“Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (retitled Blade Runner: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? in some later printings) is a science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick, first published in 1968. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco, where Earth’s life has been greatly damaged by nuclear global war. Most animal species are endangered or extinct from extreme radiation poisoning, so that owning an animal is now a sign of status and empathy, an attitude encouraged towards animals. The book served as the primary basis for the 1982 film Blade Runner, and many elements and themes from it were used in its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049. The main plot follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who is tasked with ‘retiring’ (i.e. killing) six escaped Nexus-6 model androids, while a secondary plot follows John Isidore, a man of sub-par IQ who aids the fugitive androids. In connection with Deckard’s mission, the novel explores the issue of what it is to be human and whether empathy is a purely human ability. … On Earth, owning real live animals has become a fashionable status symbol, because of mass extinctions and the accompanying cultural push for greater empathy. High-status animals, such as horses, cost far more than low-status animals. However poor people can only afford realistic-looking robot imitations of live animals. Rick Deckard, for example, owns an electric black-faced sheep. These artificial animals appear and feel identical to real animals, but are described as ‘electric,’ having ‘circuits’ and hidden access ‘control panels,’ and requiring ‘repairs.’ Compared to the android robots, Deckard regards these electric animals as ‘a kind of vastly inferior robot.’ The trend of increased empathy has coincidentally motivated a new technology-based religion called Mercerism. Mercerism uses ’empathy boxes’ to link users simultaneously to a virtual reality of collective suffering, centered on a martyr-like character, Wilbur Mercer, who eternally climbs up a hill while being hit with crashing stones. Acquiring high-status animal pets and linking in to empathy boxes appear to be the only two ways that humans can attain existential fulfillment. …”
W – Philip K. Dick
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