Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Do Bibliophiles Dream Of Electric Sheep?

DICK, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

London: Rapp and Whiting, 1969.
First British Edition Of The 2010 Cornell University
New Student Reading Project Title.

(All Images Courtesy Of Cornell University Libraries.)

Ah, book clubs. When they are good they are very, very good. But when they are bad they are horrid. Like the hopeful single preparing for a blind date, the bibliophile spends all week getting mentally gussied-up for an evening of amiable companionship. The big night finally arrives, and our literary lover sets off artfully clothed in the latest haute couture critiques, accessorized with exquisitely elegant opinions, and scented with a splash of wicked wit. Longing for an evening of stimulating conversation, climaxing with the deep connection found only with true soul mates, this eager reader can hardly contain his high hopes.

DICK, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

First American Edition.

But soon the ice-water of cruel reality douses even the most ardent suitor's desire for a marriage of true minds. Our would-be dream dates haven't even finished the book, much less come prepared to share their keen insights and innermost thoughts about it. The real agenda of our fellow clubbers is to down some cheap wine, and enjoy the thrill of having a captive audience to tell their troubles to. After one of these thinly-veiled pity parties, spending a lifetime reading in solitude with a couple of cats for company never sounded so good.

DICK, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1996.

Note Inclusion Of The Film Adaptation's Title
On This Trade Paperback Cover.

But what if there were a book club lead by an Ivy League professor of 18th century English literature, whose members included a cognitive psychologist, an environmental engineer, a computer scientist, a veterinarian, an expert on Arabic literature, and a horticultural ecologist? And there's no need to worry about being rejected by such elite company, this club is always open to new members. Where do I sign up, you say? All you need to do is go online and check out the Cornell New Student Reading Project.

DICK, Philip K. Blade Runner
(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1982.

On This Mass Market Edition The Film's Title Takes Precedence
Over The Book's, Despite The Fact That This Is
Simply An Unchanged Reprint of the Text.

Cornell's Reading Project is now in its tenth year, and was originally designed so that all new freshmen and transfer students would enter the school with "a shared focus." Each year, about 50 titles, recommended by faculty, staff, and several student groups, are short-listed for the project, out of which one is chosen. Past titles have included The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Lincoln At Gettysburg by Gary Wills, The Pickup by Nadine Gordimer, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Antigone by Sophocles, and Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

DICK, Philip K. Blade Runner
(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep).
New York: Ballantine Books/Del Rey, 1982.

Another Mass Market Issue. This One Features Not Only
The Film's Title, But Also Its Poster Art.

The project quickly expanded to the entire city of Ithaca, via participation from the Tompkins County Public Library. Branches of the Public Library stock multiple copies of the book chosen by Cornell, including translations into over a half-dozen foreign languages, as well an audio books, large print copies, and ebooks. The Public Library and the University offer book discussions, art exhibits, writing workshops, and lectures all centered on the year's selected text. And now six lectures by distinguished faculty members (AKA our "Book Club" colleagues) have been posted online, along with study questions, a book blog, and online exhibits, opening this "community read" to anyone with access to a computer.

The Blade Runner (A Movie)
Berkeley, Calif.: Blue Wind Press, 1979.

A Novella Which Gave The 1982 Film Adaptation
of Androids Its New Title,
And Nothing Else.

This year's title is an offbeat break from the choices of the past nine years. It comes from the catalog of "genre fiction," the red-headed stepchild of the literary world, often overlooked, and even disparaged, by academia. The Cornell Project title for 2010 is the highly influential Science Fiction novel, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. First published in 1968, it is the tale of a dystopian future in which the majority of earth's population has emigrated to Mars following an environmentally devastating World War.

Alan E. Nourse. The Blade Runner.
Philadelphia, Penn.: David McKay, 1974.

And The Book From Which Burroughs Took His Title.
Also Having Nothing To Do With Androids.

The mass extinction of animal species in the aftermath of "World War Terminus" has led to the creation of incredibly life-like and highly coveted android "animals" as replacements. The trouble begins when the android-creating technology is taken one step further, resulting in the manufacture of robotic "humans," who can no longer be distinguished from their flesh and blood counterparts. These human-machine hybrids are treated as slaves said to lack the essential quality of a true human, empathy. But the human race's inability to empathize with their android doppelgangers, who are hunted down and "killed" if they attempt to disguise their mechanical origins, raises questions as to who and what constitutes a genuine, sentient person.

A Still From The Blade Runner Press Kit,
Featuring Actress Daryl Hannah As A
"Standard Pleasure Model" Android.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? is also the first Reading Project book to have had a major impact on popular culture. This is made clear in an exhibit sponsored by Cornell Library's Division of Rare Books and Manuscript Collections, which is also available online. Along with rare editions of Dick's novel, thematically related short stories, and correspondence concerning its creation, the exhibit details its road to the silver screen as the Sci-Fi film classic, Blade Runner (1982).

DICK, Philip K. and Tony Parker.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Los Angeles, Calif.: Boom! Studios, 2009.

A Graphic Novel Version Of Dick's Book,
Complete With Every Word Of The Original Text.

Initially relegated to cult film status due to its failure at the box office, director Ridley Scott's adaptation of Dick's novel has since been recognized as a masterpiece of futuristic story-telling and production design, and has served as the model for dozens of far inferior post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi sets, costumes, and screenplays centered on humanity's attempts to survive amidst the wreckage of a shattered planet. Blade Runner's pop culture influence is further revealed by the library exhibit's display of products created by the numerous cottage industries fueled by the film's hard-core fans, including toys, comic books, video games, magazines, fan-zines, and other ephemera.

Toy Advertisement From:
Blade Runner Souvenir Magazine
Vol. 1.
New York: Ira Friedman, 1982

And The Supercool Toy Version Of Android Hunter
Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) "Spinner."

Upon reflection, the initially surprising selection of Philip K. Dick's Science Fiction novel for a prestigious University's interdisciplinary reading project becomes more and more inspired. The book's exploration of the theme "What constitutes humanity?" makes it germane to such diverse disciplines as psychology, sociology, philosophy, anthropology, and medicine. It's exploration of Earth's fate following a planetary disaster brings in biology, ecology, astronomy, climatology, geography, geology, zoology, agronomy, horticulture, botany, and veterinary medicine. And it's position as a landmark of dystopian fiction and film brings in the departments of literature, interior design, information science, theatre and drama, mass media, marketing, public relations, advertising, and business. Another book with such an eclectic reach would be nearly impossible to find.

Another Blade Runner Toy, Inspired By
The Origami Creations of Rick Deckard's
Fellow Cop, Gaff (Edward James Olmos.).

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? really does have the universality to appeal to almost anyone. Who knows, this title might even keep those book club slackers reading all the way to the last page. Now if only they'd give the text enough thought to actually have something worthwhile to say about the damn thing...


  1. This was priceless. The only difference between the book club you describe and the one I belong to is the wine - nothing cheap about it.
    You've piqued my interest in the Cornell Reading Project. Thanks for bringing it to light.

  2. Fantastic post and wonderful choice for the reading project; just watched Blade Runner again recently and was planning to read this book and compare. I know there are major differences. So much to talk about with this one. Will definitely check out the Cornell Reading Project.

  3. Burroughs's Blade Runner has just been re-issued by George Mattingly's Blue Wind Press.


  4. I sincerely hope the Cornell New Student Reading Project will tackle one shamefully overlooked novel that takes place at Cornell University – Matt Ruff's amazing "Fool on the Hill": it's all there Richard Farina, Thomas Pynchon, JRR Tolkien plus a wonderful animal fantasy all rolled into one.

  5. Only 'Blade Runner' worth watching is the original 1982 theatrical release. Scott's 1992 vanity re-release was superfluous.

    Also, there was a 'Blade Runner' sequel novel released in the early 90s.

  6. Hello!

    I really enjoyed this post and wanted to ask, does anyone out there know to whom the first edition of "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" was dedicated?

    Through an author interview podcast I ran online (Authors' Advisory: http://authorsadvisory.blogspot.com) I interviewed World Fantasy Award winning author Tim Powers, who was a student of and friend of PKD and to whom the movie tie in DADES is in part, dedicated.

    Tim told me PKD dedicated the first printing to: " ..somebody he knew in '68." but Tim didn't remember who.

    There was a sequel trilogy of "Blade Runner" novels by K.W. Jeter, (another friend and protege of PKD) taken from events as described in the film. 1. Blade Runner: The Edge of Human. 2. Blade Runner: Replicant Night. 3. Blade Runner: Eye and Talon.

    Any information on the original dedication or whatever other BR trivia anyone has, I'd love to hear it.

  7. Cheers I'd not spotted the two Del Rey cover versions, just bagged the second for the collection


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