The title always brings this to mind...
Now the world has gone to bed,
Darkness won't engulf my head,
I can see by infra-red,
How I hate the night.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
Try to count electric sheep,
Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
How I hate the night.

~ Marvin the Paranoid Android

Androids do seem to at least count electric sheep. If Marvin ever managed to get to sleep then perhaps he would dream of them too.

"What are you doing?"

"Entering suspend mode."


"You would call it, "Trying to get to sleep""

"But your 'net connection is active, Why?"

"I am accessing the satellite photos of Wales for farm animals."

There was a pause as this was translated.

"You're counting sheep?"


(This is original text, since people have asked)

Dick was a man who knew what he was doing. In this novel, published in 1968 in the wake of his difficulties in getting We Can Build You distributed, Dick sat down to once again examine similar themes, placing them in a concrete, science fiction setting. The Rosen family operates the Rosen Corporation, creators of the new Nexus-6 android--the most advanced of its kind. Barely detectable by the Voigt-Kampff Altered Scale test, these androids are the closest to real humans that any manufacturer has produced thus far.

The earth is covered in radioactive dust. Most humans have migrated to Mars, or an outlying colony. Rick Deckard lives in San Francisco, with his wife, Iran. Both often use the Penfield Mood Organ to program various emotional states: dial 382 to feel your intellectual prowess increase, 481 for a new hope towards the future, 104 for ecstatic sexual bliss, 888 for the desire to watch television (only one show is ever on, and that's the perpetual Buster Friendly, broadcasting most hours of the day on both radio and TV), 594 insures your wife that the husband's superior wisdom is correct, and if you don't feel like dialing, you can always dial 3 to feel like dialing.

The hunt for Nexus-6 androids, having escaped from Mars after killing their masters is but one component of the story. John Isiodore is a conditioned chickenhead. He has failed intelligence tests, which label him as such--a side effect of the radiation. Isiodore shows himself, however, to be rather in control of his mind, a point Dick was trying to make: idiocy is often in the head. He is an ardent follower of Mercerism: communicable by empathy boxes, shared experiences of Mercer, climbing up the hill--when reaching the top, rocks are thrown at him, bleeding his cheeks (and the empathic followers on their boxes), forcing him to fall from the hill into the valley of dust and bones, only to raise again and again and again and again. Mercerism preaches love, for all living things. Appropriate at this time, where animals are sacred--no one would think to eat one, and everyone wants to have one-- a real one, not simulacra.

It is Mercer who reveals the real meat of our human existence in this novel. He is an archetype stepping out into the real world, much like the characters I try to create, to offer advice--guidance.

The old man said, "You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe." (page 119)

There is no question whether Rick Deckard is a human or not. It is not an issue in this novel. Deeply psychological, and operating on several levels, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is quite possibly the best Dick book I've read. What is empathy? What is human emotion? Is consciousness an emergent quality? What is the value of religion, be it a reflection of truth or not? Who is an idiot? What defines intelligence?

Who is Wilbur Mercer?


Happy Zapping and Hope for Ajax

Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? asks several startlingly poignant and yet perhaps unanswerable questions about the nature of reality, of humanity, and of simulation. It is by no means an accident that Dick introduces “andys,” the mood organ, mercerism and its empathy box, Buster Friendly’s TV show, lead codpieces, “specials,” and artificial animals all in the first chapter (pages 3-14) of the book. The reader should quickly develop a sense that something is surreal, amiss, even discomforting, about this world, even though most of these concepts are not examined in depth in this intro to the world of Rick Deckard. There is an overwhelming sense of facade about this world, and it is not until the parts are examined that Dick’s ideas become clear. The first chapter could be taken alone as a sort of futuristic Hemingway story in its own right, and many of the major themes of the story would still be expressed (although not with much clarity).

A merry little surge of electricity piped by automatic alarm from the mood organ beside his bed awakened Rick Deckard.

Even the first sentence of the book is more about simulation than about the character whose experiences it details. We know immediately from the name “mood organ” and from the fact that it sends out a “merry little surge of electricity,” that it is some device which creates mood. We know that it is being used to awaken a man who has been sleeping. The only thing we know about Deckard so far is that he is a man who uses this device, but we have a fair concept of what the device is all about. The rest of what we learn about the mood organ in the following pages of the book are merely details. Its purpose is clear immediately. We later learn that despite Deckard’s reliance on the mood organ, he is perfectly capable of generating his own emotions, when he becomes angry with his wife when they begin talking, despite his morning dose of “merry electricity.”

We do learn, however, that Deckard relies on the mood organ not simply for emotional stimulation, but for hope. He is well acquainted with that setting- 481-and has “dialed out the combination many times.” It is probably unimportant- but interesting- that the code for what appears to be a kind of “empty intellectual(ism),” is 382. Both 4 + 8 + 1 and 3 + 8 + 2 add to thirteen. Perhaps this is a hidden message from Dick- perhaps hope for the future and empty, objective thought add to the same, unlucky sum. Perhaps this simply means that the mood of a person doesn’t matter, since a person on earth is doomed to sterilization and “kippelization” eventually. The only emotion which is referred to as having anything to do with reality is Iran’s “self-accusatory depression,” which Deckard actually says is “about total reality.” On the other hand, perhaps looking too deeply at the numbers of the Penfield is simple numerology, and a waste of energy...

Another interesting piece of this world is Deckard’s Ajax model Mountibank Codpiece. There is a sort of humor in the concept of a lead codpiece, in that in history, codpieces were a piece of “protective gear,” that ended up becoming a style, because they appeared to augment the male genitals. In Deckard’s world, codpieces exist to protect the male genitals from radiation and sterility. Dick has given us a visual pun, then; lead codpieces are a simulation of virility, while simultaneously protecting a man’s actual virility. Further, the model Deckard wears, the Ajax, bears the name of the ancient Greek hero, the giant of a man who fought Hector and lived, and slew many Trojans before losing his mind and killing himself. Ajax is not so dissimilar to Deckard then, in that Deckard becomes a great warrior and kills many andys before losing his grip on the world and being forced to question not only his sanity, but the reality of his reality.

Although it is necessary for Deckard to wear his Mountibank Codpiece when he goes outside, his wife, Iran, hates the commercial for them. She actually calls it “that awful commercial,” and suggests that there has been at least one discussion regarding this codpiece commercial between Iran and Rick before. Why would she have such a loathing for codpiece commercials? It could be that the commercials are a reminder to her that she and Rick have no children. What good is a codpiece, then, if not to protect the ability to reproduce? If one is not going to have children, why have a codpiece at all? This idea is reinforced at the end, when Iran desires to keep the toad, despite the fact that it is a fake. She’s happiest when Deckard is at home in bed. She just wants to care for something, and with no children, she’ll take what she can get.

At the request of both my ENGL 300 professor and The Lush, I will be expanding this essay into a more wide-ranging piece. More fun coming soon.
Further update: expansion (which diverted pretty severly from this one) can be found at The Precession of Simulacra in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?", the 1968 science-fiction novel by acclaimed author Philip K. Dick, needs no introduction to most science-fiction fans. The book is famous as the inspiration for the 1982 film Blade Runner, as well as being a precursor to cyberpunk, and being one of the key works that turned science-fiction from space opera to the surreal.

The problem is, I could have written that last paragraph without reading the book. "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? ", and its popularized version, "Blade Runner", are so famous that I "knew" about the book without reading it. So it sat on my shelf for four years, passed over because I had already read other works by Philip K Dick, and I was already familiar with the book's big tomato surprise.

And then I actually read the book.

Even though I knew the basic outline of the book, it was quite different from what I was expecting. The book does take place in a near future science-fiction setting, mixing detective noir with post-apocalypse, and it is "about" a bounty hunter chasing down androids. But I had no idea of the larger context in which the difference between humans and androids was placed: the idea of empathy, and the odd religion of Mercerism, a religion stressing the need of all sentient beings to ascend together. And the very mood of the book is different from what I expected: despite the setting and subject matter, the book didn't have the "edge" I was expecting, and instead seemed almost dreamy and soft. Even though I knew most of the "facts" of the story, in characterization, plot, setting and mood, it was much different from what I expected.

So, if you are a science-fiction fan who has not read "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" because you feel you already know the story, I would state that you owe it to yourself to read the book, and find out just what you have been missing.

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