By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
When I pick up a copy of Blade Runner by Philip K. Dick, I always wonder why the title couldn't be Dick's original one – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
My paperback copy is worn to a frazzle. Open the book and the antique yellow pages smell of summer insects and old ink and faded, sun-bleached covers from the bargain table.
So here is mine with three book stamps on the inside cover and the blurb page on the right. This copy apparently sallied forth on a brave day and was offered for sale at the Book Exchange in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sometime after that it warranted another purple stamp from the Saguaro Paperback Book Exchange. Still later, the Paperback Book Exchange in Bullhead, Arizona got it. And after that, I got it from a friend who bought it for a penny in New Jersey.
So the book's been around, you say. Big deal. And so has the movie that was made from it – Blade Runner. The book and the film are now in the classic canon. I've read the book several times, just as I've seen the film more than once, and will see it again at the first opportunity. I like futuristic stories, as we used to call them, especially when they have something pertinent to say about the time in which we live, and this one does.
Rick Deckard, the hero of the novel, is a bounty hunter who hunts and kills androids who pretend and succeed at being entirely human – except for one thing ... they haven't any empathy. Thus, Deckard, android killer. And not just any android killer. The best.
Deckard's reasoning for the kill is perfectly logical: " ... an escaped humanoid robot, which had killed its master, which had been equipped with an intelligence greater than that of many human beings, which had no regard for animals, which possessed no ability to feel empathic joy for another life form's success or grief at its defeat" – this was the definition of a wanted, hunted creature with a Deckard death warrant on it.
It is the empathy factor that is the main point of this novel. For in the novel there is an "empathy-measuring test" and it works on androids, showing their lack of feeling for others.
Dick makes a clear bid that true empathy exists only in the human animal, according to the narrator. Other creatures have intelligence but only humans have empathy, to a greater or lesser degree. There are exceptions, of course. Humans, say, under extraordinary stress have little or sometimes no empathy. And humans whose minds might be drug-altered also. But generally the herd instinct of the human animal in this novel is thought to be empathic.
The narrator explains:
"Oddly it resembled a sort of biological insurance, but double-edged. As long as some creature experienced joy, then the condition for all other creatures included a fragment of joy. However, if any living being suffered, then for all the rest the shadow could not be entirely cast off. A herd animal such as man would acquire a higher survival factor through this; an owl or a cobra would be destroyed."
So we come to realize that in the context of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? " ... the humanoid robot constituted a solitary predator."
And must be taken out.
All's well with this as the novel moves along but Dick has another idea. What if Deckard should fall for a nearly-human droid? What if he should make an excuse for one, or maybe, two of these man-made creatures?
This premise is as old as Shakespeare. The old bard had droids of a kind in some of his plays. Remember Iago? Anyway, I got to thinking while I was reading Dick's classic novel for the third or fourth time – why was I reading it again?
The answer came to me a moment ago while I was reading a comment on FB [Facebook]. A thoughtful person was commenting on the Gubernatorial elections last November. We are living he said in a world that is like a combination of the French Revolution and Blade Runner. And there you have it –
– The droids among us, please step outside so you can be terminated by Rick Deckard.