Monday, 15 September 2008

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - a book review

Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepHemingway on acid. That's what this book felt like to me. And after I read Philip K. Dick's Wikipedia entry, I started to understand why.

The spare, clipped prose, the protagonist who is at once emotional and detached, the macho worldview, all these smack of Hemingway. The way Dick messes with your assumptions is pure Dick. The way the bottom falls out of reality altogether by the end of the book, that is pure acid.

For the first part of the book, Dick plays with very similar themes as Katerina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone, those of marginality, defining human-ness, the way we deal with those perceived as "other." Dick takes it a step further, and challenges the new assumptions we have made by following along with his story, which I found delightful. And then he challenged so many assumptions, I was no longer sure which direction was up, leaving me both confused and intrigued.

It's this last word that is important. Usually books that confuse me that badly irritate me enough that I put the author on my "don't bother with" list. But I am almost certain to pick up another Philip K. Dick book, wondering if I won't be able to get it this time.

Having said all that, there are clumsy moments in this book. He is particularly fond of doing infodumps disguised as dialogue, which really should have been dealt with before the book went to print. Characters expounding to each other on things they all know, receptionists suddenly spouting the detailed technical specs on the latest model of android - I don't think so.

So the final word for me is that I will read Philip K. Dick again, not expecting to be awestruck, but challenged and intrigued.

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Jim Harris said...

You might try The Man in the High Castle, PKD's Hugo award winning novel. VALIS is another good one. The Library of America has two volumes of PKD - I believe the first time they've published a science fiction author. The first volume contains The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik. All four are now out as audio books, which is just another affirmation of PKD's weird success.

Janet said...

Thanks, Jim. You're not the first one to recommend The Man in the High Castle to me, so I will place it on my ridiculously long reading list. Sooner or later, I will get to it.

Kevin of eHurst said...

I like that "infodumps disguised as dialogue" bit. I've long wanted to read a sci-fi story in which all the pertinant technical info -- especially if it effects the resolution of the conflict -- would take place on the side of a telephone conversation unreported to the reader. All the reader would get is our protagonist saying, "Yeah... uh-huh... I see... well, I'll be... so that's how it works!...okay, okay, we'll do that immediately! I guess we can't stop fretting about that asteroid, eh?" Hangs up. End of story.

Janet said...

LOL, Kevin. Much as I dislike clumsy infodumps, I do like getting the information in more elegant forms... ;o)


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