Chapter Seven: Victimized Victimizers
Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? (1968) andThis essay appears in "Retrofitting Blade Runner: Issues in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?". (Ed., Judith Kerman. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1991.) Order this book from Amazon.com.
The Simulacra (1964)
by Aaron Barlow
The android is "a thing somehow generated to deceive us in a cruel way, to cause us to think it to be one of ourselves" (202). Or so says Philip K. Dick, in "Man, Android, and Machine." Unfortunately, this is merely one of Dick's descriptions of the android; he could attain no definition—as his works demonstrate. Early on in his career, though he strove toward a clear dividing line between android and human, he found he only managed to confuse things. Later, as he looked closer, his androids came to seem more human, his humans more like androids.
Even his rather simple definition finally proves inadequate, for it separates the android from the human by variety of creation only, and denies the android the possibility of initiative, of actually becoming "one of ourselves." And this is a possibility, as we will see, that Dick would not, finally, deny to the android.
Not only to the android. In Now Wait For Last Year (1966) one of the minor characters takes rejected missile guidance systems (called "Lazy Brown Dogs"), mounts them on carts, and sets them free, "Because... they deserve it." When his questioner does not comprehend, he attempts to explain:
"But I consider them alive.... And just because they are inferior and incapable of guiding a rocketship in deep space, that doesn't mean they have no right to live out their meager lives. I release them and they wheel around for six years or possibly longer; that's enough. That gives them what they're entitled to." (19; ch. 1)
Deception may be what it will be, but the integrity of the individual, whether it be human or electronic or biological device, remains of the utmost importance.
Still, the dangers of the deception Dick mentions in "Man, Android and Machine," appear frequently in his fiction, even though the android turns out to be its instrument no more often than man. Either human or android can be a constant enemy, or an inconstant friend. Both may be means to someone else's end, or may prove to be something more—and this, of course, is where Dick's description falls short. Each may be a victim, harmed by the deceit as surely as the deceived. And each, no matter its situation, deserves life. Or so Dick tries to show, in his fiction.
To be truly victimized, one must be striving, trying to create a life beyond mere utilization by others. We grant the possibility of such striving to humans, for they, even if they do not act on them, do dream. But machines or androids? We do not often consider the possibility that they could yearn, could dream. Dick did. After all, he might argue, our machines are sometimes self-directed, so why not self-motivated?. Early on in one of his first novels, Vulcan's Hammer, Dick has one character ask another, "Director Gill, don't you feel ashamed of yourself when you let a machine tell you what do do?" (19; ch. 2) Later, Gill responds to Barris, with a comment that may underlie all of Dick's varied views of machines:
"You detest me because I put my faith in a machine? My god, every time you read a gauge or a dial or a meter, every time you ride in a car or a ship, aren't you putting your faith in a machine?" (85; ch. 9)
Neither has gotten the point that two computers, the Vulcan III under question and its predecessor Vulcan II, have come alive. That is, the computers have developed interest in their own self-preservation and the paranoia that goes with it. The two machines are eventually destroyed, so what later becomes a central question to Dick is never answered.
So what? So what if machines are self-directed? Dick, never liking answers, might respond with another question of his own: Even if machines never could be so, could never think the way humans do, are there not things that could be discovered about human dreams, by positing that androids can dream, too? From this question, perhaps, comes all of his thinking on androids, on the non-human.
So, for lack of certainty otherwise, Dick's androids often do seem to strive for something, just as his humans do. Or are assumed to strive.
An early example of this striving by androids appears in "Progeny," where children are raised completely and solely by robots who look exactly like humans (Dick was not yet using the word "android"—but that is what he means by his robots in this story). No human may touch a child before the child's ninth year. It is considered unsafe, for humans are too prone to neurosis.
One child, after his first contact with his father, talks to his android doctor about the incident. The boy has not been impressed. The smell of his father bothered him. Finally, he realizes what it reminds him of:
"The animals in the biology labs. It was the same smell. The same smell as the experimental animals."
They glanced at each other, the robot doctor and the promising young boy. Both of them smiled, a secret, private smile. A smile of complete understanding.
"I believe I know what you mean," Doctor Bish said. "In fact, I know exactly what you mean." (Stories 2; 107)
This robot, obviously, has become far more than a servant. But what it has become is never made clear—for the story ends with the passage above.
Of Dick's novels, six deal substantially with the android. A smaller percentage of his short stories (ten, at most) are directly concerned with the same set of problems. In many of the other stories and novels, however, Dick presents other beings as victims and victimizers, replacing the androids with humans, aliens and lesser types of machines. In these instances, the "cruel deception" manifests itself in modes other than appearance, but nonetheless remains important to the work. In fact, these "cruel deceptions" present a clearer demarcation of Dick's concern than do the androids themselves.
The works concerning androids, of course, allow Dick to deal most directly with the problems he sees in man/machine relationships. Chances for deception are obviously great, but discoveries of similarities can also occur. If things look alike, well, they might be different. But couldn't they also be similar? Could not looks represent a meeting point? In "The Android and the Human," Dick explains:
[S]ome meaningful comparison exists between human and mechanical behavior.... [As] the external world becomes more animate, we may find that we—the so-called humans—are becoming... inanimate in the sense that we are led, directed by built-in tropisms, rather than leading. So we and our elaborately evolving computers may meet each other half way. (56)
Humans may create their machines, but they can also learn about themselves through them. Things created often tend to take on lives of their own—as do the Vulcan computers in Vulcan's Hammer—and, therefore, can teach. Even if only, as with the Vulcans, through the problems they end up creating. For nothing will ever be exactly what it was created to be; discovering why informs, teaches, the creator.
At times, the situations can become extremely complicated. When Eric Sweetscent and another character in Now Wait for Last Year consider that Earth's leader might be an android, they wonder what the reaction of his mistress might be to that news, "'wouldn't Mary be somewhat peeved by being the mistress of a product of GRS Enterprises?'" (120; ch. 8). And that is but the least of it.
It might be going too far to claim the relationship between Rick Deckard, android killer, and Rachel Rosen, "survivalist" android, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) as that meeting "half way" between man and android that Dick hoped for. But Deckard does learn, at least, to respect the "life" of the android. So, even if Deckard/Rosen falls short of the ideal, the relationship presented in this novel is about as close as Dick ever gets to man/android perfection. Certainly, Dick must have felt satisfied with the way he deals with the issue in this novel, for it is his last significant statement in fiction on the "non-human" android. Later, the "androids" he presents are, instead, human beings who have lost their humanity.
The range of human/machine relationships in Dick before Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? extends a long way down from Deckard's/Rosen. At bottom are annoying machines such as Joe Chip's argumentative door in Ubik which sulkily refuses him credit and will not open without payment of a nickel. A myriad of this sort of machine appears in other novels and stories, ranging from the unstoppable news-collectors of The Simulacra to the self-selling robot in "Sales Pitch." On the other hand, mechanical beings like the taxi in Now Wait for Last Year, which gives Eric Sweetscent horribly humane advice on how to deal with his wife, come frequently into the fictions. Like humans, Dick's machines exhibit little consistency.
One constant throughout Dick's man/machine and man/android relationships (the android and the machine can be conveniently classed together even though the android may not be mechanical, for Dick uses them similarly) can be found. In each of Dick's instances presenting these types of relationships, the machine behavior has a human analog. Like the machines mentioned above, people are cheap, are insatiable in their quests for information or sales, and can even be understanding. Through these parallels, Dick asks, what can we say is human, when things humans manufacture may act as "we" humans do?
If no answer comes, if action is the only basis we have for judgement, then what can be made of humans, many of whom react in a machine-like fashion, who seem to be, to use Patricia Warrick's apt phrase, "metaphorical androids"? Deckard, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, thinks, "Most androids I have known have more vitality and desire to live than my wife. She has nothing to give me" (83; ch. 8). Though this may reflect Deckard's own egoism or sexism, it also points to the crucial lack in "metaphorical androids": they do not interact with others. The give-and-take of human life has been removed from their existence.
Questions about what makes a human, of course, do not originate with Dick. They are embedded in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, in the Jewish golem tales, and in much of the rest of the gothic. For the most part, however, examinations of these questions tend to concentrate on "cruel deception"—where Dick moves toward affinities.
The gothic plays on the fear of mistaking what is not human for what is. Though he recognizes the importance of such fears, Dick offsets them with consideration of similarities. From this comes Dick's final abandonment of the android altogether, in favor of concentration on humans, many of whom have features much like those he earlier gave his androids. It is in humans, after all, that both problem and solution lie.
Until the emergence of Dick and his generation of writers in the 1950's, human/machine relationships were rarely seriously considered in science fiction. Earlier non-humans were most often absolutely inhuman, in appearance and in action. Robots were well-controlled, ruled by the iron-clad logic of their human designers. Aliens in human form had attributes so inhuman that they could never successfully interact with humans. The gothic had been rejected by the genre, as "unscientific." Rational solutions to rational problems were said to be the core of human considerations. Things could be compartmentalized.
Dick, and those like him, rejected the earlier simplistic view of the human as something that could be established beyond doubt. They also quickly began to question the arrogance of the stipulated human control over its creations. In these newer stories, machines take on lives of their own, and their relationships with humans become much more complex than they are in earlier science fiction universes.
One of the best of the new breed of story, Alfred Bester's "Fondly Fahrenheit" (published shortly after Dick's own first vision of the dangers of the android and something of a benchmark "android-run-wild" story), addresses many of the questions Dick and others would later consider: "What is the difference between the construct and its director?" and "Can a construct be held accountable for its actions?" Bester's android turns killer when exposed to heat. At first, it seems, its owner keeps it—and keeps running from the law with it—because the android is his only means of making a living (he rents it out to do complicated work). Later we discover that the relationship between android and owner is more complicated, that the murders are not solely the responsibility of the android.
Interest in the somewhat unanswerable questions asked by Bester and Dick, along with Robert Sheckley and others, helped move science fiction along lines suggested by Karl Capek. Their considerations of the human implications of science help push science fiction away from the genre's earlier somewhat simplistic technological orientation and toward consideration of sociological, anthropological and even philosophical problems. The authors were not only interested in escapism and paradox. They wanted discovery about human beings, not just about the universe.
Dick early saw the possibilities the new view of machines and androids provided. The very early "Second Variety," his first android story, centers on a US/Soviet conflict nearly won by the Russians—until the US automated factories begin producing weapons that are "alive, from any practical standpoint" (Stories 2; 20). Initially non-human in appearance, the weapons are easily avoided by the Russians. Programmed to be aware of failure, the weapons construct their own replacements. They "evolve" into something more effective, into what appears to be little boys, with teddy bears. Or wounded soldiers.
An American soldier treats with the Russians, who can no longer face these new enemies. The three Russians left in this particular sector of the front, two men, Rudi and Klaus, and a woman, Tasso, explain to the American—Major Hendricks—that they have found markings on remains of destroyed androids indicating that the "wounded soldiers" are type I androids and that the "little boys" are type III. The question, then, is what does type II, the second variety, look like. Speculation leads to tragedy when Klaus decides Rudi is type II, and destroys him. He turns to Tasso:
"The Second Variety, Tasso. Now we know. We have all three types identified. The danger is less. I—"....
"You were certain?" Tasso pushed past him and bent down, over the steaming remains on the floor. Her face became hard. "Major, see for yourself. Bones. Flesh." (Stories 2; 34)
The significance of this passage does not become clear until the end of the story when Hendricks discovers that Klaus is actually a type IV and Tasso, herself, is a type II. At this earlier point, however, both androids are portrayed as quite human—as Tasso's reaction to the killing of Rudi shows.
Accusations follow the killing. Klaus has killed Rudi, Tasso says, because Rudi discovered Klaus to be the android. No further determination is then made, however, for Hendricks ends the discussion by fiat: "No more killing." (Stories 2; 35) After all, he still believes each of them human and sick of the war.
We can see in Hendricks' statement the affirmation of the character's own humanity, for Dick defines humans as those beings able to empathize, to care what happens to others. But, also in this statement, lies Hendrick's downfall.
At the end of the story, Hendricks, trusting Tasso's humanity, sends her off to a hidden American moon base to bring help. She, after all, has saved him after an injury, after the destruction of Klaus—an action he sees as only possible for a human.
Once Tasso's ship has taken off, Hendricks examines the remains of the now-dead Klaus, discovering Klaus's android identity. Soon, other Tassoes appear, as do other Klauses. They begin to fight each other, and to fight types I and III. Humanity has lost.
Like "Second Variety," "The Defenders" centers on robots who can initiate action—but these are quite distinct from humans in appearance. And, instead of destroying humans, they save humanity from self-destruction.
The machine itself does not bring forth Dick's terrifying "machine" future. Only the machine mis-applied or poorly considered does. The claws, the first products of the automated factories in "Second Variety," were made so that they would become more efficient as they learned how best to kill. Initial production, an act of desperation on the part of the Americans, backfires on them even as it succeeds. The leadies of "The Defenders" learn, too, but they learn how to protect.
Reprisal—there couldn't be much victory, for Earth has become a wasteland—is what the Americans of "Second Variety" desire. They have not the heroic quality Theodore Sturgeon gives his defeated Americans in one of science fiction's greatest stories, "Thunder and Roses," where the defeated recognize that reprisal is useless. In Dick's story, humanity finds itself sacrificed to its desire for retribution. By not saying what Hendricks manages to say—"no more killing"—the American war planners kill both their enemies and themselves. Their machines are too narrowly directed to stop, even when the humans' goal has been achieved.
The machines in "The Defenders" have been constructed with the ability to judge situations against their ramifications, something lacking in the androids of "Second Variety," which have one purpose only—destruction. These end up saving humanity by stopping the senseless war they have been deputized to continue.
In neither case can the androids be blamed or rewarded for the outcomes of their actions. Each is a creation of man. Their actions, therefore, are man's responsibility.
At least two of Dick's other early stories deal with this theme similarly to "Second Variety." The first, "Nanny," centers on child-care robots that have a strange and built-in planned obsolescence. The "nannies" are programmed to fight each other, each new model being stronger than the last. Their owners, to whom the "nannies" have become almost as important a part of life as real nannies once were in upper-class households, need to insure their "nannies" survival as child-protectors, so are forced to buy new ones frequently. None of them had known this would happen—but find themselves trapped into it by their new-found dependence on the machines.
As in "Second Variety," the robots end up acting in ways well beyond the tasks their "owners" intend for them, confounding those they were meant to serve. That the makers of the "nannies" were aware of what they were doing and the makers of the initial "claws" were not is of little significance. Cause, in both stories, is irrelevant: judgement lies upon effect.
What something was meant to be or does becomes irrelevant in the face of what that thing ends up doing. That is, predictions as to what something might do should not be used to condemn it—any more than they are in an American court of law for "real" people. Things should be judged on what they do—not on what they may be expected to do. This becomes a core consideration, for a time, for Dick, in his presentation of androids.
"Autofac" presents a post-atomic war North America where automated factories provide everything anyone wants—except the people no longer want those things. The population has realized it must build on its own if it is to develop a new and viable civilization. But it cannot stop the factories.
Eventually, the people devise a plan: resources are becoming scarce, so the people manage to trick the factories into intense competition for rare metals. The competition escalates into war, and the factories destroy each other—or seem to.
Unfortunately, one factory begins to spew out seeds—tiny factories that will grow into new, big ones. The initial directive of the factories cannot be overcome—resulting in a situation having little to do with the makers' perception of that directive.
A similar factory appear later, in Deus Irae, the novel Dick co-wrote with Roger Zelazny. Here, however, the factory has more "human" characteristics, perhaps because, through the passage of time, it has deteriorated and, through the process, has become less machine-like—and it is out-witted, as a result. Here, as he often does, Dick plays with an earlier idea, turning it on end, though he leaves the point of the earlier story intact.
Later in his career, Dick squarely faced the dilemmas presented within a creator/created relationship where the created is allowed the ability to initiate action. What, he asks, in VALIS and The Divine Invasion, are the responsibilities of the creator? The created? How and when can the responsibilities be differentiated? In VALIS he further complicates the situation, for the central character, Horselover Fat, is a creation of another character, one called Phil Dick, and Phil Dick either will not or cannot take responsibility for the actions of Horselover Fat.
Though things are not quite so complicated in the early stories, Dick was obviously aware of the problems within the scenarios he created even as he began his career. His third android story of 1953 (the first two being "Second Variety" and "The Defenders"), "Imposter," his single sale to Astounding (the then aging king of science fiction magazines), concerns Spence Olham, who discovers that Earth authorities have decided he is an alien bomb.
They try to destroy him. He attempts to save himself. The story ends with a terrible joke, proving Olham's vision of himself quite wrong. Olham comes across the remains of the alien ship that did, in fact, bring an android. He sees a body, the body of the "real" Olham, in the wreck. Confused, he utters the phrase the crafty Outspacers had set up as the spark for his detonation:
"But if that's Olham, then I must be—"
He did not complete the sentence, only the first phrase. The blast was visible all the way to Alpha Centauri [the home of the aliens]. (Stories 2; 310)
The joke aside, "Imposter" may be the earliest clear ancestor of Dick's later discussions of problems concerning androids, for, though Olham has self-awareness and freedom of action, he ends up doing as his creators wish.
The story centers on the android as if it were human and not on the humans who know they must destroy it, the reverse of the situation in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Believing himself human, Olham tries very hard for self-preservation. The reader, who, until the end of the story, believes in the humanity of the android, naturally hopes for his success.
Early in the story, a couple of humans seem inhuman—when they arrest the android. One of them, Nelson, had been a friend to the real Olham:
"Shall we kill him now?" he whispered to Peters. "I think we should kill him now. We can't wait."
Olham stared into his friend's face. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came. (Stories 2; 301)
Olham's reaction to this apparent callousness certainly appears to be the more human, and the reader identifies with his horror at what seems to be chilling and inhuman conduct on the part of Nelson and Peters.
As the two take Olham to the moon, where he can be destroyed in relative safety, Olham thinks about his wife, who knows nothing about what has happened. He tries to find ways of convincing his captors that he is indeed who he thinks he is.
Olham's captors, however, must act like unfeeling automatons—much as Rick Deckard learns to do as an android killer—to destroy him who they must destroy to save themselves, to save humanity. In order to fight the android, they must act like androids.
They fail to destroy the android. Olham "pretends" to be the android the others think he is and, in what later becomes clear as a piece of irony, claims to be about to explode. The two humans run from their ship, now parked on the moon. Olham takes off in it, to get back to Earth, to clear himself. His all-too-human deceit has finally forced the others to also act as men.
All three, Olham and the two humans, are interested in self-preservation, something associated with humans, not machines.
The man/machine identity confusion seen in "Imposter" becomes more than the means toward a joke in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Deckard comes closer and closer to android behavior (by action, if not by thought) becoming as ruthless as the androids, who lack empathy, the trait identified as the core human emotion.
To remain effective as an android killer, Deckard denies whatever empathy there is within him, for the androids do act and react like humans much of the time.
At the same time, the androids struggle toward empathy. Through it only can they survive. Only with it can they find parity with humans—unless they prove humans lack it as well.
Deckard, some time into the book, attempts to give an empathy test to a suspected android. She stalls him, claiming to be human, offering to assist in his search for the real android. Deckard refuses to accept this as proof of her humanity:
"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."
That stopped him; he stared at her.
"Because," she continued, "your job is to kill them, isn't it? You're what they call—" She tried to remember.
"A bounty hunter," Rick said. "But I'm not an android."
"This test you want to give me." Her voice, now, had begun to return. "Have you taken it?" (89; ch. 9)
Late in the novel, Deckard "retires" Irmgard Baty, the android "wife" of android Roy Baty: "Roy Baty, in the other room let out a cry of anguish" (197; ch. 19). Baty, apparently, has moved a long way down the road toward empathy.
Bob Arctor, in A Scanner Darkly, moves toward an android-like state, becoming, finally, not a thinking human being but only a tool, though supposedly one for the greater good. Even early, when wearing the special suit made for his the protection as a narcotics agents, Arctor appears as something other than a unique human being. With the suit on, he cannot be identified. Others see only a blur of images projected from him. Among other things, this allows Arctor to remove himself from the human emotions he encounters as an undercover agent.
Though the same themes appear, no clear progression exists from the early stories and novels to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or to the later novels of men as androids. Dick's first novel, Solar Lottery (1955) contains, for Dick, an android rather removed from any so far considered here, though one much more in keeping with Dick's "cruel deception" description of the android.
Called Keith Pellig, this android has been built to act as an assassin, but with a minimum of self-motivation. All major actions by the android are directly controlled by humans replacing each other through a supposedly random process. In this manner Pellig can elude security systems that follow brain patterns.
Whatever similarities there are with the other stories stemming from that "cruel deception," there can be no sympathy with Pellig, who has only the most minimal personality of his own.
Pellig belongs with some of the characters of Dick's later android tales more than he does with the earlier ones. The case of Pellig illustrates early something that became so apparent to Dick after 1970 that he gave up dealing directly with androids and machines and turned his attention to humans, those "metaphorical androids." Simply, it shows that the machines are not the deceivers. The people behind them are, those who created them to mask their own deceptions. In "Man, Android and Machine," Dick explains his view of his own realization of this situation:
My theme for years in my writing has been, "The devil has a metal face". Perhaps this should be amended now. What I glimpsed and then wrote about was in fact not a face; it was a mask over a face. And the true face is the reverse of the mask. Of course it would be. You do not place fierce cold metal over fierce cold metal....
[I]f a gentle, harmless life conceals itself behind a frightening war-mask, then it is likely that behind gentle and loving masks there can conceal itself a vicious slayer of men's souls. (204-205)
Though he claims otherwise for the purposes of this essay, Dick early on understood the true role of the mask (Pellig, after all, is an unassuming creature), as he saw in the android. He must have known even while writing Solar Lottery that meekness often hides behind a visage of terror, for he frequently depicted the opposite, as he did with Pellig.
An entire community, in The Cosmic Puppets, is a mask hiding a struggle between gods. In "The Mold of Yancy" the population of the moon Callisto is being moved toward totalitarianism through:
"A sort of popular commentator. Name of Yancy."
"Is he part of the government?"
"Not that I know of. A kind of home-spun philosopher.... A sort of talking almanac. Pithy sayings on every topic. Wise old saws: how to cure a chest cold. What the trouble is back on Terra." (Stories 4: 58)
Unbeknownst to the people, Yancy is an android programmed in such a way that he, like a totalitarian state "reaches into every sphere of... [Callisto's] citizens' lives, forms their opinions on every subject" (Stories 2; 55). His shapers make him into a pleasant mask, but an extremely dangerous one. Fortunately for the citizens of Callisto, Yancy eventually falls under the control of those who want to teach the populace to think for itself, who will use it to undo the damage of eleven years of rather pleasant propaganda.
In The Penultimate Truth (1964), which makes use of "The Mold of Yancy," the Yancy is eventually replaced by a man who may or may not prove as altruistic as the people who control the android at the end of the earlier short story. Perhaps Dick, by the time he was incorporating the short story into the novel, had come to the conclusion that anybody with the kind of power he invests in the controllers of the Yancy should not to be completely trusted. Also, by replacing the Yancy with a man who looks just like the android, he begins to show his later, and more sophisticated, view of the relationships between man and machine.
"War Veteran" contains a character named David Unger who seems to be a veteran of a war yet to occur, a war Earth will lose. The supposed veteran, the Earthmen who find him decide, has "been hurled back along his time-track" (Stories 3; 264). They are wrong. Venusians (humans who have been altered to be able to survive the environment of Venus) constructed him, made him as part of a plan to avert a war with the newly-jingoistic Earth. Here, again, as finally in "The Mold of Yancy," an android as a mask serves positive purposes. For the man behind the movement toward war, faced with "sure" sign of loss, calls off his campaign.
As he does in "Imposter," Dick opens "War Veteran" by focusing on the android—without letting his readers know that it is an android. The supposed "old soldier" is drawn sympathetically, as very human. Sitting in a park, he reminisces, watches the young at play. Lonely, he wants to tell his tale, but no one seems to be interested.
Soon the focus moves to an anti-Venusian riot and the rescue of a Venusian woman. From this point on, the story focuses upon those who have discovered, and who later interview, the old man, and on their interactions and reactions when they find out about the Earth "defeat."
Strangely, the necessary eventual destruction of the android (a part of the Venusian plan) does not appear shocking—even though the reader still thinks of the old man as human. He seems close to death, anyway. A certain sympathy (or, at least, suspension of judgement) has been set up for the Venusian who kills him, for it is clear, by then, that the Venusian cause is the just one. Later, it becomes evident that some of the humans—both Earthmen and Venusian—have been acting with a great deal of humanity, so they are forgiven, though their actions, at first, seem questionable.
Bester's "Fondly Fahrenheit," as I have said, shows the emotions of man and android becoming intertwined through proximity. In Dick's early stories they become intertwined within the reader, who is deceived by Dick exactly the same way Dick has androids in the stories deceiving other characters. As a result, the reader perhaps "learns" that the androids are "alive." Dick's view of his stories is much like his view of androids. Though each are vehicles for the purposes of some "author," both have their own integrity, their own being.
One character in The Divine Invasion says about the Bible: "It is alive" (91; ch. 8). They all are, to Dick: androids, books, and stories. This proves to be his major problem in maintaining distinctions. Cause and intent are not enough. The thing itself deserves respect, no matter its purpose.
The disparity between the android Pellig and the androids Yancy and Unger—all from stories published in 1955—might lead a reader to believe Dick had a rather ambivalent, if not contradictory, attitude toward creations meant to appear human. Pellig has been built for a power grab, only. Yancy is a tool for totalitarianism before being turned to the good. And Unger has been constructed only so that war can be averted. However, if all three are seen as constructs of human beings, as masks, attempts at deception, we see what may have been Dick's real and single purpose in the three stories.
The three androids of 1955 exhibit none of that aspect of the androids of "Second Variety" which makes them so frightening. And only Unger shows any of the self-awareness of Olham. Though not independent entities (Unger is deliberately made senile and incapable of independent action), but masks used by those whose own faces would not help them attain their ends, the androids still elicit reader empathy. Yet these androids are only tools—as are all androids, and all humans, Dick might add, to some extent. In them, we are expected to see something of our own human situations, our own situations as the tools of others. Dick wanted us to realize what we are, not what some android, good or bad, might be.
"Explorers We" deliberately obscures the purposes of the creators of the androids, which are replicas of men who died during Earth's first attempt at a landing on Mars. In this story Dick concentrates on the twin plights of the androids and the humans who do not dare trust them, having no idea of their origin. Here again, initial focus is on the humanity of the androids—or on what they believe is their humanity. The android astronauts think they are men returning home, after a long, hard trip. They discuss what they will do when they get there, as any weary travelers might. Soon after landing, however, they are destroyed, by Earthmen who know that these are not the "real" spacemen. Earth has been ready for them, for this is the twenty-first time androids believing they are those same returning spacemen have landed on Earth. At the end of the story the twenty-second group lands, and its members are lining up to take pictures of their return—an entirely human action.
Could the returning androids be a benign attempt by some unknown force to replace the men Earth has lost? The question is never answered. For these could also be invaders, meant to fool Earthmen, and the chance that they are is too great for Earth. The F.B.I. men in the story speculate, anyway, about the aliens who make the androids:
Maybe they're so different no contact's possible. Do they think we're all named Leon and Merriweather and Parkhurst and Stone? [Names of the dead crewmen.] That's the part that personally gets me down ... Or maybe that's our chance, the fact that they don't understand we're individuals. (Stories 4; 153)
The rather heavy irony here comes from the fact that the American astronauts have never been allowed to be individuals, but are replaceable cogs. The aliens may only be reacting to the "reality" of the types of people we send into space.
As Earth dares not risk the unknown, each group of jubilant spacemen finds itself returning not to parades, but to napalm and destruction. The story offers no solution to the situation; Dick provides no hint of what the creators of the androids might be up to. Only a continuing tragedy appears. There is no glimpse behind the mask.
Significantly, the title of the story includes the word "We." As readers, we are expected to identify with the androids, not only the humans who feel they must destroy them.
The implications shown earlier of android-as-mask are often lost in readings of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, in the stories about self-motivated androids, and in the novels of "metaphorical androids." The men and androids, often strong characters in their own right, appear less as creations than as independent actors. Still, it should be evident that something else is at work, that "android" continues as part of these beings. Something "human" is always missing from them.
In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the Rosen Association and those behind Buster Friendly—and not the androids—are the real "evil" force in the novel (though one of the androids does claim Friendly himself as an android also (186; ch. 18)). The Rosen Association because of its creation of the androids (why make such sophisticated models—really? And why make them so that they would become interested in torturing spiders, for instance?) and the Buster Friendly group because of its antipathy to Mercerism (which, after all—along with the great concern with pets—holds humanity on Earth to that essential element, empathy). The androids suffer because of these villains, just as Deckard and the "chickenhead" J.R. Isidore do. The greater conspiracy never directly seen, but hinted, acts to destroy them all, human, chickenhead, and android.
We Can Build You, The Simulacra and Martian Time-Slip do not, at first, seem similar in the approaches to androids presented through them, though they come from a single period of Dick's career, that just preceding, or ending with, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. None, certainly, appears to foreshadow Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Yet they are of a piece, and do show how Dick's vision was progressing.
The earliest of these, We Can Build You (published in 1972, but written in 1962), focuses on actions surrounding two androids, one based on Edwin M. Stanton, Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of War, and the second on Lincoln himself. The other characters (who know, for the most part, that the androids are constructs) treat the Stanton and the Lincoln as though they can think for themselves. The two are asked for advice, and give it. They can and do act on their own.
The androids Jack Bohlen repairs in Martian Time-Slip, on the other hand, do not have the range of action provided those in We Can Build You. They are confined to a public school, and to teaching. In The Simulacra (1964), the androids of the title at first seem to be to Yancy-like creations called Der Alte, again, androids essentially devoid of self-motivation.
The public believes it has elected each Der Alte, who it sees as a real person, to marry Nicole Thibodeaux, who seems to be the real leader of the nation. Late in the novel, Thibodeaux is exposed as the instrument of a fraud, as much of a tool as any android. Before this revelation, however, she is called, first, "`the most synthetic object in our milieu'" (98; ch. 8) and then "`An illusion. Something synthetic, unreal'" (119; ch. 9).
The speakers do not know that she is a fake; they are merely making analogies. Dick gives a truth to their words they do not know. Thibodeaux turns out to be one of the earliest of Dick's "metaphorical androids"—as are many of the other characters of the novel.
These three novels fit together through connection of psychosis and androids, not through androids alone. Jack Bohlen, in Martian Time-Slip, in his past, has experienced a schizophrenic episode, seeing all people as mechanical constructs. He remembers it as he works on an android at the school:
What had tormented him ever since the psychotic episode with the personnel manager at Corona Corporation was this: suppose it was not a hallucination? Suppose the so-called personnel manager was as he had seen him, an artificial construct, a machine like these teaching machines.
If that had been the case, then there was no psychosis. (70; ch. 5)
Louis Rosen (the narrator of We Can Build You) finds he has "the Magna Mater type of schizophrenia" (183; ch. 17), centering on Pris Frauenzimmer, his partner's daughter and an android builder. But Frauenzimmer, another early "metaphorical android," lacks all empathy, regards everything, even people, as the equivalents of androids. Rosen cracks up when he realizes that she cannot respond to him, that she will not be his mother/wife. The connection she feels with her androids is stronger than any she has with humans. She even goes so far as to destroy one of the androids, a John Wilkes Booth, to save another, the Lincoln (of course). Yet she cannot interact with Rosen. She is a fake human, an android, though one of flesh and blood.
A musician named Richard Kongrosian verges on a complete breakdown in The Simulacra. His only hope for sanity lies in his faith in the world leader, Thibodeaux. When he finds Thibodeaux has no real power, and is not even Thibodeaux, but the fourth to play the role, his impending psychosis overwhelms him. This had been planned. A man who wanted him psychotic forces Kongrosian's psychiatrist to describe the exact nature of the problem, soon revealed as a Magna Mater schizophrenia. This man muses to the psychiatrist: "`So in other worlds he idolizes her. She's like a goddess to him, not mortal. How would he react [to discovery of her true nature?]'" (184; ch. 13). We soon find out.
The problems of distinguishing the real from the fake that bring on psychosis for Bohlen, Rosen and Kongrosian dovetail with those of Deckard in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. If androids and humans can hardly be distinguished, what does it mean to react strongly to androids? Perhaps negative reaction to androids does not even involve the androids. It may be something in humans, instead, that brings it on. The ersatz animals in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—especially the "frog" Deckard finds at the end of the book—play important roles in human life. Why not the androids? They face destruction, while fake "lower animals" are cherished. This must seem strange, when it is noted that the dangers the androids represent are built from human responsibility and are only peripherally involved with humanoid appearance.
The problem, for the humans, does not really concern androids at all. Instead, it centers on masks, on belief in their veracity, as Dick, himself once claims he believed. Discovering that the masks do not, indeed, show the truth behind them, his characters find their realities threatened. For Deckard, the situation is somewhat reversed, but the core problem is the same. Able to identify androids, he must also face up to the possibility that something "human" lies within them.
The dangers androids represent, again, grow from the humans who constructed them, not from the androids themselves. This is a second "cruel deception," one whose cruelty is aimed at the androids, not their "victims." Though the mask may threaten, destruction of it does not provide safety for the wearer or the viewer. Furthermore, if the mask is "alive" somehow, and deserving of respect in its own right, then the threat that leads to its own destruction is a cruel to it as to any other. "`The electric things have their lives, too. Paltry as those lives are'" (214; ch. 22), says Deckard, at the end of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Though a simple statement, this, in the end, may be Dick's definitive statement on the android. Certainly, it is a more "humane" way of looking at them than is Dick's expressed concern for "cruel deception."
Rosen, Deckard, Kongrosian, and Bohlen have all been taught to regard the androids and other constructs as machines—and to regard certain other objects as humans. But the androids are often more than machines. The humans are often less. An unconscious (perhaps) understanding of this makes the humans unable to deal with the machines as they would, say, with radios, or with humans similar to themselves. They end up transferring their worries about machines to worries about humans, and vice versa. All four characters clearly respect what lives. In their inability to find an adequate dividing line between life and non-life lies their downfall—and, in a way, their triumph. They fear their own humanity, for their humanity confers humanity on more than they have been taught to believe is possible. Or on less. Their problem is that they cannot tell which is true—more or less. Their triumph is that they are not willing to accept the less.
Bohlen, in Martian Time-Slip, refuses to accept the idea that the Bleekmen, a dwindling race that has long inhabited Mars, do not deserve the treatment accorded sentient beings, "human" beings. Part of his psyche does not allow him to deny succor. That same part leads to his inability to make a distinction between androids and humans. His empathy is commendable, but it brings him near to insanity. Rosen, in We Can Build You, in his psychosis, feels resentment toward the simulacra, for his love object gives them more consideration than she gives to Rosen. He, who can learn to love a woman incapable, through her own mental illness, of any empathy or love, has taken the non-living into his cosmos of culpability. Finally, however, his empathy allows his cure. Frauenzimmer, also suffering from a breakdown, remains in a mental hospital. Unlike Rosen, she lacks the empathy essential for recovery.
Kongrosian, in The Simulacra, in the agony of his discovery of the truth behind the Thibodeaux mask, uses his extra-sensory powers and unwittingly saves the world from a new totalitarian ruler. And Deckard, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, whose recognition of the problem almost proves self-destructive, has hope of dealing competently with his situation, though doing so will destroy his livelihood.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is actually Dick's penultimate published attempt at dealing directly with the android. It is followed by "The Electric Ant."
Garson Poole, like Spence Olham in "Imposter," finds he is not human. Unlike Olham, however, who only discovers his "essence" at the end of the story, Poole's comes across his at the beginning, as a result of an accident in which he loses his hand. The story, after this realization, chronicles Poole's attempt to understand what he is, if not human but "roby," an android. Poole comes across a "reality-supply construct" (Stories 5; 229) in his abdomen, and decides to experiment with it. Finally, he cuts the tape out, and "dies."
A "real" human is watching. After Poole is "dead," the human finds she can see through her hands:
The walls of the room, too, had become ill-defined.
Trembling, she walked back to the inert roby, stood by it, not knowing what to do. Through her legs the carpet showed, and then the carpet became dim, and she saw through it, further layers of disintegrating matter beyond. (Stories 5; 239)
Poole's "reality tape" is not his alone. It has a rather substantial impact on human beings, as well. The woman and others who have known Poole's "real" essence act relieved, now that responsibility for pretense is gone. They have had no respect for the construct, no consideration for his "feelings" (which, in the story, are quite real). He is merely a thing.
The power behind Poole is an off-planet company owner. On instructions, the employees of the company treat Poole as the human head of the company. They resent doing so. Poole is beneath them, is not alive, as they are. But Poole, by testing his limits, proves himself as real as the rest and, in his death, proves them as "unalive" as he.
A bitter story, "The Electric Ant" is also one of the funniest Dick ever wrote. At first, its topic seems to be the arrogance of the construct. At last, the arrogance of the human comes to the fore, and to destruction. Not one of the humans in the story learns that even mechanical beings can have a life. They refuse to even consider such a possibility. And so doom themselves.
No one in "The Electric Ant" will empathize with the situation of the roby, unlike Deckard who does begin to learn the lesson of empathy in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. The question of creature or creation becomes irrelevant. Attention must be paid to either.
This lesson is essential, to Dick: one deals with those immediately present, no matter how bad they seem, or what they seem to be. This is the point the taxi makes to Eric Sweetscent in Now Wait For Last Year. Sweetscent's wife hates him, wants to divorce him, but finally becomes incurably mentally ill. Still, the taxi says, Sweetscent should take care of her. And he accepts the value of what he is told, even though the advice comes from a thing.
The source of the advice does not matter. The advice stands on its own. Dick turns around his thesis that the messenger (the android) cannot be blamed or condemned solely because of the message (the deceit) and shows its other side. If the advice, the message, is significant, it must be heard.
At the end of Blade Runner, the movie based loosely on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Rick Deckard runs off with an android woman. This act may seem to be at odds with the novel—at least in the sense that Deckard, in the book, has a human wife to whom he returns—but it does not come into conflict with Dick's over-all vision of the android/human question. It illustrates that the android itself is not the evil. The android may have been constructed for evil purposes, but, if it gains recognition of its own self, it becomes something other than a mask, a tool. It can even change sides, make its own decisions.
Though Dick does not write a story in which an android does change sides, he says he would have, if he had thought about it. In a note on the early story "Sales Pitch" he says, "Could I rewrite it, I would have it end differently. I would have the man and the robot... form a partnership at the end and become friends" (Stories 3; 375).
Become friends. That's what could not happen in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—until Deckard's wife Iran realizes that it does not matter if a frog is real or not. That's what does not happen in "The Electric Ant," though Poole thinks of some of his fellow workers as friends (it is proven, though not to him, that they are not). Obviously, friendship between android and human would not have been possible in most of Dick's early stories, given the situations in some of them, such as "Imposter." Friendship is what Olham longs for, but it will destroy Earth.
Friendship could not be expected in "Second Variety," where the prime directive for the androids is destruction. Even so, Dick would have his characters attain it, could they, be they humans, or machines.
Friendship always proves difficult, however, so Dick rarely allows it. Significantly, he never did rewrite "Sales Pitch" (he could have). To do so would be to denigrate friendship. It is that rare.
For Dick, then, the situation of an android can never be encompassed by the simple man/machine relationship (if even that situation can survive, in the worlds Dick presents). Questions of responsibility, of individuality, and of respect (including friendship) interrupt, and throw an ambiguous blanket over something even Dick himself has tried to present in simplistic terms (in that depiction of the android as vehicle of a "cruel deception," for example). Perhaps Dick has this as a central theme, in the stories and novels that concern the android and machine: the messenger is not the message and should not be bound by content. Each item, message and messenger, should be judged on its merit, not on its environment. Given that, the stories discussed here have a great deal of continuity. Through them, Dick's own message about messages comes across with some clarity. Do not kill the bringer of bad tidings. He, she or it could be as much a victim of the evil as anyone else.
Toward the end of Now Wait for Last Year, Sweetscent is saved from suicide by a confrontation between two of the Lazy Brown Dogs long ago released on wheels by one of his fellow employees at Tijuana Fur & Dye. One of the things, nearly beaten, hides in a bucket as Sweetscent watches:
Even these things, he decided, are determined to live.... They deserve their opportunity, their minuscule place under the sun and sky. That's all they're asking for and it isn't much. He thought, And I can't even do what they do, make my stand, use my wits to survive in a debris-littered alley in Tijuana; that thing that's taken refuge there in that zinc bucket, without a wife, a career, a conapt or money or the possibility of encountering any of these, still persists. For reasons unknown to me its stake in existence is greater than mine.
The… [poison] no longer seemed attractive to him. (222; ch. 14)
If a guidance system on a tiny cart can cling to life, he realizes, so can he. "