Kipple and Bytes

A Nebula Award winner in 1969, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick became the very loose basis of the 1982 film noir Blade Runner. #theLIST led me to read this little pocket of somewhat obscure science fiction, largely because I needed to include science fiction and I have an irrational fondness for Rutger Hauer, who played Roy Baty in the movie.

That being said, I was not in a film noir but in a novelle noir – a dark, dry novel that leaves more questions than it answers. In a post-apocalyptic world after World War Terminus, life on earth is a death sentence. There are very few real animals left and ownership of a real animal is a symbol of status. Moods can be controlled with the aid of a machine and religion, in the form of Mercerism, is truly the opiate of the masses. Life on earth is dry, dead, and disjointed. Mercerism brings individuals into a collective consciousness. No one knows if it is real, just as no one knows how Buster and Friends can be on 48 hours per day – on the radio and on the television.

Rick Deckard’s world is decaying into kipple – the dry, crumbling remnants of a society that has fled to the Martian Colony to escape the fall out. The only ones left cannot pass either physical or mental tests. They, too, are crumbling into kipple, bit by bit. Do they really have a life? Are they truly alive? The androids escaping from Mars declare that life is not better there. And why should they be retired, when their cells cannot regenerate and they will crumble into kipple in four years? Deckard questions his motives, but after the first three retirements, he buys a real Nubian goat on a four-year installment plan. In the end, his desire for something that is truly alive drives him to commit the retirement of three highly evolved but soulless androids who would have died in less than two years anyway.

Life loves life. Androids intellectually covet life without the emotional component that goes into envy. And the worst murder of all involves an android and a goat.

There are no winners in this book. Every character has a gap in his or her life and soul. I rubbed my hands to brush off the dust and I am struck with the idea that all of my possessions may somehow deteriorate into kipple. The world feels like an episode of mass hoarders after the nuclear winter, where the possessions we have gathered together eventually fill the space abandoned by people. Soulless, mindless, and hopeless. The hopeless emptiness of an abandoned planet with nothing but a slow, dry death to anticipate is a concept that makes a four year life span appealing.

The next time I am frustrated with a person who seems really ruthless or unsympathetic, I will recall Rachel Rosen and her idea of vengeance. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has me cherishing hope and optimism in my daily life again. The hopelessness that can be lifted by thinking one has found a real frog, long thought to be extinct, and crushed when one finds the control box makes even my dog’s snore a precious thing.

In the end, everyone is retired in this novel. The only question is how many years it will take to die.

7/10 hearts. It was short and sad, but the dry dustiness lingers in my soul.

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