Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter, specifically in regards to androids. When an android goes rouge, it usually means they had to kill someone to do it, and it’s Rick’s job to determine if the person he’s investigating is definitely an android and then dispatch them. But what happens when Rick starts to question not only the humanity of what he’s doing but the human or inhuman status of the people around him?
This book is a masterstroke on the part of Philip K. Dick. It would be easy to say that the popularity of this story has more to do with Blade Runner and Ridley Scott, and I imagine that has contributed, but I can also say that out of the books I’ve read so far, this is one of PKD’s best. It has all the ingredients that most of his books contain. It asks the questions he was most inspired to ask. Such as what is the measure of a human or non-human? How can we trust what we see around us when reality is so malleable and impossible to quantify? When emotion and religion are as easy to get as the push of a button, how can we trust feelings or revelations? But it does all this with the most grace I’ve seen so far from him.
This is a tightly woven story, surprising from PKD when he’s so fond of rabbit trails. The characters, particularly Deckard, John Isidore, and Rachel, are given depth and realism in a small space. It bends and twists while still managing to stay grounded enough that I’d say newcomers should actually start with this book. This is a fantastic gateway to PKD’s work.
Like any science fiction story worth its salt, it doesn’t necessarily answer the questions it puts forth. This universe does have rules, such as androids don’t have empathy, but it also breaks those rules in spots, giving it a balanced feeling. You could argue yourself in circles trying to determine if the “androids don’t have empathy” rule is a crock or not. Everyone who reads this will walk away with their own biases that are more a reflection of themselves than of PKD’s mind or opinions, and that is what makes this book so successful. It’s a classic in the genre for a reason.