Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), by Philip K. Dick, is a science fiction novel about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter of androids in San Francisco, California. It is a definitive, science fiction exploration of the ethical dimensions inherent to the android concept literary device, in order to understand the persecution of a person based upon artificial distinctions such as "ethnic group".

In 1982, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples' loose, cinematic adaptation became the film Blade Runner (1982). For that reason, later (post-1982) editions of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? were titled Blade Runner. Moreover, the computer game Blade Runner occurs in the film's universe and incorporates many of the novel's plot and story elements.

Plot summary

Concepts and back story

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? occurs in 1992 [2021, in some editions], years after the radioactive fallout of World War Terminus destroyed most of Earth. The U.N. encourage emigration to off-world colonies, in hope of preserving the human race from the terminal effects of the fallout. One emigration incentive is giving each emigrant an “andy” — a servant android.

The remaining populace live in cluttered, decaying cities wherein radiation poisoning sickens them and damages their genes. All animals are endangered; owning and caring for one is a civic virtue, and a social status symbol, per the animal's rarity. They are bought and sold as priced in “Sidney's Catalog” — which includes extinct species, marked “E”, and currently unavailable animals, marked in italic text and at the last price paid. People who cannot afford a real animal buy an electric animal for the sake of social status. The protagonist, Rick Deckard, owned a sheep, but it died of tetanus, and he replaced it with an electric sheep, thus maintaining his illusion of animal ownership.

Androids are used only in the Martian colonies, yet many escape to Earth, fleeing the psychological isolation and chattel slavery; although organic and indistinguishable from humans, they are considered things. Police bounty hunters, such as Rick Deckard, hunt and “retire” (kill) fugitive androids passing for human. Afterwards, the killed android's bone marrow is tested to confirm it was not a human. Because of anatomic vagus nerve differences, an android can commit suicide by holding his or her breath. Androids live some four years, because they cannot reproduce most life-function cells.

Early androids were detectable, because of their limited intelligence. As androids were improved, bounty hunters had to apply empathy tests — the Boneli Test and the Voight-Kampff — distinguishing human from android, by measuring blushing, involuntary eye movement, and responses to emotional questions about harming animals. Because androids are unempathetic, their responses are either absent or fake — measurably slower than a human's; the simpler Boneli Test measures the reflex-arc velocity in the spinal column's upper ganglia.

People cope with existential angst using the “Penfield Mood Organ” (by neurologist Wilder Penfield), to inducing feeling by availing the user of a selection of moods, e.g. "awareness of the manifold possibilities of the future", the "desire to watch television, no matter what's on it"; the "pleased acknowledgement of husband's superior wisdom in all matters", and the "desire to dial". Users schedule their moods — even a depression — which contradicts the mood organ's cheerful purpose.

The Earth's most significant cultural icon, Buster Friendly, is a jovial talk show host whose simultaneous radio and television programs are broadcast twenty-three hours daily. Roy Batty identifies him as an android. Buster Friendly ideologically competes with Mercerism, openly attacking it in his programs.


Mercerism is a prominent religious/philosophical movement on Earth. The movement is based on the legend of Wilbur Mercer, a man who lived before the war. Adherents of Mercerism grip the handles of an electrically powered empathy box, while viewing a monitor which displays patterns that are meaningless until the handles are gripped. After a short interval the user's senses are transported to the world of Wilbur Mercer, where they inhabit his mind in an experience shared with any other people using an empathy box at that moment.

Mercerism blends the concept of a life-death-rebirth deity with the values of unity and empathy. According to legend, Mercer had the power to revive dead animals, but local officials used radioactive cobalt to nullify the part of his brain where the ability originated. This forced Mercer into the "tomb world." He strives to reverse the decay of the tomb world and ascend back to Earth by climbing an enormous hill. His adversaries throw rocks at him along the way (inflicting actual physical injuries on the adherents "fused" with Mercer), until he reaches the top, when the cycle starts again, much like the plight of Sisyphus.


Rick Deckard, an active bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department, prepares for a typical work day. He feeds his electric sheep, as usual, to prevent his neighbour's suspecting its artifice, and his wife, Iran, stays at home, under the influences of the empathy box and the mood organ.

At the police station, he learns that Dave Holden, the senior bounty hunter, was incapacitated by a Nexus-6 android, the most advanced humanoid to date. Deckard is chosen to find and "retire" (kill) the six remaining Nexus-6 androids who are hiding in metropolitan San Francisco. Deckard goes to the Seattle headquarters of the Rosen Association, manufacturers of the Nexus-6 android, to confirm that the Voigt-Kampff empathy test works on the latest android model. There, he meets Rachael Rosen, a sharp-tongued, brunette woman claiming to be heiress to the company.

Rachael Rosen is the first test subject; she is an android. The Rosens then tell Deckard that Rachael, in fact, is a schizoid human being — thus invalidating the Voigt-Kampff test, and so requiring a new empathy test. Deckard asks a last question, testing her reaction to a fabric supposedly made from human baby skin. Rachael's delayed emotional response conclusively demonstrates her android nature.

Deckard returns to San Francisco to begin his work. After searching the apartment of Max Polokov, the first Nexus-6 android in his retirement list, Rachael telephones Deckard, offering her help; he dismisses her offer. Deckard meets with W.P.O. agent Sandor Kadalyi, from Russia, who is Polokov. Later, Deckard and Polokov struggle in the hovercar; he shoots Polokov in the head with his still-holstered .38 Magnum pistol.

Next, he goes to see opera singer Luba Luft. After his failed attempt to administer the Voigt-Kampff test to her, she calls the police, claiming Deckard is a sexual deviant; the police take him to a headquarters he did not know exists. There, he is sent to officer Garland, his next retirement target, and is introduced to Phil Resch, that HQ's bounty hunter, who, in light of Polokov's android identification, conflicts with Garland about administering the Boneli Reflex-Arc test (a simpler, Voigt-Kampff test variant) to the station's policemen. Resch goes to fetch the test kit, while Garland draws a laser tube, but he hesitates shooting Resch until he re-enters the office. Anticipating his reaction, the quicker Resch shoots Garland; Deckard and Resch escape the police station, to find and kill the opera singer Luba Luft.

After killing Luft at an art gallery, Deckard administers the Voigt-Kampff test to Resch, who, fearfully, suspects himself an android, after unwittingly working with them for two years. Given Resch's eager killing, Deckard believes him inhuman, but, to Resch's relief, he passes the empathy test. Deckard then becomes concerned about the degree of his empathy with androids; to ethically reassure himself, he buys a real goat.

The last three androids are hiding in an abandoned, suburban, apartment building, living with John R. Isidore, a "chickenhead" (officially, a "Special", whose intelligence is too radiation-deteriorated to be allowed off Earth). Despite his kindness to them, they are indifferent to him, demonstrating the android's typical lack of empathy. When they find a spider, they tear off its legs, singly, to see how many it needs to walk. Meanwhile, at his home, Deckard is connected to his empathy box; Mercer talks with him, saying that doing the wrong thing is sometimes necessary.

Deckard's boss insists he kill all the remaining androids in the same day, to surprise them. Deciding he needs Rachael's help, they meet in a hotel room in San Francisco. There, they drink antique bourbon, and, after reviewing the remaining retirements, act upon their sexual attraction. Afterwards, in the hovercar, Rachael tells him she seduced nine other bounty hunters, to stop them hunting androids, and that only Phil Resch remained a bounty hunter after her seduction. At that, he threatens killing her, but wavers; Rachael won a minor victory, but he continues on assignment.

The bounty hunter reaches Isidore's building to hunt androids. During the hunt, Mercer appears to Deckard, saving him from being shot in the back by Pris Stratton — a Nexus-6 android identical to Rachael Rosen — on killing her, he then kills the other two.

At home, Rick Deckard learns that Rachael Rosen went there and pushed his goat off the roof. To clear his mind, he takes "one last trip" north in his hovercar, to the radioactive Oregon desert. He walks uphill, like Mercer, and is struck with a rock, whereupon, he quickly returns to his hovercar, and finds a live toad buried in the sand. Back home, Iran Deckard finds a control panel in the toad's belly — it is electric; Rick is too exhausted to mind. When he is asleep, Iran orders artificial flies for the artificial toad.

Major issues

False hierarchies and divisions of life

On post-war Earth, life forms real and artificial are classified in hierarchies. Animals are considered endlessly precious, humans are considered less so and androids are considered meaningless. After their sexual encounter, Rachael explains this to Deckard, “That goat. You love that goat more than you love me, more than you love your wife probably” (page 202).

The three groups are sub-classified. Humans organize animals (both real and artificial) into a system of compulsory commodity fetishism, whereby the authoritative Sidney's Catalog gives the exact worth of every type of animal, and thus defines each human by what type of animal they can afford. Humans are further divided between those who are allowed to emigrate off-world (genetically intact "regulars") and those who can't ("chickenheads" and "antheads").

Yet these classifications have many flaws, especially between humans and androids. New androids, superior to previous models, are constantly produced. The latest androids are more intelligent than some classes of humans. Isidore even calls the three androids living with him "superior beings." Empathy is the trait that definitively separates human psyches from those of androids. Yet Deckard notes that, to perform their job, bounty hunters must not be empathetic towards androids, thus their superiority to the androids they hunt is questionable.

Two of the most respected “persons” on Earth may be artificial creations: Buster Friendly and Wilbur Mercer. Friendly, who often mocks Mercerism, reveals in an exposé that the stimuli humans encounter in an empathy box is based on old Hollywood films starring an alcoholic actor. Thus, Mercer may be nothing more than a repeating computer program.

Plus, androids’ flights to Earth reveal that they have the capacity to imagine a better life for themselves. This is epitomized by Luba Luft, the android opera singer, who likely performed menial work on an off-world colony.

While androids struggle for true contentment, many human beings are relying on artificial means of happiness, such as the mood organ. “Most androids have more vitality and desire to live than my wife,” Deckard notes (page 94).

At the novel’s end, Deckard comments on the way that his conflict with his profession has turned him into an “unnatural self,” which would make him android-like (page 230).

Decay and renewal

The twin forces of decay and renewal play an important role in the book. This can be seen in the allegory of Mercer, who possessed the ability to resurrect life and who now is dead and in a continual quest to rise back to life.

It also can be seen in the slowly dying Earth that is the novel’s backdrop. “Kipple” is a term given to "unwanted or useless objects." Kipple is self-reproducing, and it's invasive: the first law of Kipple, J.R. Isidore tells Pris Stratton, is, "Kipple drives out nonkipple." People can turn into "living kipple," and an apartment can become "kipple-infested." Buster Friendly asserts that Earth will die "under a layer—not of radioactive dust—but of kipple." And Isidore, as he secures his apartment, notes that he is in a continual battle between “kipple” and “anti-kipple.” These and other descriptions of kipple suggest an analogy to entropy.

Deckard sees the larger picture of decay and renewal and his own part in a microcosm of the process while watching Luft rehearse for a production of The Magic Flute (which also supplies German quotes for Dick's novel A Scanner Darkly):

This rehearsal will end, the performance will end, the singers will die, eventually the last score of the music will be destroyed in one way or another; finally the name Mozart will vanish and the dust will have won. If not on this planet then another. We can evade it awhile. As the andys can evade me and exist a finite stretch longer. But I get them or some other bounty hunter gets them. In a way, he realized, I’m part of the form destroying process of entropy. The Rosen Association creates and I unmake. Or anyhow so it must seem to them. (page 86)

Humanity versus inhumanity

Philip K. Dick's inspiration for androids indistinguishable from humans came from his experience. First, he could not accept that the people who committed atrocities, such as the Holocaust, were truly human. He felt they must be inhuman monsters, who merely appeared human. Though this initially was a formative literary and philosophic concept, Dick's regular amphetamine use, which fueled his writing sessions, might have provoked paranoia, thus, his notion about inhuman people appearing to be human.

Differences between the novel and film

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? originally occurred in San Francisco in 1992. As the novel was written in 1968, this date could have been considered the far future at that time. After 1992 passed in reality, later editions altered this to San Francisco in 2021. Blade Runner occurs in Los Angeles, in 2019.
  • The literary characters Irmgard Baty and Inspector Garland are not in the film, neither are the Penfield Mood Organ, the Empathy Box, Buster Friendly, and Mercerism.
  • In the film Deckard is divorced, and his relationship with Rachael is romantic.
  • In the novel, the Earth is covered with nuclear fallout; men wear lead codpieces to avoid sterility.
  • In the film, Deckard is a retired Blade Runner (bounty hunter); in the novel he is an active police department bounty hunter. The cinematic term "Blade Runner" replaces the novel's "Bounty Hunter" term; Blade Runner is not in the novel, like-wise, android becomes replicant, yet the usages Voight-Kampff test, Nexus 6, and "retirement" remain in both, although the novel occasionally refers to "killing" an android.
  • In the novel, the Rosen Association makes androids, in the film, the Tyrell Corporation makes replicants; both are family businesses.
  • In the film, six replicants escape; one is killed with an electric fence, and one is not mentioned again, leaving four androids for Deckard to kill — Roy, Zhora, Leon, and Pris. In the novel, eight androids escape; two killed by a bounty hunter; six remain for Deckard's killing — Roy, Irmgard, Pris Stratton, Luba Luft, Max Polokov, and Inspector Garland.
  • In the film, replicants live four years due to a deliberate genetically-engineered limitation to avoid their maturing to full humanity; they escape to Earth, seeking a cure. The novel's androids have a four-year lifespan because of their inability to replace cells as they age; there is no suggestion that this could be curable and the androids travel to Earth only to escape from servitude on Mars.
  • In the novel, androids "give up" when certain of death; in the film, replicants are vengeful, trained soldiers, physically superior to humans. However, in the movie, Roy gives up when his lifespan ends.
  • In the novel, all combat is conducted with "laser tubes", used by hunters and hunted, although Deckard kills Polokov with a firearm pistol. In the movie, Deckard attacks the replicants with a firearm, a large calibre pistol; the replicants attack physically.
  • The literary "Roy Baty" becomes the cinematic "Roy Batty"; in both stories, he is leader of the rogue androids. In the film, he asks Dr Tyrell to extend his life; when he explains why it cannot be done, Roy kills him. The literary Roy makes no similar attempt, and remains hidden in Isidore's apartment until Deckard hunts him. The cinematic Roy is hunted down by Deckard, but surrenders (and rescues Deckard) when he senses he is about to die of old age during the battle.
  • In novel and film, there is a woman android named Pris; in the novel she is "Pris Stratton"; in the film she has no surname. In the novel, Rachael and Pris are identical androids, the same model. In the film, they are quite different, and Pris dresses in a distinctive "gothic" style. In film and novel, Pris meets Roy in an abandoned apartment block, then sets a trap to kill Deckard. In the novel, Pris, armed with a laser tube, approaches Deckard in the dark, counting on her likeness to Rachael to confuse him. In the film, Pris pretends to be a mannequin, then attacks Deckard physically. In the film, Pris is a pleasure model android; in the novel, no statement as to Pris Stratton's former function is made, but human–android sexual intercourse is illegal on Earth and the colonies. However, Phil Resch says: "in the colonies they have android mistresses . . . sure it's illegal . . . but people do it anyhow". (page 125)
  • The film characters Leon and Zhora roughly correspond to the novel's Max Polokov and Luba Luft. Luba Luft is a professional performer, while Zhora is an assassin working as one; and Max Polokov masquerades as another cop, while Leon simply attacks Deckard directly.
  • The cinematic and literary Rachael are two different characters. The literary Rachael is devious, aiming to identify the manufacturing flaws rendering Nexus-6 android's detectable with the Voight-Kampff test, and report them to Rosen for correction in the next android generation. She attempts to sexually manipulate Deckard into not hunting the company's products, by pretending to love him, then seducing him, afterwards saying that no bounty hunter ever continued killing androids after copulating with her. She also admits to knowing all of the eight androids being hunted. The cinematic Rachael thinks herself human, until Deckard reveals otherwise; suffering an identity crisis, she flees the company, finding refuge and genuine love with Deckard.
  • In the novel, Deckard discovers an android conspiracy of counterfeit policemen and a police station, where they employ Phil Resch, a human bounty hunter. He saves Deckard by killing Inspector Garland and Luba Luft, then disappears from the story, and Deckard collects the bounties. No such scene occurs in the film.
  • In the novel, J.R. Isidore is a "chickenhead" — genetically damaged by the radioactive fallout — of limited intelligence, thus, disallowed emigration. In the film, the character is a genetic engineer named J.F. Sebastian, disallowed emigration because he suffers Methuselah Syndrome, accelerated aging.
  • In the film, another Blade Runner, Gaff, continually follows Deckard; he has no literary analogue. The Director's Cut implies he knows Deckard is artificial when he leaves an origami unicorn in Deckard's apartment, for him to find. The origami figure, but not Deckard's unicorn dream, appears in the original version.
  • Blade Runner leaves Deckard's humanity dubious. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Deckard is certain he is not an android. In the story, he partially tests himself with the Voight-Kampff test, confirming his empathy with androids. However, some aspects present in the novel but removed from the film - such as the Penfield Mood Organ, which allows Deckard to select any emotion he wishes to feel at any time, for pleasure or practicality - present the possibility that, although Deckard is human, the nature of humanity has been fundamentally altered in the book's future.

Stage version

In 2009, the book will be adapted as a stage play titled Łowca Androidów (Android Hunter, also the Polish title of the movie Blade Runner) by Polish director Grzegorz Wiśniewski. The play will premiere in June 2009 in Teatr Wybrzeże in Gdańsk.


Three novels intended to serve as sequels to both Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Blade Runner have been published: Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human (1995), Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night (1996), Blade Runner 4: Eye and Talon (2000). The official and authorized novels were written by Philip K. Dick's friend K. W. Jeter. They continue the story of Rick Deckard and attempt to resolve many of the differences between the novel and the film.

The television series Total Recall 2070 was based on Dick's "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" (the basis for the film Total Recall), and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Thus, it's considered by some to be a sequel to or spin-off of Electric Sheep and/or Blade Runner.

The movie Soldier is considered a sidequel of Blade Runner.

References in popular culture


  • In the song "Talk Shows On Mute" by Incubus, two verses refer to the book: "The electric sheep are dreaming of your face / enjoying from the chemical / comforts of America", and "The electric sheep are dreaming up your fate / And judge you from the card castle / comfort of America."
  • Gary Numan was inspired to write his second biggest hit, "Are 'Friends' Electric?," from his Replicas album, by the book.
  • Evil Nine's album You Can Be Special Too takes its title from one of the book's themes: that of being classified as "special." The third track on the album, "You Can Be Special," contains a passage from chapter 2 in which Maggie Klugman talks to a TV presenter about moving to Mars.
  • The British music outfit UNKLE produced a mix album named Do Androids Dream of Electric Beats?.
  • The band Whale|Horse released a CD/EP entitled Count the Electric Sheep.
  • Japanese psychedelic band Acid Mothers Temple have an album called Does the Cosmic Shepherd Dream of Electric Tapirs?.
  • Heavy metal band Iron Maiden's Somewhere In Time album cover features many references to the movie and novel, added by artist Derek Riggs to blend with the album's futuristic concept, like the movie theater named "Phillip K. Dick Cinema" with "Blade Runner" on display and a "Tyrell Corp." sign on one of the buildings.

Computers and video games

  • The 6th level of the video game Viewtiful Joe 2 is titled "Do Androids Dream Of Romantic Scene?".
  • Several levels of the computer game Marathon Infinity are called "Electric Sheep [number]." The player is often thought to be an android, and the level takes place in his dream.
  • Koei published a hentai game titled "Do Dutchwives Dream of Electric Eel?" for the PC-88 during the 1980s.
  • In the PC version of Melty Blood Act Cadenza (Version B), selecting Mech-HISUI (an android maid) and White Len (who can take the form of a white cat) as a team results in the team being named "Denshi Meido ha Shiro Neko no Yume wo Miru ka", which translates into "Do Electric Maids Dream of White Cats?"
  • In the MMORPG City of Heroes, one of the missions assigned is to interrogate a Captain Rick Deckard and defeat Nemesis replicants.
  • In Simcity Societies, one of the in-game music tracks is named "Android Dream"
  • In the game Shadowrun for SNES you are able to hire a bounty hunter by the name of Deckard.
  • The Electric Sheep distributed computing project was named for the title of this novel.


  • In Bubblegum Crisis, a Japanese animated series, there are various references to the novel. For example, the lead character's name is Priss, and she sings in a band called Priss and The Replicants, referring to the novel's film adaptation.
  • A Japanese episode of Pokémon was called "Koiru wa denki Nezumi no Yume wo miruka!?" which translates to "Do Coil dream of electric mice!?" The Pokémon Mareep, Flaaffy, and Ampharos are based on electric sheep.
  • In an episode of Lost Universe titled "And Then a Blade of Light Shines," the computer Canal's memory banks were being destroyed. Shortly before her hologram fades away, she asks "When I die, will I dream of electric sheep?"
  • In OVA 3 of My Dear Marie, "Dreaming Android", the android sister of her creator and main character, Karigari Hiroshi, asks him to upgrade her so she can dream. Before she goes to sleep she asks "I wonder if it might be a dream about electric sheep?".

In other films and animation

  • In the film Slipstream, android character Byron tells his friend Matt Owens that he actually fell asleep (and dreamed) the night before. Matt snorts derisively, replying, "How did you fall asleep? Counting electric sheep?"
  • In an episode of The Transformers, while on a ship waiting to be saved by his friends, a boy turns to a Mini Con and asks "do mini cons dream of electric ships?"
  • An episode of Kyle XY is titled "Does Kyle Dream of Electric Fish?". Kyle, the main character, exhibits many android-like tendencies.

In literature

Now I lay me down to sleep,
Try to count electric sheep,
Sweet dream wishes you can keep,
How I hate the night.

  • John Scalzi's novel The Android's Dream, refers to the title of this book.
  • In noted Commonwealth poet Jeni Couzyn's 1983 collection of poetry, Life by Drowning, her poem "Do Androids Dream" pays homage to Dick's novel.
  • In the webcomic Dieselsweeties the main character of Clango, a robot, is seen asleep in one panel. Above his head, he is clearly shown dreaming of an electric sheep.
  • A chapter of the series Hell Teacher Nūbē is called "Do Personal Computers Dream of Electric Sheep?" The chapter in itself revolves around an artificially intelligent operating system.


Notes and References

  • Dick, Philip K. (1968). Do androids dream of electric sheep? New York: Ballantine Books, 1996. ISBN 0-345-40447-5. First published in Phillip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd, Norstrilla Press.
    Zelazny, Roger (1975). "Introduction"
  • Scott, Ridley (1982). Blade Runner. Warner Brothers.

Further reading

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