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Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982. American writer Briefly a school classmate of Ursula K. Le Guin Wrote 36 novels and 5 books of short stories between 1952 and 1982

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Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

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philip k dick 1928 1982
Philip K. Dick, 1928-1982
  • American writer
  • Briefly a school classmate of Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Wrote 36 novels and 5 books of short stories between 1952 and 1982
  • Mental disturbances, incl. dreams and hallucinations, influenced his fiction; also religious and philosophical works he read
  • Has had at least 9 films based on his works, with more to come, but none was released within his lifetime
  • An award for the best SF paperback book of the year is named after him
dick on his writing 1978 http deoxy org pkd how2build htm
Dick on His Writing, 1978:
  • "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
  • So I ask, in my writing, What is real? Because unceasingly we are bombarded with pseudo-realities manufactured by very sophisticated people using very sophisticated electronic mechanisms. I do not distrust their motives; I distrust their power. They have a lot of it. And it is an astonishing power: that of creating whole universes, universes of the mind. I ought to know. I do the same thing. It is my job to create universes, as the basis of one novel after another. And I have to build them in such a way that they do not fall apart two days later. Or at least that is what my editors hope. However, I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new.
stanislaw lem on dick http www depauw edu sfs backissues 5 lem5art htm
Stanislaw Lem on Dick:
  • “Philip Dick does not lead his critics an easy life, since he does not so much play the part of a guide through his phantasmagoric worlds as give the impression of one lost in their labyrinth... A characteristic of Dick’s work, after its ambiguity as to genre, is its tawdriness, which is reminiscent of the goods offered at country fairs by primitive craftsmen who are at once clever and naive, possessed of more talent than self-knowledge. Dick has as a rule taken over a rubble of building materials from the run-of-the-mill American professionals of SF, frequently adding a true gleam of originality to worn-out concepts, and erecting with such materials constructions truly his own.”
dick s appeal to filmmakers http www wired com wired archive 11 12 philip pr html
Dick’s appeal to filmmakers:
  • “At a time when most 20th-century science fiction writers seem hopelessly dated, Dick gives us a vision of the future that captures the feel of our time. He didn't really care about robots or space travel, though they sometimes turn up in his stories. He wrote about ordinary Joes caught in a web of corporate domination and ubiquitous electronic media, of memory implants and mood dispensers and counterfeit worlds. This strikes a nerve.”
jean baudrillard on dick http www depauw edu sfs backissues 55 baudrillard55art htm
Jean Baudrillard on Dick:
  • "It is hyperreal. It is a universe of simulation, which is something altogether different. And this is so not because Dick speaks specifically of simulacra. SF has always done so, but it has always played upon the double, on artificial replication or imaginary duplication, whereas here the double has disappeared. There is no more double; one is always already in the other world, an other world which is not another, without mirrors or projection or utopias as means for reflection. The simulation is impassable, unsurpassable, checkmated, without exteriority. We can no longer move "through the mirror" to the other side, as we could during the golden age of transcendence."
dick new wave and cyberpunk
Dick, New Wave, and Cyberpunk
  • What makes it New Wave?
  • Reply to, and also parody of, SF literary conventions and sociopolitical concerns
  • Uses a future possible world to ask questions about the actual world, and about other literary possible worlds
  • Late-1960s America as “a time when...we had become as bad as the enemy”
What makes it cyberpunk?
  • Dark, film-noir-influenced imagery, especially in the film version
  • Relationship of humans to technology
  • Portrays an individual, anti-heroic character in opposition to a shadowy corporate power
  • Post-apocalyptic / post-industrial setting: “World War Terminus”; environmental damage
  • Common theme of Dick: societal and individual degeneration
  • “the dust – undoubtedly – filtered in and at him, brought him daily, so long as he failed to emigrate, its little load of befouling filth”
  • “the entire universe is moving toward a final state of total, absolute kipplization”
  • “The entire planet had begun to degenerate into junk...Earth would die under a layer – not of radioactive dust – but of kipple”
  • Mercer as symbol of resistance to entropy (and the futility thereof?)
  • “android is a metaphor for people who are physiologically human but behaving in a nonhuman way”
  • “I’ve never killed a human being before....Just those poor andys”
empathy and artificial intelligence
Empathy and Artificial Intelligence
  • Voight-Kampff Empathy Test as parody of the Turing Test for AI
  • The Turing Test:

“a human judge engages in a natural language conversation with one human and one machine, each of which try to appear human; if the judge cannot reliably tell which is which, then the machine is said to pass the test. In order to keep the test setting simple and universal (to explicitly test the linguistic capability of the machine instead of its ability to render words into audio), the conversation is usually limited to a text-only channel.”

the voight kampff test as described in the original screenplay of blade runner
The Voight-Kampff test as described in the original screenplay of Blade Runner:

"A very advanced form of lie detector that measures contractions of the iris muscle and the presence of invisible airborne particles emitted from the body. The bellows were designed for the latter function and give the machine the menacing air of a sinister insect. The VK is used primarily by Blade Runners to determine if a suspect is truly human by measuring the degree of his empathic response through carefully worded questions and statements."

human android connections
Human/Android Connections
  • “the Voight-Kampff scale applied to a carefully select group of schizoid and schizophrenic human patients” (ref. to Dick’s own mental instability?)
  • “Two parallel police agencies...ours and this one” - destabilization of reality
  • Which is superior, and for what reasons?
  • Androids with feelings? Humans without empathy?
  • Love/sexual attraction between humans and androids, or between androids
  • Rachael as “electric sheep”
  • Is Deckard an android too?
“You shall kill only the killers”
  • “Do you think of them as ‘it’?...When my conscience occasionally bothered me about the work I had to do; I protected myself by thinking of them that way, but now I no longer find it necessary”
  • “Do you think androids have souls?”
  • “Do androids dream?...Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here. A better life, without servitude”
empathy emotions and technology
Empathy, Emotions, and Technology
  • Mood organs used to produce artificial emotional stimulation, in oneself or others, at will: “My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression”
  • Lack of emotional responses “used to be considered a sign of mental illness… ‘absence of appropriate affect’”
  • Named for Wilder Penfield, Canadian neurologist and expert on memory
Empathy boxes, Mercerism, and Buster Friendly: new religion based on empathy and restoration of life
  • “physical merging accompanied by mental and physical identification”
  • “an empathy the most personal possession you have! It’s an extension of your body; it’s the way you touch other humans, it’s the way you stop being alone”
Mercer as false prophet; Buster as ubiquitous (and equally false) media person
  • “How can I save you...if I can’t save myself?...There is no salvation”
  • “Everything is true...Everything anybody has ever thought”
  • “Mercer isn’t a fake... Unless reality is a fake”
animals real and replicant
Animals, Real and Replicant
  • Sacred animals (e.g. the epigraph)
  • Signs of life in a decaying world
  • Markers of catastrophe
  • Animals as commodity and status symbol: prestige based on rarity and on ‘reality’ – “She doesn’t care if we own an ostrich or not”
  • Sidney’s Catalogue as “sacred” text
  • Voight-Kampff questions about animals vs. about humans
  • Replicant animals require as much care as real ones, but are not as highly prized
  • “You’re not made of transistorized circuits like a false animal; you’re an organic entity”
  • “The electric things have their lives too. Paltry as those lives are”
  • Replicant animals as symbols of nostalgia
  • Animals in the fictional world vs. technology in the actual world - replicant animals as both
  • Types of animals referred to: pets, pests, livestock; herd animals vs. solitary ones
  • Similarities between ‘specials’ and ‘other’ humans (humans who stay on Earth - physiological or psychological reasons?)
  • Similarities between ‘specials’ and androids (Baty and Pris with Isidore)
  • Similarities between ‘specials’ and animals (“chickenheads”, etc.)
corporate and consumer culture
Corporate and Consumer Culture
  • “designed specifically for your unique needs, for you and you alone”
  • Animals and androids as commodities
  • Buster’s 24-hour broadcasts: foreshadowing to present-day talk shows?
  • “The silence of the world could not rein back its greed”
  • “We produced what the colonists wanted... We followed the time-honored principle underlying every commercial venture. If our firm hadn’t made these progressively human types, other firms in the field would have”
  • “A mammoth corporation...embodies too much experience. It possesses...a sort of group mind”
dick and literary artistic culture
Dick and Literary/Artistic Culture
  • “pre-colonial fiction” - response to ‘traditional’ SF; self-referential humour
  • “written before space travel but about space travel….The writers…made it up….A lot of times they turned out wrong”
  • Role of ‘classic’ art and literature (e.g. Munch’s The Scream and Puberty; Mozart’s The Magic Flute)
  • Art vs. entropy: at once permanent and ephemeral
  • Androids and replicant animals and/as art objects
derivative works
Derivative Works
  • Dick’s ambivalence about the film adaptation
  • Differences between novel and film
  • Differences between versions of the film
  • Related texts: K.W. Jeter’s Blade Runner sequels (1995-2000) forming a tetralogy with Dick’s original; 1997 computer game; 1982 and 2009 graphic novels; other films influenced by the novel
dick on blade runner from a letter dated october 11 1981
Dick on Blade Runner(From a letter dated October 11, 1981)
  • “The impact…is simply going to be overwhelming…on science fiction as a field.”
  • “Science fiction…has become inbred, derivative, stale…and now we have a new life, a new start.”
  • “I did not know that a work of mine…could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified…It will prove invincible.”
  • Dick never saw the final version(s) of the film