Sometime in the early 21st century, World War Terminus has resulted in widespread destruction and nuclear fallout, so everyone who can afford it has emigrated to Mars. To help these emigrants establish a new civilization, androids were created to be servants and laborers. As time went on, the androids became more sophisticated until they were virtually indistinguishable from humans — except for a complete lack of empathy. Now some of these androids have returned to Earth, where their presence is illegal, and policeman Rick Deckard is charged with hunting them down and “retiring” them. In fact, he is authorized to kill them on sight; but as he pursues the rogue androids, he must confront his own feelings and beliefs, including what it means to be human.
When I started this book, I was expecting the main issue to be the nature of the androids themselves: If they have the same intelligence and (mostly) the same emotions as humans, aren’t they also human? But oddly enough, the book leaves no doubt on this issue — the androids are not human, and Rick Deckard’s struggle with this fact gets him into trouble on several occasions. Even though the androids are machines, Deckard can’t help but see them as human beings, due to his own empathetic response. He feels pity for them, recognizes their contributions to society, and even falls in love with one of them. Ultimately, the real issue of the book is not the humanity of the androids, but rather the humanity of the humans: Can Deckard do his job and still retain his humanity? As such, I found the book a fascinating read, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected.
After reading this book, I decided to rent the movie “Blade Runner” so that I could compare and contrast the film adaptation with the original. Basically, the movie is VERY different from the book, and I was bewildered by most of the changes. The movie is visually stunning — I loved the vision of a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles — but I just didn’t understand Deckard’s relationships with the androids in the movie at all. It’s hard to say more without spoiling, but let me just say that the final confrontation scene goes VERY differently in the movie versus the book. The movie also suggests (and Ridley Scott confirmed that this was his intention) that Deckard himself is an android, which is 100% NOT the case in the book. So while “Blade Runner” is an interesting movie in its own right, it’s definitely not a faithful adaptation of the book!