This is the second in a four-part series where you get to see the reviews I sent my MFA mentor this past semester. I have chosen not to go through an edit the reviews in any way, despite the fact that I am posting these after I’ve received feedback from my mentor. So you’ll see it the same way you see all my reviews – essentially unedited.
It is often said that the human’s ability to evolve and adapt to its surroundings is one of the race’s greatest strengths. An equal – and often greater – population says that change is difficult and frightening, and to be avoided. Neither of these opinions are inherently wrong. However, when a race remains stagnant and afraid of the future, no growth can occur. If it does, it is viewed as the enemy, and something to be destroyed. The genre of science fiction and futuristic fantasy is filled with this concept, but few bring it as well to the forefront as Blade Runner.
Philip K. Dick’s novel opens on what looks like an innocuous married couple, but asserts the Otherness of the world quickly. This is a world where the mood you wake up with is determined by a “mood organ” – and the differences only get wider from there. Rick Deckard works for what is considered law enforcement – taking out the “andy” problems, or androids. His partner is out of commission and he starts out on what he thinks will be the greatest job he will have ever completed.
The basic premise is crystalline. Rick wants to make something of himself – and finding these androids will allow him to finally take the step up in life he wants: to buy a real animal. In the post-apocalyptic world that the novel takes place in, live animals are rare and expensive creatures. Many people own electric animals – Rick included – as those are the only animals one can afford, and it is a mark of prestige to have an animal at all. Rick’s greatest fear is that someone will find out his sheep is electric.
Early on, Rick meets a woman who makes him question what he is doing, and whether or not he is in the right. Are androids truly capable of not feeling? Is it possible for a human to love an android – or vice versa? How much of the human condition has been put into the AI – and so what, exactly, is he killing when he “dispatches” an andy? As the showdown with the final band of andy renegades approaches, Rick has to make a decision about who he is, and where his loyalties lies.
The ending is suitably dystopian and while not predictable, it is not surprising. It suffers the same anti-climatic moment many dystopic novels have: the disparity between it and the classic “Hollywood ending.” Despite looking at it analytically, seeing what the text stands for, there is an empty feeling in the conclusion.
That being said, Dick has done a phenomenal job of bringing across the concept of human nature. If we allow ourselves to be so driven by external forces, what is truly left when we are required to become introspective? How can we judge others by their driving forces when we have allowed others to dictate ours? Dick’s world is run on television and Penfield organs – and when you do not become useful, the clutter (or “kipple” in the book) will overrun you until there is nothing left. The modern-day world doesn’t show a much sunnier picture. People find one thing or another to alter their mood, and live their day vicariously through the television or the Internet. Dick’s inhabitants bond with Mercer to live out a Sisyphus-esque nightmare; we watch reality TV shows that no one really “wins.”
As per classic dystopias, there is a great deal left unsaid at the ending. The reader must decide on their own what has actually happened – and what will happen. Not unlike looking toward our own destiny, it is a bit daunting. The resolution is not clear, and there does not appear to be many alternative routes. The reader is left with a strong feeling of “something needs to be done”…without a knowledge of what can be done. Do we side with the humans, and stay with the knowledge of our world and hold fast to a belief that the androids are the Other? Or can we side with the androids, shown to be so much more than just machines? It’s up to us – just as it was up to Rick. The development of the characters of the androids is limited in its simplicity, but they only needs marginally more than the humans to appear on even ground. There is a secondary character that is extrapolated on, but whose purpose is left somewhat unclear.
Despite these disparities, the novel is strong and carries its way through without dragging, leaving the reader introspective – which is where I believe Dick wanted the reader to be then. We should take from the book a feeling of unease and inward thought – and attempt to clear our own lives of kibble.