Of those people who have seen Ridley Scott’s ‘Blade Runner,’ only a small percentage of those people have read the 1968 Philip K. Dick novel that the film is based on: ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ This is unfortunate, because the book is a much different experience than the movie and worth reading because of that unique experience.
The setting is a post-apocalyptic universe that was devastated by nuclear fallout after World War Terminus. The technology is more advanced in some ways than our own, with humanoid robotics, increased space travel traffic, and knowledge of terraforming techniques.
Just like in the movie, the main character is Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who specializes in renegade androids. As in the film, an attractive female android named Rachael believes that she is human and falls in love with Deckard. They eventually have physical relations. Unlike in the script, Deckard is not a single man. He has a human wife. Another character difference is that in the book, the android Pris is physically identical to Rachael. Considering the special effects technology in 1982 when ‘Blade Runner’ was released, showing a clone of someone wasn’t realistic enough unless identical twins were involved. I’m glad Sean Young was cast as Rachael. She is almost perfect with her portrayal of the character.
While the movie focuses mostly on the theme of androids and their relationships with humans, and the existential problems of having a limited, brief lifespan, the book has two other major themes that are pervasive. The first of these is the absolute despair that humans feel when most animal life has been wiped out, and those animals that survive command an extremely high price. The rarest of these can only be afforded by the super-rich. In order to cope with this loss, humans turn to artificial robotic animals and keep them as pets. Even an electric sheep is a highly praised pet. The rarity of these animals is explained in the movie, but only briefly and the emotional impact is not present.
The second major theme is large scale mind control. Mercerism is a mental collective that dabbles in emotion sharing more than actual thought sharing. These emotions can be positive or negative, though it appears that the majority of people in this society are mental masochists and focus primarily on negative emotions. Authority figures in the society manipulate these negative emotions to control public behavior.