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BBC Radio 4 Extra - Philip K Dick - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Episode 1
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Up on the roof of his building, an erstwhile barnyard where residents keep their pets, Rick tends to his sheep and meets a neighbor whose horse is pregnant. When Rick confesses that his sheep is electric, they discuss the relative values of their animals—the cost of live pets rises along with their rate of extinction.
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Passing by a pet shop window, Rick checks out the respective prices of a live and an electric ostrich. Later, he visits a corporation and is awed by its animal collection, an owl and a raccoon named Bill in particular. A thousand dollars apiece. The salesman convinces him to buy a goat—a large, black, female Nubian. The Christlike cult figure at the center of the dominant religion, Mercerism, reportedly brought dead animals back to life as a child. This test of humanity has turned into a form of cultural capital and literal capital: The ongoing extinction of species makes pet ownership into a rarity market, while generating a secondary market in knockoff electric beasts.
Beyond social satire, the question of animals speaks to a key debate in the novel and both films: Are androids human? We witness the sadism of another android firsthand when she clips the legs off a living spider one by one.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? A metaphysical detective story
My favorite moment of android animal cruelty involves Rachael, the femme fatale with whom Rick eventually has sex—supposedly to rid himself of his feelings for her and thus make it easier to kill her. This moment beautifully captures the aspects of the novel that the noirish, self-serious film adaptations miss: its absurdity; its bizarro plot; its zany, tragicomic tone. Can you imagine a beautiful female android pushing a goat off a roof in either Blade Runner movie? Rachael considers people, animals, and androids equivalent, leveling them rather than subscribing to the self-aggrandizing hierarchies of man.