A stand-alone SF book which was the inspiration for the movie Blade Runner.
Publication year: 1968
Publication year of the Finnish translation: 1989
Finnish translator: Kari Nenonen
Page count: 169
Finnish Publisher: Jalava
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter working for the San Francisco police. His job is to hunt down and kill any androids who have fled from their owners and come to the SF area. He considers himself a poorly paid civil servant who has to hunt the “andys” to get the bonus money. He’s married but apparently his wife is a housewife. Even though money is tight, neither of them even considers that the wife, Iran, could get a job. The other POV character is J. R. Isidore, a special, a human whose brain functions have been damaged by radioactive dust. He ends up living in the same building as one of the androids.
In this world, Earth has been devastated by a nuclear World War and the nuclear dust has contaminated pretty much everything. Everyone is encourage to emigrate to other planets and everyone who moves away from Earth gets a personal android. Rick hunts down these androids who have escaped from their owners and come to Earth.
Rick hears that his superior, Dave Holden, is in hospital because an escaped andy has shot him. Dave was able to get two of the escaped androids but six more are in SF, pretending to be humans. The androids are of new design, Nexus-6, who are reputed to be hard to find out even with the sophisticated Voight-Kamff empathy test. Rick agrees to retire the androids.
However, first he’s sent to Rosen Industries where he’s supposed to test some suspected androids. Instead he ends up testing Rachael Rosen who is introduced as the director’s niece. Rachael fails the test and the Rosens try to bribe Rick that he would be silent about it. However, it turns out that Rachael is an android after all. Then a Russian agent arrive to SF and wants to hunt the androids with Rick but the Russian turns out to be a android himself. After a brief struggle, Rick kills the android and starts to hunt down the others.
Meanwhile, Isidor works as a driver to a “veterinarian” who repairs artificial animals. However, a new client gives Isidor his pet and Isidor doesn’t realize that the cat is a real animal. It dies on the way to the clinic. The clinic’s owner is livid with Isidor and forces him to call to the client. Isidor knows that his mental abilities are impaired and he’s dreading the call. The client’s wife answers and Isidor is able to deal with her.
When Isidor notices that someone has moved in to the otherwise empty building, he has the confidence to talk with the new person. The new renter, or squatter rather, calls herself first Rachael Rosen and then Pris Sutton. Despite her forbidding attitude, Isidor realizes that he would like to be around other people and strikes up a sort of friendship with her. Mostly, Isidor does think for her, unasked, and she tries to keep him away from her.
The world is pretty depressing. The people who still are on Earth know that they’re stupid to still be there and are pretty hopeless. The people use empathy boxes which link them into other people using the boxes and to Wilbur Mercer whose suffering the people witness when they use the boxes. They also share each others’ emotions, joy and depressions. Mercer and the boxes have even become a religion, Mercerism, where everyone is connected and one with each other. People also use technology to alter their own moods using the Penfield wave transmitter. They also watch TV a lot. Buster Friendly’s show runs 23 hours a day and everyone is watching it.
The radioactive dust has killed off wild animals. Now, it’s every person’s social duty to own an animal and take care of it publicly. The animals are quite expensive so the poorest people have synthetic animals who are so well built that it’s almost impossible to know that it’s fake. Rick has an artificial lamb and he keeps it on the roof of his building, together with his neighbor’s horse. He marvels at Rosen Industries’ animals which even includes an owl which are officially extinct. The Rosen try to bribe him with the owl.
I’ve watched Blade Runner a few times and I’m surprised by how different the movie and the book are. For example, in the book the androids seem to have been built for working in environments where humans can’t work. So there are no battle or pleasure models in the book; in fact sex with androids is illegal.
Rick grows more introspective during the story. At the beginning, he has no problems “retiring” androids but he starts to wonder about the reality of things and people around him. He claims that he can sense when a person is an android because he or she is emotionally cold. However, he meets another bounty hunter who is as cold as the androids. He’s also not really invested in Mercerism and wonders if that makes him emotionally cold. The caring of animals is supposed to make people more empathetic but seems more like a status symbol to me. Isidore’s client’s wife says that her husbands loved the cat so much that he can’t bare to hear that it’s dead; yet the wife is the one who takes care of the cat.
In the middle of the story, there are scenes that invite the reader to wonder if Rick is an android with artificial history and feelings. I wondered about it but Rick never did. He was sure that he’s a real human.