Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep takes an interesting stance on what being “human” truly means. Androids, near replications of biological humans, walk the earth in Phillip K. Dick’s novel, with the plot focusing on eight of the robots that have escaped after killing their human masters. These machines blend in so easily with humans, that a special “empathy test” must be administered to determine their identity. This difficulty to discern who within the story is human, and what qualifies a being to be human, are central to not only D.A.D.E.S. but also to the science fiction genre as a whole. Brian Aldiss, a Grand Master of science fiction, described the genre as the “search for the definition of mankind,” and characteristically “Gothic”. Although the source of the novel’s horror may not be conventional, it certainly apparent, as well as a unique and powerful view on humanity.
Terror within the story of Deckard’s android hunt comes from many different factors. The most apparent of these is the fact that the new Nexus-6 androids are “more adroit than [their] master”, and “surpassed several classes of human specials in terms of intelligence,” (Dick 19). Although Deckard seems to have success in using the Voigt-Kampff scale, the androids continue to show their ability to mimic the empathetic reactions that it searches for, albeit with a slight lag that eventually gets them “retired” (Dick 38). Earth is slowly becoming invaded by beings that look, talk, and act like humans, all of which are fugitives due to the slayings of their human masters. Throughout the novel, they are constantly referred to as having no empathy for neither other androids nor humans. Deckard even goes as far as to call them “solitary predators” and that they accurately represent “The Killers” from the teachings of Mercerism (Dick 22). This fear of invasion by a nonhuman force is a large factor in the horror present in the novel, although it is not the only source. Another aspect of Gothic horror throughout the novel is simply through the everyday lives of the human characters. Emotions, although they are the one thing androids cannot have, are taken for granted by humans so much so that they manufacture them through “mood organs”, experiencing everything from “self-accusatory depression” to “ecstatic sexual bliss” with the turn of a dial (Dick 3). People left on Earth live in such fear of radiation altering their genes that they wear heavy, lead codpieces over their genitals, as well as the possibility that they may test below a certain IQ threshold, a be reduced to a “chickenhead”. Not only does this bar them from ever emigrating from the now-Hell that is Earth, but they will be scorned for the rest of their lives (Dick 13). The torture that humans go through every day as a result of World War Terminus is yet another aspect of Gothic horror within the novel.
Throughout the story, a hard line is drawn between androids and humans, but through the accounts of Deckard and Isidore, it certainly does not always appear that way. From the opening chapter, it can be seen that humans have become more and more desensitized to their emotions, something that, along with empathy, they uphold as a religion with Mercerism. Deckard constantly reiterates that androids cannot feel these emotions, commenting, “An android… could make no sense out of the fusion which took place routinely among followers of Mercerism,” but yet he relies on his mood organ simply to get out of bed in the morning and drag himself to work (Dick 21). Later, after Deckard has joined forces with Phil Resch, he questions how Resch can be a human when he kills Garland and Luba on the earliest suggestion of permission and with a subtle kind of enjoyment, even after Resch passes the Voigt-Kampff test (Dick 88). Deckard also reveals that he gives empathetic responses to female androids, buys a gift for Luba Luft with his own money, and even expresses to Resch that he was sexually attracted to Luba Luft in some capacity. To his surprise, Resch consoles Deckard, explaining to him he once felt the same way and saying, “You wanted to go to bed with a female type of android – nothing more, nothing less,”(Dick 87). The lines the dictate what is typically android or human behavior is obviously not as clear as it is made out to be by law enforcement agencies, empathy tests, and even bounty hunters like Deckard. Even the android called Garland, who in the same speech denies that androids possess any form of empathy, admits that they cooperate with one another in running a fake police agency on Mission Street (Dick 78). Later still, when Isidore meets Pris’ friends, Roy and Irmgard, he observes Pris crying and her and Irmgard embracing, and they then discuss the state of affairs as if all the androids care for one another, just like a group of humans (Dick 99).
As Deckard and Isidore’s experiences show, D.A.D.E.S. shows aspects of humanity from two different sides: the biological humans who are losing touch with themselves, and the androids that every day become more and more like “true” humans. The humans hold empathy in such high regard, they come to build a religion from it with Mercerism, while androids are concerned primarily with survival and logical thinking. Still, the androids come to learn to care for one another, showing that they too have the capacity to become “human”. The novel’s definition of humanity as being linked solely to empathy and emotions comes together with the Gothic horror of an android invasion and the intense radiation of a hellish Earth to meet Aldiss’ requirements for true science fiction, showing Phillip K. Dick as a “Grand Master” in his own right.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? London: Millennium, 1999. Print.
"The Locus Index to Science Fiction Awards: Index of Literary Nominees." LocusMag.com. Locus Publications. Web. 16 Sept. 2013.