|Image posted on The Holistic Genome by Jonathan Holt|
Living animals are sacred in Mercerism as well as societal status symbols (13-4), yet Deckard and his neighbors keep their animals on the roof where they are exposed to radioactive dust (8). Why wouldn’t they be safeguarded from the radiation? Even if the radiation wouldn’t quickly kill them, it would certainly affect their long-term health as well as their offspring.
Dick is also vague on the androids’ materiality, leaving the reader with many questions. If Polokov’s “brain box burst” and “blew into pieces” in Deckard’s hovercar (93), then why is a bone-marrow test necessary? Why doesn’t Deckard insist that Officer Crams verify his claims by examining Polokov’s android remains (110)? Given Deckard’s suspicion of Crams, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t force the issue.
Later, Pris Stratton says that Isidore’s groceries are “wasted” on her, but she tries a peach anyway (147-9). Is she programmed to be able to eat but not taste and enjoy food? And if that’s the case, then why does Irmgard Baty seem pleased to have peaches? Aren’t they the same model of Nexus-6 with the same programming? Though a minor detail, it raises perplexing questions about the “rules” of this fictional world and thus its realism.
As self-interested villains go, the androids Polokov, Luba Luft, Officer Crams, and Garland are progressively less believable. Polokov intends to kill Deckard and could have shot him immediately; instead, he has a conversation about his laser tube (92). Luft could have easily shot Deckard to protect herself but instead calls Officer Crams to arrest him (106). Either Crams or Garland could have killed the unarmed Deckard and the initially-unsuspecting Phil Resch. Garland has an entire building of rogue androids at his disposal but doesn’t utilize them (120-2).
One could argue these androids have consciences as well as consciousness. However, they lack empathy by design/nature and have previously demonstrated the inclination to murder for their benefit. I see no reason why they would cringe at killing Deckard. As Roy Baty says of John Isidore, “‘If he was an android,’” then “‘he’d turn us in about ten tomorrow morning” (164). Androids care about themselves but not others, not even other androids. In writing each android’s failure to kill Deckard and thus protect itself, Philip Dick completely ignores the “box” he wrote himself into when he created these characters.
While I am enjoying Androids, I think Dick could have written an even more compelling and intriguing novel if he had fleshed out the materiality of his dystopia and his androids’ actions and bodies. As Katherine Hayles points out, information must “‘always be instantiated in a medium’” and therefore can “never do away with matter or the body” (qtd. in Gane and Beer 113). Even the fictionalized information of a novel finds expression in the reader’s mind as imagery and concepts. Though expressed as thought, these thoughts are based on the experience of concrete realities, e.g. “brain” and “box.”
Considering the themes of Androids, Hayles’ arguments take on extra importance. If the reader is to believe that Nexus-6 androids are nearly identical to humans, then the reader must believe in the realism of the materiality of their information-processing, output (emotions, words, decisions, etc.), and physical structures and functions. The novel's blurred line between humanity and technology becomes more defined as its verisimilitude diminishes. Despite my fascination with the novel's themes, it’s often a challenge to suspend my disbelief and enter the post-WWT world.
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Ray, 1968.
Gane, Nicholas, and David Beer. New Media: The Key Concepts. Oxford: Berg, 2008. Print.