Study Guide

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

By Philip K. Dick

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Introduction

The thing about Philip K. Dick's view on reality is that it only stays reality so long as you don't blink. In that regard, his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is kind of like a three-shell game. Take your eyes off Dick's switching, twisting, and shuffling hands for a second, and you never know what you'll find under the cup: an android posing as a flesh-and-blood human, a movie-star turned galactic deity, or a once bustling city turned gray nuclear wasteland? They're all just as likely as the pea you started off with.

Published in 1968, Do Androids Dream? follows Rick Deckard and John Isidore during a particularly trying day in each man's life. A bounty hunter, Rick is tasked with "retiring" six fugitive Nexus-6 androids. (Don't tell Google.) As he goes about tracking his prey, Rick begins to question the morality of his work, wondering whether these machines have evolved into something beyond wire and circuitry. Meanwhile, John Isidore houses a colonial fugitive named Pris Stratton, ending his long isolation but bringing him ever closer to crossing paths with a certain bounty hunter. No, not that bounty hunter (though that would be cool).

Although nominated for a Nebula, the novel didn't win any awards upon publication. In fact, the only major accolade it earned was placing fifty-first on the Locus Poll for All-Time Best Science Fiction Novel before 1990 (Source). And that honor was handed out in 1998, thirty years after the novel was published and more than a decade after Dick's death.

But the novel got a second act: it served as the inspiration for cult classic Blade Runner. Directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is a retelling of Dick's novel, remixing several elements and getting rid of others, such as kipple and Mercerism, all together. (Although we think it mostly became popular because it starred Harrison Ford after he earned a lifetime's supply of fan love by playing Han Solo.)

The movie helped cement Dick as one seriously influential science fiction writer. His works inspired writers such as William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, Roger Zelazny, and even Jonathan Lethem. Philosophers like Jean Baudrillard and Fredric Jameson also got in on the act. And let's not forget the many other popular films based on Dick's imaginings: Next, Total Recall, Minority Report, A Scanner Darkly, and Screamers.

On second thought, let's just forget Next

We can't say Do Androids Dream? is solely responsible for Dick's far-reaching impact. But if you're looking for a world where a van driver can merge with a god, where machines can rewire your morning mood, and the edges of reality are just squiffy enough to see through, then this is the world for you.

What is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? About and Why Should I Care?

What does it mean to be human?

Okay, okay, we know that this sounds like a bunch of dorm-room philosophizing. But this question has a purpose beyond helping college undergrads seem deep. They force us to look at qualities of life and existence that we might otherwise overlook thanks to distractions such as keeping up on Facebook, playing video games, and choosing the right filter for our latest Instagram.

The obvious answer might be Homo sapiens—you know, two arms, two legs, and a brain that can do math, understand language, and work a tablet. But that answer doesn't hold up for very long, because fewer than 150 years ago, a vast majority of Europeans and Americans considered people of African descent to be less than human—two arms, two legs, and all.

Even today, plenty of us act as though people who live in different countries or under different circumstances are somehow less than human. (Think about sweatshops in the developing world; don't a lot of us act as though those workers aren't fully human?)

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep looks at these issues and hypothesizes that empathy, not language or the number of legs, is the key trait determining humanity. But how far does that humanity extend? Is Phil Resch still human despite his lack of empathy? Is Luba Luft a human in her ability to empathize through art despite being born factory-made chattel?

And, deep down, do we really believe that the people who make our $5 Old Navy t-shirts are fully human—and do we act as though they are? And if we don't, does that make us less than fully human?

Tough questions, Shmoopers—and important ones.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Resources

Websites

Return of the Fandom
The Philip K. Dick Fansite in all its digital glory.

Will Catalogue for Hits
The entry for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is located in the Internet Science Fiction Database. You can find a bevy of excellent reviews and awards at the bottom of the entry.

Where's Waldo the Electric Sheep?
Can you find Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on the Guardian's list of top science fiction and fantasy novels? It's also on The Guardian's list of 1000 novels that everyone should read.

And the Winner is…
You know you've made it when you have an award in your memory. As this website proves, Philip K. Dick has made it.

Movie or TV Productions

Blade on the Run
Directed by Ridley Scott, Blade Runner is the 1982 adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? It's a little confusing as we're reasonably sure the words blade and runner don't appear side-by-side in the novel, but that's how it goes.

Articles and Interviews

Hasta la Vista, Opinions!
A New York Times blogger, the Opinionator, discusses Philip K. Dick as both science fiction writer and philosopher.

Take a Bow
Here's an interview with the playwright/director who was crazy enough to adapt Dick's novel for the stage. Perhaps, he's just crazy enough to make it work.

Entering the Posthuman
Is this: (1) An awesome band name or (2) the name of an essay on transcending humanity in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Trick question! It's both.

Academic Chit-chat
Science fiction scholars write an essay based on their conversations on Philip K. Dick's fiction.

Getting Meta on You
Carlo Pagetti discusses how Dick's fiction both accepts science fiction motifs and breaks them down at the same time. Twistedly good stuff.

Life-Changing Experience
Jesse Hicks discusses a gathering of Philip K. Dick fans in San Francisco to celebrate his legacy and how his works were brought back from obscurity just in time.

Chattel Slavery
The androids escaped from a life very similar to chattel slavery—that is, slavery where the slave is thought of as property rather than a person in bondage. We thought we'd take this moment to link to this article in New Internationalist Magazine discussing the type of slavery in our modern world.

Video

Trial by Trailer
The 1982 theatrical trailer for Blade Runner, the film adaptation of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The movie is completely different than the novel, but in this case, that's not such a bad thing.

V 34.0
Don't tell anyone we told you, but YouTube has Blade Runner: The Final Cut Special Edition, the latest update to the original 1982 version of the movie. Coming out next year is Blade Runner: The Ultimate Final Unedited Director's Vision Edition in Space!

Of Course!
We always knew there was something off about Sean Young; we just didn't know what. This clip from Blade Runner tells you exactly what it is.

Would the Real PKD Please Stand Up!
Why Philip K. Dick Matters is a documentary on why Philip K. Dick matters… pretty self-explanatory really.

Documentary
The Penultimate Truth is a documentary on the life and works of Philip K. Dick. Which one was more fantastical, his life or his works, is for you to decide.

Did Philip K. Dick disclose the real Matrix in 1977?
Well, did he? Did he?

Audio

Do Androids Read Audio?
Part 1 of the audiobook for Do Androids Read of Electric Sheep?, read by Matthew Modine and Calista Flockhart, a.k.a. Queen of the Nerds.

Video-graphic-audio Book
The 1994 audiobook but read page-by-page to the 2009 graphic novel adaptation by BOOM! Studios.

Interview of Interest
An interview with Philip K. Dick set roughly 10 years after the publication of Androids.

Interview of Interest 2: Radio Reloaded
Another interview Philip K. Dick did on this thing called radio, whatever that is.

Images

Front Cover Breakdown
The 1st-edition cover of Dick's masterpiece, and it's a masterpiece in-and-of-itself.

A More Modern Take
The most recent edition of the novel's cover, and the one likely hanging out in a bookstore near you.

The Man Himself
A photo of Philip K. Dick sporting his writer's beard. (Didn't you know that all writers are required to have beards? It's in the union by-laws.)

PKD Nexus-6
Dick got his very own android, and here it is. Lucky guy!

Futurescape
Fan art of the future as envisioned by Dick. It's very… urban.

Graphic in a Good Way
A page sample from the BOOM! Studio comic book adaptation—sorry, sorry, we meant graphic novel adaptation. Don't send us hate mail.

Does Your OS Dream of T-Shirts?
Because you know you wanted this.