Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1 OF 24)
Written by: Philip K Dick
Art by: Tony Parker
Additional Material: Warren Ellis
Published by: Boom!
Quick: How many great books have also been made into great movies? Of those, how many of them were not plays written by William Shakespeare or novels by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens? And how many of those are science fiction films?The answer, arguably, is just three: Orson Welles’ adaptation of H.G. Welles’ War of the Worlds; Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, adapted in 1972 by Andrei Tarkovsky; and Philip Kindred Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which inspired Ridley Scott’s groundbreaking Blade Runner. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (and Blade Runner) are classics of the genre that give the lie to the old saw that only bad books make good movies. Both were prescient, and both have been ripped off ever since. The difference between the two is also pretty clear: Scott riffed on Dick’s novel (in his afterword to this new edition, author Warren Ellis claims that Scott never even finished the book) turning the author’s extended, obsessive rant on technology and empathy into an ambiguous meditation on what it means to be human. The irony is that most fans think that Scott’s movie was a literal take on Dick’s book, and despite remaining in print thanks to Vintage, most fans have never read the novel. In a move to rectify that, Boom Studios is reprinting the original Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep verbatim in an expansive 24-issue mega-series. That is not a misprint: This is indeed a twenty-four issue series that, if completed, will fill more pages than the 210 Dick needed from Doubleday.
Some will argue this book isn’t needed at all: Dick’s novel is in print, and he is such a canonical figure that he is included in the Library of America series. There was also a superior comic book adaptation of the movie released in 1981 by Marvel with glorious art by Al Williamson. But Boom!’s project is a unique hybrid —neither an adaptation nor a traditional illustrated novel.And, most importantly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep holds up very well. Originally set by Dick in 1992 (moved to 2021 in subsequent editions), the narrative centers on a police-deputized bounty hunter who tracks down rogue androids, fugitives from the Martian colonies where they are slave labor. Almost human in response and appearance, these androids are nearly undetectable; the four next-generation models that Rick Decker is tracking are also heartless and vicious. But Decker’s humanity is called into question when he finds himself falling in love with a suspected android. Decker’s story parallels that of a brain-damaged repairman: Unable to escape Earth because of his disability, the desperately lonely J.R. Isadore makes a fatal mistake when he befriends one of the rogue “andys” who takes refuge inside his apartment tower. The central irony of the book is that the androids, who supposedly lack empathy, are more “human” than the men hunting them down. Numbed by technology, humans practice a television-based religion, use artificial mood enhancements and yearn to escape what has become a toxic mental environment. Dick’s words still have a kick forty years down the road. He might have been an amphetamine-deranged paranoid obsessive who churned out novels for money, but he was far and away the best hack out there. Like the similarly doomed noir novelists David Goodis (Dark Passage) and Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me), Dick was a master of his genre who used words to thrilling effect. What raised his best works (Ubik, The Man in the High Castle and the title under review) to genius was his eye for detail, and his perception that the little things humans take for granted may, in fact, be the very things that make us human. How can relative newcomer Tony Parker’s art compete with Dick’s distinctive prose? It can’t: The best thing about the first issue is Dennis Calero’s cover, which is both gritty and distinctive. Parker seems overly content to provide a backdrop instead of a counterpoint, turning what could have been a minuet into an awkward and unsatisfying combo. His art is insufficiently claustrophobic for the setting; more damagingly, it rarely adds anything to Dick’s words. So, is Boom’s edition worth it? Given that the complete run will cost about $95, it’s certainly cheaper (and faster) to just pick up a copy of the novel. On the other hand, this is an ambitious and commendable project, so my gut instinct is to give it a chance.