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Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Updated: Jan 22

The inspiration for the 1982 Ridley Scott classic 'Blade Runner,' Electric Sheep presents a world knowingly at the end. Radioactive dust smothers the planet, a byproduct of World War Terminus. The healthy ones escape the dying earth to colonies off world. The sick, the disabled, the elderly are forced to live out their degenerating days on Earth. The denizens of a dying world still must go to work every day, of course. The weather report tells them at morning coffee how bad the fallout will be for the day, and if they should wear a radiation suit. Some do. Those that will make their way off world one day, those that still have the strength to try. Many are already so damaged by the radiation that there isn't much point. The world they’re left in is collapsing under the weight of its own decay. The ruins of a silly, stupid war that cost the humans paradise.

J.R. Isadore moved into a radiation zone after the war, and slowly became cognitively impaired from exposure. This was common after the end of the world, a whole subclass of people politely called, “Specials.” J.R. spends his days isolated, working at a electronic animal repair shop. The end of days meant the end of most animals, so humans created robotic facsimiles to remind themselves of what they had lost. What they had destroyed. Electric Sheep reminds us the price of such destruction. The pain of consequence. Humanity does not rage against the dying of the light, but instead simply lives their lives as best they can.

A bounty hunter named Rick Deckard still chases status symbols to fill the hole of a failing marriage. He longs for an animal, a real living animal, to take care of. He could only afford an electric sheep. Throughout the book, he hunts androids that live a similar life as the “Specials.” At the end of the book, he can finally afford the down payment for a living goat. For a moment, he’s completed. This is what will get his confidence back. Status in a decaying world. In another moment, his goat is murdered. His status is taken away, but his life unchanged. Searching for something, he turns from the material to the metaphysical.

A new religion called, “Mercerism,” sprouts up after the end of the world. Members engage with a device called an “empathy box,” that allows them to live through other people’s emotions. The center of the experience is a man named Wilbur Mercer, and his climb up a mountain as he’s pelted with rocks. The empathy box users all experience it together, and through the shared suffering find comfort in their life on a dying Earth. Knowing they’re not alone is the cornerstone of Mercerism. Never mind that the actual Wilbur Mercer was an actor named Al Jarry, and Mercer’s climb up the mountain a staged production. Rick Deckard knows this, and still sees Mercer outside the Empathy Box. Mercer still shepherds him, the false prophet having outgrown his origins. Because what the myth of Mercer provided, the comfort of community at the end of days, far outweighed any need for the truth.


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