So after a lifetime of not quite getting around to it, I finally read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. While it’s natural for science fiction of that age to seem somewhat anachronistic, I suspect that Dick was a bit of an anachronist even in his own time. For example, he uses “American automobiles of the 1960s” as a multiplicity sufficient to be completely incomprehensible. Also, while this is one bajillion time better than The Man in the High Castle I think I have to just face the fact that I don’t like Dick that much as a writer. He’s more interesting for ideas than execution.
But the ideas are powerful. I don’t remember them (sadly, this is pretty normal), but the night I finished it I had paranoid dreams about people around me being strange beings with motivations I didn’t understand. It was definitely creepy, creepy, creepy. In addition to the obvious source of tension, the book is full of contradictory cues about which structures ought to be trusted and which are purely manipulation.
It’s interesting to note the. . . form of these institutions. The poles represented by Buster Friendly and Mercerism are completely monolithic. At the time I suppose that made sense. Media hadn’t fragmented into a bizarre and riotous ecosystem that made the range of 1960s cars look like the range of 1960s television stations. This, ultimately, is Android’s biggest anachronism, if the reader looks closely. More than the spectre of nuclear war, more than the indefinite lifespan of the pay phone, the notion that the world’s homogenisation was going to derive from a mere handful of sources is an idea that from where I stand seems as if it must have come out of a parallel universe. Here in this universe we’ve long since learned that ephemeral displays of “you” are the key to creating monolithic norms towards which people will move without having to be persuaded.