the novel, the city (of San Fran) is almost deserted by those escaping the dust. It's bleak, but not gloomy. The animal theme is retained in the movie, but it's not really explained. Empathy, however, doesn't rate a mention.

Another major difference is in the main character. In Bladerunner, Deckard is little more than an action hero. His motivations are (IMHO) somewhat unclear. He is a retired cop summoned back because he's the best. In the book, on the other hand, Rick is only really 'second best', granted the opportunity to go after the androids because his senior has been injured. He's insecure, world-weary, and only driven by the bounty reward which will allow him to get an animal and make his wife happy. At one stage he thinks he's going to give it all up, only to be turned by Rachel's actions (which have the reverse effect than she intended).

One aspect of the movie I liked more than the book: the motivation of the androids (or 'replicants' as they are in the movie). They had very motivation little in the book; but in the movie, they are seeking their maker in order to prolong their lives. Much more believable and poignant also.

I think that's enough of a rant about this one. We now have a few months of free reading! I am currently reading Eragon.

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