Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"It's too bad she won't live...but then again, who does?"

The point of similarity I've found for my blog entry tonight may seem like a minor one in terms of relevance to both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and The Girl Who Was Plugged In, but I think it sheds a great deal of light into the minds of both authors: death. As funny as it looks in print, death is an important part of life. A lot of people spend a lot of time worrying about how they're going to die or where or what happens afterwards.

Not so with our authors this week. Dick spends the majority of his novel downplaying death to a large degree. Sure, there's some good description of Deckard shooting a replicant in the head, as seen on page 82. But the fact of the matter is that Decakrd couldn't really care less that he'd just taken a 'life'. He is primarily concerned with money, and is quite pleased that he'd just made a quick grand -- "Anyhow I made myself a thousand dollars just now, he informed himself. So it was worth it." (82). While this lends a lot to the reader in terms of establishing Deckard as an android-esque bounty hunter, motivated not by a feeling of duty or resentment but rather the desire for cash, it also showcases Dick's lack of fear in terms of dying or dealing death.

Throughout the last half of the novel, there is a lot of anxiety built up towards Deckard's final confrontation with the Batys and Pris. We see Deckard struggle with the concept of taking an android life, as he begins to ponder if the androids are really any different. First, it is hinted at: "He entered the elevator and together they moved nearer to God. 'I had to buy this,' he said. 'Something went wrong, today; something about retiring them. It wouldn't have been possible for me to go on without getting an animal.'" (149) And then it's presented much more overtly -- "Rachel said, 'Or we could live in sin, except that I'm not alive.' 'Legally you're not. But you really are. Biologically. You're not made out of transistorized circuits like a false animal; you're an organic entity.'" (173) It becomes quite clear that through Rachael, Deckard is beginning to feel for the androids. This notion, though mentioned often in the novel, will not be as important to Deckard as one may think.

If anyone has seen the film that this novel was based on, Blade Runner, then you know that the last twenty or thirty minutes of the film are Deckard's showdown with Roy Baty. Not so in the novel - it takes Deckard all of 3 pages (seriously, that's it) to kill the last three androids. Deckard guns them down and that's that. Sure, he's a little screwed up over it right out of the gate (though maybe it's the loss of his goat), but it's nothing that isn't fixed by the time he goes home and sleeps. The focus of Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is life. Any natural life is celebrated - real animals are revered as status symbols and bought and sold at high prices that are haggled over not unlike buying a car, where fake ones are a source of shame, androids are forced into subservient labor roles, and real humans use the empathy box to feel what they can't dial in on their mood organs - a feat which separates them from the 'unfeeling' lack of life the androids possess.

Tiptree touches on some of the same points in The Girl Who Was Plugged In. In the world Tiptree creates, nothing can be absolutely considered real anymore - not the people you're talking to, not your concept of what advertising is, and certainly not death. We see that the character of Delphi is not actually Delphi, but rather Philadelphia Burke, a hideous creature with no centralized nervous system, bulbous and fat. Wholly unattractive. What's more important, however, is that the protagonist, upon seeing this mass that is P. Burke, promptly kills it, without really intending to, but kills it all the same. Try as they might to let Paul know what he's just done, the doctors' efforts are wasted, as he simply brushes off killing Delphi's consciousness as nothing major.

What's the most telling towards what I'm trying to point out in this blog entry is that Delphi's death is fairly glossed over. She babbles on, saying "Goodbye" quite a bit, and then she's dead. Paul, you would imagine, is pretty torn up about it, but that's glossed over very quickly. Fast forward. Paul's a bigwig for FTX and - get this - Delphi lives again. Death isn't really death in this world.

Science fiction is a medium through which authors and filmmakers often attempt to take modern-day problems and show how they are dealt with in futuristic societies. Arguably, most people don't want to die. It's only natural, then, that sci fi should have some sort of aversion towards death -- towards making it not


Adam Johns said...

I'm not sure how I want to respond. Possibly because I think you're right, and don't have all that much to add.

One beginning nitpick: you say that that the book was based on the movie (which may have been a typo), but it _is_ actually the reverse: the book was written almost 15 years before the movie. That matters, actually: death is much more real and central (for Baty, it's profund at the end of the movie) in the movie than in the book.

Why? Is it because Hollywood is death-oriented, driven by Freud's thanatos? Or does it have something to do with the historical moment, with the 60s being life-oriented and the 80s being death-oriented?

Your analysis of _why_ these texts make death out to be something small is compelling - but why, then, is death so absolutely central to the movie?

My nasty thought: this all has to do with PKD's analysis of the schizophrenic society. They suffer from a flattening of affect (indifference to death, including our own) because in their world that's the only way to survive. Possibly he thinks that's where we're heading...

I'm less sure what to do with Tiptree on death, though - you might check out Nik's discussion of Haraway and Tiptree there. That seems related.

Emily said...

I, also, don’t know what to say in away. Not only does the Science Fiction genre have aversions towards death but so does today’s medical and engineering society. Sci-Fi futuristic society is actually today’s society.

In Bio-Engineering we are constantly designing new instruments that can improve life span; thus delaying death. For example, there is currently research going on about growing an organ for organ transplants. Here, scientist use the patients own cells to grow the organ that would then be used for that particular patients own organ transplant. If this procedure takes off, there would be a decrease in names on the organ transplant list, thus, increasing life span in those patients.

Being able to transplant a generated organ into a human body would be absurd if mentioned in the past. Furthermore, since the organ was never really part of a human body, would the patient that receives this lab grown organ be considered an android since they are not fully ‘human’ anymore? I think the future of androids living on earth is closer than we think.