Tuesday, April 19, 2011

#46: Frankenstein, #14: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?


“Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.” 
“I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”  
“Even broken in spirit as he is, no one can feel more deeply than he does the beauties of nature. The starry sky, the sea, and every sight afforded by these wonderful regions, seems still to have the power of elevating his soul from earth. Such a man has a double existence: he may suffer misery, and be overwhelmed by disappointments; yet, when he has retired into himself, he will be like a celestial spirit that has a halo around him, within whose circle no grief or folly ventures.” 
“...for nothing contributes so much to tranquillize the mind as a steady purpose--a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”
Frankenstein has the distinction of being what many consider to be the first true science fiction novel; rather than being awoken by magic spells, Frankenstein's monster is brought to life via electric shocks, scientifically, through known technologies of man. Furthermore, Frankenstein is probably one of the most respected, in literary terms, of any novel on this list. It's no secret that sci-fi doesn't get much respect in the "serious" literary community, really the novels on this list that will get attention are: Frankenstein, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, Vonnegut's work, some of H.G. Wells, and maybe Dune, but not much else.
Of course, Frankenstein has been reviewed in much more depth than I will go into, but I'll just cover the obvious stuff. Frankenstein is a gothic novel in every sense of the word. It is dark and dreary throughout its length, and although many movies have been made with violence abundance, it is not action-packed, and the monster isn't some mindless killing machine. He is much more sympathetic, and intelligent in fact, as he is made out in popular culture, films, and the like. He just wants to be treated as a human being! However, he only seems to inspire fear, except for a short period when he comes in contact with blind people.
The entire story is told as a flashback, from an exhausted Victor Frankenstein, to an Arctic explorer, Robert Walton. Victor tells of his life, how he created the monster, and how he shunned the monster afterwards, as it began killing off his loved ones. The monster is somewhat sympathetic, and due to his appearance, he is regarded with terror by human society. When he rescues a young girl from drowning, he is shot at when seen with the girl in his arms. The monster becomes interested in classic literature, especially John Milton's Paradise Lost. As the monster begins to become intelligent, seemingly more so that its creator, it starts to desire a mate. The monster requests a mate from Victor, but Victor will not let another monster loose on the world. Gradually, the monster kills off Victor's friends; including Henry Clerval, and even his wife, Elizabeth, soon after their wedding, when Victor, thinking the monster is after him, patrols the house with a weapon, while the monster sneaks in and kills Elizabeth, hoping to make Victor as miserable as he is. Victor then hopes to pursue the monster until one of them destroys the other.
Frankenstein is a disturbing, dark novel that calls into question what humanity truly is, while also dealing with selfishness, depression, "playing God" and a plethora of other issues. A lot of the novel is Victor feeling sorry for himself, and the novel has very few happy moments. It is masterfully written, however, especially considering Shelley was twenty-one when it was published.
As science fiction, it is dark and literate, I'd recommend it, but not as strongly as some other books on this list. I respect the literary quality of Frankenstein, but it can be very depressing. It certainly raises very serious questions and issues that have been present in science fiction ever since. In fact, many issues in Frankenstein came to define SF, such as, when does man become god or god-like? After creating life? Frankenstein is extremely significant to the genre, and its a good, but heavy read. For fans of SF's origins, this book, as well as the work of Wells, Stapledon, and Verne are the major works to read, bar none.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?:

“My schedule for today lists a six-hour self-accusatory depression.” 
“Do you have information that there's an android in the cast? I'd be glad to help you, and if I were an android would I be glad to help you?"
"An android," he said, "doesn't care what happens to another android. That's one of the indications we look for."
"Then," Miss Luft said, "you must be an android.”

“Too bad. And Mozart, not long after writing The Magic Flute, had died--in his thirties--of kidney disease. And had been buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.
Thinking this, he wondered if Mozart had any intuition that the future did not exist, that he had already used up his little time. Maybe I have too, Rick thought as he watched the rehearsal move along. This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name "Mozart" will vanish, the dust will have won. If not on this planet then another. We can evade it awhile. As the andys can evade me and exist a finite stretch longer. But I will get them or some other bounty hunter gets them. In a way, he realized, I'm part of the form-destroying process of entropy.” 

“Everything is true,' he said. 'Everything anybody has ever thought.'
'Will you be all right?'
'I'll be all right,' he said, and thought, And I'm going to die. Both those are true, too.” 

“You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go. It is the basic condition of life, to be required to violate your own identity. At some time, every creature which lives must do so. It is the ultimate shadow, the defeat of creation; this is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life. Everywhere in the universe.” 
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is another great Philip K. Dick novel. You might even cajole me into admitting that it is the single greatest thing he ever wrote. It is also the only novel of adult-length that I have ever read cover-to-cover in a single sitting. And it is also, in my unpopular opinion, better than Blade Runner, the movie based on it, which some consider to be the best SF film ever made.
Androids is a typical PKD novel, if anything by PKD can be called "typical" in any way. If you have never read a PKD novel, and you are trying to familiarize yourself with SF, go out there and pick one up immediately: this novel, Ubik, A Martian Time-Slip, and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch are all good starters. The Man in the High Castle is also excellent, but in a mainstream-SF way, with only a hint of Dick's usual madness thrown in there. But if you have read a PKD novel, Androids is typical in the issues it deals with, and of course very different from conventional SF in ways that only PKD could dream up.
The novel deals with a bounty hunter named Rick Deckard, who hunts down androids, and essentially kills them, or "retires" them, in political-correct-speak of the time. The world is post World-War Three, and most animals and other parts of nature have been destroyed and replaced by androids, including some humans. Deckard must track down six of the dangerous Nexus-6 variety of robots, and destroy them, with the help of Rachel Rosen, who is an android herself, and Phil Resch, who might be an android. Of course, PKD makes this novel impossible to put down, with plot twists, and some really mind-bending "what is reality, and what is real?" type questions.
Like most PKD novels, this isn't a happy tale, but its genius is undeniable. The major part of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that the movie left out is the philosophizing, which is on par, in my view, with VALIS, a book essentially filled with PKD's philosophies of life, only this one is lessed drugged-out and insane, but still vintage Philip K. Dick. The book's general atmosphere was hit dead on by the film; dark, polluted, neon-filled, loud, urban, and depressing. The characters are all fascinating and the premise of the novel is one of Dick's strongest, easily. The central message is vintage PKD, and he uses the robots and a false police-department episode that tricks Deckard to pose the question what really is real, and what is reality, if it even exists? Some interesting concepts in this novel include the mood organ, a bedside instrument that can cause people to feel different moods whenever they want to, a concept that enforcing Dick's notion, a true one, in my opinion, that people don't always want to be happy, and sometimes people really just want some stress and aggravation to make themselves feel good. It's like they don't want to have Heaven forced upon them, as some atheists say and to be forced to have a good time.
 Another interesting PKD quote we get from this book involves the futility and meaningless of life, much like Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan, as Rick says, "Everything is true, everything anyone has ever thought." The implication of the novel as a whole seems to add to this statement... But what does it matter? Yeah, depressing stuff, but it certainly makes you think!
Finally, the concept of Mercerism is one I absolutely love, and it involves the one thing that humans have over robots, empathy. Mercerism is somewhat like a religion, and involves people experience an alternate reality in which they possess a man's body, and that man is trudging up a hill, with rocks being thrown at him, and the humans experience his pain and empathize with him. The way it's described is amazing.
This book has so many excellent scenes, I can't begin to describe all of them. I can tell you that this book is underrated to the extreme, and it really shouldn't be in the shadow of Blade Runner any loner. It's just a top-notch PKD mind-bender. (Oh, and the scene with the frog in the wasteland, the scene involving the spider's legs being pulled off, the realization that the happy, 24-hour radio show is just run by robots, and the Voigt-Kampff scene with Rachel are all excellent) You should do yourself a favor and read this book. You won't be able to put it down. Truly as interesting and engaging as the best SF out there.

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