I have a very long history with this franchise. Back in High School, a friend lent be a computer game called “Blade Runner” and I played the hell out of that game. I loved the story line, the investigative aspect, and especially the Sci-Fi feel. Shortly after that I found the movie on TV one night and watched it. I wasn’t able to finish the game because my computer crashed, but from what I did play, it’s really nothing like the movie. It has the same feel, but the subject matter was different.
So naturally, when I came across the book in a used book store this year, I nabbed it. When I started reading I was curious as to what path it would take. Video game or movie? Well …neither.
Blade Runner can be explained in one sentence: “Man hunts androids to afford farm animal.” Full stop. That’s literally the plot. Rick Deckard belongs to a group of sanctioned Bounty Hunters. They work with the police, but get a commission on top of their regular daily pay for every android they bring in. Deckard and his wife have a rocky relationship and animals are the only thing that make them happy. They used to own a REAL sheep (animals are almost extinct because of the poisonous dust in the air left over from the last Nuclear War) but it passed away and Deckard replaced it quietly with an electric version (owning a real animal is status, so he can’t reveal to his neighbors that it’s fake). But he still wanted another REAL animal. So, flipping through the catalogue everyone carries and obsesses over, he looks for another animal to replace it. To do that though, he will need the Bounty on the androids his superior found.
Androids are legal on Mars, but they tend to escape and go back to earth to hide among the humans and try to have a better life. These androids are equipped with a processing system so advanced they are more often than not mistaken for humans. The only accurate test is an Empathy test (they did do this in the movie!), which is basically a lie detector test.
This is where I start to get angry. There were a lot of complaints about the newest movie and its portrayal of women. It did not improve on the last movie, instead treated them just the same. Even if they were just trying to follow in the path of the last movie, staying true to Philip K Dick, it’s not necessary. We live in a world where there is no place for bigotry. The only thing I gathered in this book is how much Dick hates women. Deckard treats his mentally ill wife like garbage and then blames her, he has an affair on his wife and never reflects of feels guilty he in fact feels justified in doing so. Rachel is basically there to make Deckard feel better about himself and to be a sexual obsession to him. Another Bounty Hunter explained to Deckard that love is just an excuse to have sex, so just bang them and move on. Every woman is portrayed as over-sexualized, catty, or weak.
My other big issue is the book feels like I’ve jumped into a series 8 issues in. Instead of world building, you’re just thrown in and expected to understand their lives and technology. Like their worship of Mercer, or the empathy machines, or dialing emotions. Nothing is really explained. It is all incredibly interesting, but the book is so short (216 pages) and spans about a 48 hour period. So we get a snippet of Deckard’s life, but nothing more. I could really only enjoy the android hunting part, because it’s the only aspect of the book that had detail.
It’s distressing to me because I loved the game, I loved the movie, and I truly do like the book. It’s an incredible idea, and a fast-paced interesting and fun story. It’s just that Deckard is such an asshole I was feeling pity for the androids. The novel also follows a man who has been legally trapped on earth (only rich and smart can immigrate to Mars) because he has a sub-par IQ. John Isidore, referred to as a “chickenhead”, actually helps protect a group of androids. You get a unique look at the themes and story line of the androids because of it. They have an interesting contrast because Isidore has extreme empathy, and the androids have none. Empathy is brought up many, many times in the story because it is what sets androids and humans apart. I found this fascinating, and everyone’s addiction to Mercerism – which is a technology-based religion and people use the empathy boxes to enter a plain of collective suffering (or joy, depending on what the group is feeling strongest that day). This was so vaguely covered and I wanted to know more! How did it start, who is Wilbur Mercer, why is an unseen force throwing rocks at him all the time? What is an empathy box, how does it work? The book really seems to delve into what makes us human, and what it means to be human.
I’m probably going to stick to the movie from here on out. The portrayal of women isn’t great in that movie, but I don’t think it’s as bad as in the book. But it is a great book if you can look past that. Or even not, I think for every Sci-Fi fan this is a necessary read.