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?