Philip K. Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? has a special place in the history of science fiction literature. It is arguably the most accessible of the famously bizarre author’s later works, and contains all of his favorite tropes including a shifting sense of reality, an examination of the role of faith and empathy in human life, and a deep concern with the question of what makes a human “human” in the first place. It was also the basis for the classic film Blade Runner, and might be read for that reason more than any other (although the two bear little resemblance to one another beyond the character names and basic concept). Now, the life of this novel gets expanded again with this gorgeous six-volume comics adaptation, which — if there’s any justice in the world –just might come to be regarded as the definitive way to encounter the text.
The story of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is simple in one sense and maddeningly complex in another. On the surface it is about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter working with the police, whose mission is to hunt and kill renegade androids who have escaped from bondage on off-world colonies and made their way to Earth. These androids are indistinguishable from humans in every way except for their lack of empathy. Now, Deckard has just one day to find 6 of these androids and “retire” them. But the androids are expecting him…
There’s a lot more to it than that, with subplots featuring an empathy-based religion and the non-stop talk show devoted to bringing it down, Deckard’s depressed wife, a veterinarian for ersatz pets, the shadowy corporation that both helps and hinders Deckard’s investigation, and much more. And it wouldn’t be a Philip K. Dick book if there wasn’t at least one scene wherein the protagonist was forced to question the very basis of their identity and reality.
This comic book adaptation of the classic novel is impressive in its scope and utterly gorgeous to behold. The full text of the novel is presented across six 144-page hardcover graphic novels (themselves collected from a 24 issue miniseries) through the comics of Tony Parker. Parker’s clean line and excellent sense of design bring Dick’s world to life. Every corner of the world is filled with some small detail, the accumulated detritus of a consumerist society on the brink of collapse… and well passed that brink in some cases. The design looks similar to the aesthetic of Blade Runner in some places (most noticeably in Deckard’s resemblance to the young Harrison Ford), but for the most part Parker wisely creates a world that is entirely his own.
Seeing every word of the novel illustrated was a revelation to me, and even though I had read it 3 or 4 times before, there were things that came out through the comics I had never noticed. Indeed, reading the book in this form took me considerably longer than just reading the novel alone, as I pored over the lush realization of every tiny detail. Some readers may disagree with this form of adaptation preferring to create Dick’s sci-fi world for themselves in their own minds, but that’s more a matter of taste than anything else.
Of course, there is one important question for librarians approaching this work: is it worth spending 25 bucks each for six volumes to get a story that you can just as easily get as an eight dollar paperback? That one I can’t help you with. However, I will freely admit that I was so struck by this monumental effort that I did purchase them all for myself. As a visual representation of every word of a seminal novel by a Twentieth Century master, I think these books are pretty much flawless.