I'm not sure why I waited so long to read Philip K. Dick's work, but midway through Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and I'm hooked. I was expecting something along the lines of a sci fi thriller--all action edge of your seat sort of stuff, but this is actually much deeper and more nuanced. I've had to make myself slow down and read more carefully as that's the sort of book this is. He writes in a fairly simple style, but it's deceptively simple since it's filled with ideas, in this case what it means to be human.
Philip K. Dick published 44 novels as well as more than 100 short stories during his short lifetime--many of them were award winners or nominees. He was born in Chicago in 1928 and died in California in 1982 and from what little I've read about him, it's clear that he was quite progressive in his thinking. Almost all his novels are within the science fiction genre but he wanted to be successful in mainstream American literature, something that didn't happen in his lifetime. As a matter of fact he never really made much money from his work. A number of his works have been adapted to film, however, and he was the first science fiction author to be included in the Library of America series.
I don't want to talk too much about the book yet, as I want to write about it properly later when I finish, but it's probably one of his more famous novels, which was made into the film Bladerunner--though I should note that while the film is based on the book the stories do vary widely from what I understand--so you might already be familiar with it. Do Androids Dream was published in 1968, but it's set in a not too far off future, 2021. Another world war has done what the previous wars failed to do--made earth nearly uninhabitable. Now most people live on Mars or in other off-planet colonies, but this story takes place in California. Emigrants to Mars receive an android, which is so sophisticated you almost can't tell them from humans. This becomes problematic, so they are banned from Earth. Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, it's his job to catch the few who slip through and blend in. The difference between humans and androids being the ability to feel empathy, an emotion lacking in "andys".
One of the results of the war is the mass extinction of most animals. Humans covet what they can't have, so in their absence are sophisticated simulacrae--animals that aren't real but mimic them so realistically that it's hard to tell the difference. My teaser is a passage where Rick Deckard comes across an owl, an animal that he thought had all but disappeared.
"For a long time he stood gazing at the owl, who dozed on its perch. A thousand thoughts came into his mind, thoughts about the war, about the days when owls had fallen from the sky; he remembered how in his childhood it had been discovered that species upon species had become extinct and how the 'papes had reported it each day--foxes one morning, badgers the next, until people had stopped reading the perpetual animal obits."
"He thought, too, about his need for a real animal; within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn't know I exist. Like the androids, it had no ability to appreciate the existence of another. He had never thought of this before, the similarity between an electric animal and an andy. The electric animal, he pondered, could be considered a subform of the other, a kind of vastly inferior robot. Or, conversely, the android could be regarded as a highly developed, evolved version of the ersatz animal. Both viewpoints repelled him."
I'm very much enjoying reading Philip K. Dick and now will have to make a point of choosing more works from PKD as well as other authors that have been suggested to me; Ian M. Banks, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, Kurt Vonnegut, Ian McDonald, Ray Bradbury, Octavia E. Butler, Brian K. Slattery, Doulas Adams, and Chine Mieville. I do love having a new list of authors to explore.