Do you remember the movie BLADE RUNNER? My brothers do. My dad even does. I don’t. My nerd cred is apparently on the line here. But, with a fresh perspective all-around, why not begin with the novel and then move on to the 117-minute cult classic film?
Philip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? is the 1968 impetus for the 1982 SF film BLADE RUNNER. The Earth is post WWT (World War Terminal). Radio active fallout has sent most of the human population into space and most of the animal population into extinction.
To assist the new space colonists, each is granted an android. As the android technology grows more advanced, humans become less and less able to distinguish a well-made android from a member of their own species…which is around the time androids begin to kill their owners and escape to Earth, the near empty wasteland. It’s the bounty-hunters’ job to “retire” these rogue electronic components (if they’ll hold still long enough to be tested for humanity).
The author employs several world-building techniques in his novel to advantage.
* The “mood organ” (a machine by which a character can dial-up the emotion he wants to have)
* The “empathy box” (how the characters connect with the predominant religious icon, Mercer)
* The prevalent social requirement of caring for at least one animal
* Because androids cannot exhibit empathy, a test involving empathic questions is used to determine a person’s humanity
* Centers around empathy and universal acceptance
* The minds/emotions of participants are melded during their time holding onto their empathy box
* Prominent religious figure is Mercer, a man walking a repeat path of doom and redemption shared by his followers
* Humans are at the top. Yet, to preserve their species, they must flee their home world, but not all willingly leave.
* Animals are the second priority of the full humans. They’ve become so rare that, each month, a new book is issued with each species’ updated value. Yet, every human must own and care for an animal to maintain any social standing.
* Third fall the “specials.” These are humans so effected by the radioactive dust on Earth that they cannot reproduce a healthy human. They are not allowed to marry or immigrate off-planet. Most often, they are institutionalized because of illness or reduction in IQ.
* Last are the androids. They have no legal standing. Though bionic, they are not considered “alive.”
Much of the lessons taught by ANDROIDS DREAM are lost in the author’s insistence on humor and irony throughout his novel. It’s difficult to take his characters’ seriously, when he doesn’t appear to. For such complex world-building, the individual personalities are two-dimensional, especially that of his protagonist, the android bounty hunter.
On its own, BLADE RUNNER is mid twentieth-century noir mystery complicated by a science fiction setting. The humor of ANDROIDS DREAM is completely absent. Even the music is unexpectedly dark – slow noir saxophone, electronically influenced easy-listening, and of Eastern Earth culture. These complement the empty, rainy urban streets as the gumshoe and his femme fatale tramp through allies, bazaars, and abandoned buildings picking up clues to the whereabouts of rogue androids. The look and feel of the film is a sophisticated combination that continues to influence today’s anime and other visualization.
BLADE RUNNER comes at the story from two points-of-view, instead of the novel’s single one. In the movie, the android-hunter is divorced, not married. He is retired, not active-duty. His employment status changes when the police force him to track Earth’s most recent illegal immigrants.
The other perspective is that of the androids. They have returned to Earth to find their designer. Androids have built into them a failsafe limiting their lifespan to four years. Having won their freedom, the ambitious androids have no intention of dying in the few days that are left of their four-years of life.
Pulp SF compared to modern tech timeline:
2015 – I am publishing this article
2016 – Androids which can mimic human emotions are predicted to be manufactured
2019 – The androids are hunted on the radioactive Earth
BLADE RUNNER is both more and less emotionally deep than ANDROIDS DREAM. The movie digs much further into the triggers of the detective, whereas the book made him appear shallow and self-serving. Partly, he is more appealing in the movie, because he is single, played by Harrison Ford (Han Solo from Star Wars), and falls in love with an android regardless of prevailing social prejudices. The novel does not expound on what the androids wanted at all or what their goals might have been, lending more value to BLADE RUNNER as a companion to Philip K. Dick’s original work.
Simultaneously, much is overlooked in the film. The religious overtones of ANDROIDS DREAM are missing – Mercer and the empathy box. The social requirement for every household to own and properly care for one non-robotic animal is also left out, negating the impact of some of the Are-you-an-android? test questions. Losing the animal angle meant reassigning the mentally impaired character from the role of driver for a fake animal repair service in the literary work to a savant of genetic engineering in the visual media.
Where does the term “blade runner” arise? It is not in ANDROIDS DREAM. In the movie, blade runner is the common slang for an android bounty hunter. No source for this vocabulary is provided.
I cannot recall a movie differing from its book so greatly before. It is almost as if the stories are two different ones in a similar world, just separated along a timeline. The technology looks different. The language barriers are different. The social morays are different. Reading ANDROIDS DREAM and watching BLADE RUNNER together is an experience more so than an act of leisure, because familiarity with one does not grant knowledge of the other.
But, the story doesn’t end here. With permission of Philip K. Dick, K. W. Jeter wrote three authorized sequels to the original Do ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? novel.