Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
By Philip K. Dick
Abridged recording published by Time Warner Audiobooks
Read by Mathew Modine with Calista Flockhart
(Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
By Philip K. Dick
Published by Random House Audio
Read by Scott Brick
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Was one of my favorite science fiction novels when I was in high and junior high school. I still have my first copy which was the third printing of the Signet paperback. I paid full retail value for it too… seventy-five cents. Poor thing is not exactly in mint condition, but then it is over forty years old, the glue binding is still holding it together and it even still has the fold-over insert advertising True cigarettes (at the time it was a new lower tar and nicotine brand in regular and menthol). You won’t find that in a book expected to sell to junior high students these days!
The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic California in 1992. It’s always amazing to me just how far science fiction writers thought we might go by the end of the Twentieth Century. In this version of 1992 most people had migrated off of Earth, and there are very few natural animals left alive. It is the rarity of living animals that is the core of the whole story.
The people left on Earth have found a religious reverence for life and it is status symbol to be able to own and take care of an organic animal. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, once had a live sheep, but because it had died in his care and he could not afford to buy a new one, he had replaced it with an electronic version lest he suffer the shame of having allowed life in his care to perish.
With this religious worship of life, it is ironic that Deckard’s job is to hunt down and kill illegal androids to collect the bounty on them, but in many ways the bounty hunting aspect pales beside the message that life is to be venerated and protected.
Mister Dick uses this book to ponder the meaning of humanity and to question the value of life itself. The key difference is that humans are capable of empathy, androids are not, but even there Dick presents exceptions and their related hazards that Deckard must deal with. In the story we follow both Deckard’s pursuit of six rogue androids and his search for the meaning of life. Pretty deep for a thin, seventy-five cent paperback, huh?
There have been several adaptations to the book, the best known of which was the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner with Harrison Ford. I’ll admit I was very disappointed by the film. It cut out the entire life message and turned the story into an action film about killing androids. There have also been several sequels written by K.W. Jeter that both continue Deckard’s story and attempt to reconcile the differences between the original book and the movie. I have not ready them, so I do not know how successful they were at that.
However, the original is a poignant and riveting tale that was nominated for the Nebula Award in 1968. If you have not read it, this is a perfect example of late 1960’s science fiction by one of its masters.
It is always disappointing to discover that well-known, big name actors and actresses cannot read a novel to save their lives. Listening to the version that featured Mathew Modine and Calista Flockhart was painful. Modine’s reading was flat, unemotional and, worse… monotone. Ms. Flockhart’s lines were moderately better, but one must wonder why she was there simply to read the lines of the female characters. Well, Modine had trouble reading his own lines and making them sound like they were spoken by a living man. Asking him to make us believe the female lines were spoken by a woman might have stretched sanity beyond the limits.
In contrast, the Random house Audio version is much better. Scott Brick reads well with a full range of emotion and vocal talent. While there is nothing feminine about his voice you can tell when a female character is talking without his resorting to falsetto voices. He also manages to convey the relative intelligence of the characters in his reading. He is both pleasant and interesting to listen to.
Also the Time Warner edition is abridged although I really must wonder why. The book is not one of those modern four hundred thousand word, one-volume libraries the publishers push on the public these days. My copy is only one hundred fifty pages long. It is hard to imagine what needed to be trimmed.
The Random House edition trades on the “Blade Runner” name and is supposedly only based on the original Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? but so far as I can tell it is a verbatim reading of the original, so definitely find a copy of this one and stay away from the other.
In conclusion, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another one of the great SF masterpieces and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys good science fiction or to anyone looking for what good SF can be. However, not all audio editions are created equal. Seek out Scott Brick’s reading if you want something worth listening to.