Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
I love cover songs. I find that there are several sorts of covers. The low hanging fruit is the cover that is faithful to the original, but probably not done quite as well, often due to the talents of the vocalist. An example: Miley Cyrus’s cover of “Heart of Glass.” It’s fine, but Cyrus is not Debbie Harry. My favorite type of cover is when an artist brings their own signature style to a familiar song. Marilyn Manson is particularly good at this sort of cover. He does not try to be Annie Lennox; he makes “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” a Marilyn Manson song, while still keeping faithful to the original song’s mood and structure.
What does this have to do with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Because there is the rare cover that takes an original song, reworks it in a different style, and the new version become what is thought of as the standard. The most notable example of this is the song “Tainted Love.” Pretty much everyone knows the Soft Cell 1981 cover, but fewer people are familiar with the 1964 song (released as a B-side) by Gloria Jones.
Blade Runner, the 1982 film, is the Soft Cell cover: well-known enough to have spawned sequel novels, a sequel film, short films, comics, an animated series, and an upcoming limited series. Far fewer people have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the 1968 novel by Philip K. Dick. And the two are more different than versions of “Tainted Love.”
Blade Runner. The term is never used in the novel. In fact (according to Wikipedia), The Bladerunner is a novel by Alan E. Nourse (about a dystopian society in which comprehensive health care is provided under eugenics laws). That novel was adapted into a screenplay by William S. Burroughs. The eventual screenwriter for Do Androids Dream . . ., Hampton Fancher, had a copy of the Burroughs treatment and thought the title was a good one.
Rick Deckard, Roy Baty, Pris, Rachel. These characters exist in both, but are fairly different. In general only the bare-bones of the plot make it to the movie: Deckard is a cop whose job it is to hunt down androids (never called replicants in the book) who have come to Earth and “retire” them. In the book, the pressures of wanting a better life for his wife—in the form of class status—overwhelms Deckard’s growing doubts about whether androids are people too (or whether he’s no better than an android). In the movie, Roy becomes the voice for these thoughts. In the book, Roy’s the mastermind, but is never given much to do. The female androids are a much bigger deal, mainly because Deckard’s attractions to them get in the way. Pris and Rachel are, in the book, duplicates of the same model.
Mercerism. Mercerism is absent from the films. Empathy is a big deal in the novel and Mercerism is this sort of new tech religion based on connecting with Mercer, a man who toils continually up a hill while being pelted with rocks. The whole human race can seemingly come together via communing with Mercer and his plight. Androids, of course, feel no empathy (maybe?) and cannot partake of the religion.
Electric Sheep. Faux animals provide a plot clue the 1982 Blade Runner and there are several comments in passing about the cost of real animals. In the book, there is a very middle class, keep-up-with-the-Jonses kind of pressure to own a real animal, which honestly give the novel too much of a 60s feel for me. On the plus side, real animals are given an almost religiously protected status, which makes the empathy test questions make sense .
Voigt-Kampff test. One of the few things that is lifted nearly word for word from the book are the Voigt-Kampff questions (Voight-Kampff in the movie). In the context of the book when presented with the scenario of “you’re given a calf-skin wallet” and the response is “I’d report them,” it’s because making something so frivolous as a wallet from an animal is illegal and immoral. In the movie, the questions serve as a slightly confusing bit of world building. Which is fine, not everything needs to be explained.
In general, though, I found the novel to be a product of its time. It’s big on ideas, fuzzy on details, and lacking in characterization. It is nice to know that Dick, who was dubious of Hollywood, was fairly positive about the movie adaptation. I can’t say I felt as immersed in Dick’s world as I have in Blade Runner or Blade Runner 2049 (2017), which is a shame for book. It’s certainly a case of liking the cover better than the original.