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A novel by Philip K. Dick about escaped androids trying to pass for humans in a dystopian future, and the people whose job it is to hunt them down. The book is notable for film fans as being the source material for Blade Runner.
In the distant future of the 1990s, nuclear war has destroyed nearly all life on Earth. Almost all animals are extinct, and only a fraction of the human race remains on Earth. Those left behind are either unwilling to leave, or are "specials" (called "chickenheads" or, in severe cases of mental damage, "antheads"), who are ineligible to leave due to overexposure to fallout. The people on Earth give their lives meaning by taking care of the last animals that are left on planet. As a proof of their empathy and humanity, those who can't afford a real animal inevitably end up buying an electric model instead: it's considered antisocial, if not downright sinful, to not have an animal to show the neighbours.
Most of humanity has emigrated throughout the solar system, rebuilding civilisation along with their organic android slaves ("andys") to do the hard labour. Androids have advanced to the point where they look completely human inside and out, but exhibit certain psychological differences and are not officially recognised as alive. Naturally, there are some androids who try to flee from a life of slavery and pass as human on Earth.
But being non-human, the androids are excluded from the experience of "Mercerism", a religion based around respect for all life, and the shared empathy of all the human race. People can connect together using "empathy boxes", bonding over the shared visions of The Messiah figure Wilbur Mercer. Most of humanity on Earth follows Mercerism, but the religion is ridiculed by famed comedian Buster Friendly, whose shows on TV and radio "Buster Friendly and His Friendly Friends" broadcast 23 hours a day each and who seems determined to bring Mercerism down for good.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter working for the San Francisco police department. He's assigned to hunt down and "retire" six Nexus-6 androids who have escaped from Mars, after the previous man on the case was left critically injured. His task is complicated when Deckard meets Rachael Rosen, a beautiful young woman associated with the leading android manufacturing company, and he begins to question the morality of his job. Deckard's life isn't going quite the way he wanted: he's stuck on earth, his wife has discarded artificial moods in favor of actual depression, and his sheep is electric.
Meanwhile, John R. Isidore -- a chickenhead who lives alone in a decaying apartment building -- finds that somebody else is now living in another apartment. It's a beautiful young woman named Pris Stratton, who calls herself "Rachael Rosen", then abruptly changes her story. She is cold and dismissive towards him at first, but later appeals to him for help: she has friends who have to come and hide out with her, because there's a bounty hunter trying to kill them. J.R. Isidore, who has never had a friend, is eager to help...
As in most Philip K. Dick novels, the characters are all extremely confused about their identity and their surroundings. Some plot twists are overly obvious from the start, and although the novel never explicitly states why the characters don't notice them easily, it can be assumed that every person in the novel suffers from some level of fallout-related brain damage and detachment from reality. The result is a very dreamy, expressionistic story that has become one of Dick's most popular works.
Provides Examples Of:
- Artificial Human: The androids.
- Do Androids Dream?: The Trope Namer. Although the book does break that when it turns out the robots really can't feel empathy, and don't care about hurting innocent creatures, or even each other.
- Doppelganger: Rachael Rosen and Pris Stratton are physically identical, being the same model of android. Pris even attempts to use the name "Rachael Rosen" with Isidore as well, but she changes her story when he recognises the surname Rosen as belonging to the robotics manufacturer.
- Dystopia: Pick a scene, any scene...
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Roy Baty cares about no one save Irmgard. Even Pris, Polokov, and the other andies are expendable to him.
- Heel Faith Turn: Deckard. More of an anti-hero faith turn.
- In Spite of a Nail / For Want of a Nail: Philip K. Dick's fiction often reuses characters and concepts from one story to another. While there's no reason to believe We Can Build You is the same setting, the considerable recycling of individuals and concepts certainly lends new interpretations. Cue the Wild Mass Guessing.
- He seems to be fixated on malevolent pert breasted, young brunettes.
- Kick the Dog: Rachael killing Deckard's goat. Pris cutting the legs off the spider Isidore found, just to see if it could still walk. Roy also seems to take an inordinate amount of delight in relating bad news to the group, including the deaths of their friends.
- Lack of Empathy: The way to tell androids from (most) humans.
- Manipulative Bastard: Pris Stratton, Rachael Rosen.
- Mind Screw: The climax.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: It's implied that this is how Luba Luft beats the Voigt-Kampff test; every time Deckard asks a question, she either misses the point, argues with the premise, or claims not to know a key English word.
- Which comes close to Fridge Logic: the whole point of the VK test is that the answers are unimportant, it's the physical responses to the scenarios described that are the basis for the test. Whether they miss the point or argue with the premise is irrelevant, although not knowing the language well enough would be a legitimate means of beating the test.
- Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: Animals are a luxury, as many died out or became extinct due to fallout from World War Terminus. This results in owning an animal being a sign of wealth or status, which in turn means people buy fake, robotic animals to make themselves look more important. In the beginning of the book, Deckard owns an electric sheep.
- Punch Clock Villain - Deckard, from the androids' point of view, although some humans (notably Deckard's wife) find the idea of bounty hunters unpleasant.
- Ridiculously-Human Robots
- Too ridiculous, as in these robots can actually pass for human. The people of Earth are aware of this trope, much to their annoyance, since they're the ones who have to track down renegades who have escaped from Mars. Multiple times they've requested the Andies' manufacturer to make the Andies less human-like. The book also insinuates that the Andies are made so realistically because the Mars colonists are using them as a replacement for human intimacy (including sex).
- There are also Ridiculously Animal Robots, robotic animals that have been programmed to act like animals even when malfunctioning (so other people don't realize they are robots). In one scene, a character who works for a robot animal repair shop has someone call him to help their cat... and he doesn't realize that the cat is real until it dies and he can't find any wires.
- Though said character is a chickenhead (i.e. his IQ is markedly below average). It's unclear whether he fails to figure out that the animal is a robot because of this or because of how convincing the robot is.
- Shout-Out: Of all things, Pokémon has a reference to this in the form of Mareep: an electric-type sheep.
- More recently, Mega Man 10 includes Robot Master Sheep Man. The BGM for his stage is also called Cybersheep's Dream.
- The Sociopath: All androids. Many people would argue Phil Resch is one, but since he can pass the empathy test, they'd be wrong.
- Deckard makes the observation that, while on the job, a bounty hunter has to divorce himself from his emotions to hunt androids that, outside of precise tests, are indistinguishable from humans. In effect, the hunter has to become sociopathic towards androids and convince himself that they are not human, despite his emotions being fooled to think otherwise, or else he wouldn't get the job done. If Resch didn't have a home life to test against, and had completely immersed himself in his job, he might have been a false positive.
- Standard Female Grab Area: Deckard uses this on Luba Luft.
- The Vamp: Rachael and Pris.
- Tomato in the Mirror: Phil Resch almost becomes convinced he's a robot, and has to take an empathy test to find out.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: The book has two protagonists -- Rick Deckard and JR Isidore.
- Unbuilt Trope: Deconstructed the What Measure Is a Non-Human? trope before Blade Runner widely popularized it
- Unholy Matrimony: Roy and Irmgard Baty.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The book answers -- it's empathy. Humans can feel for another's distress and act selflessly, while androids are incapable of doing so. Very little really separates Andies from sociopaths, who are incapable of feeling empathy for another living being. Deckard admits the only reason the Voight-Kampf test is effective is because of the assumption that all the human sociopaths are locked away in asylums. Just like real life sociopaths, the Andies have become masters of using charm and deception to manipulate other people's emotions for their own benefit. They also cannot comprehend the idea of a fictional character still being "real" to people or inspiring them. Word of God states that Dick got the idea for the book because he couldn't believe the Nazis were human because of all the horrifying things they did to other people.