Dreaming of electric sheep

What Inspired Philip K. Dick to Write Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Do you ever wonder how an author comes up with the idea for a novel? This is the first in a series of blogs to ask that question, “What inspired the author?”—delving into the backstory of classic and memorable novels starting with one of the best Philip K. Dick books; “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

It is by no accident that this series first appears in the month of October, leading up to the national day of horror—Halloween. This and subsequent articles will reference novels of horror and dystopia; novels that make you think or scare you out of your wits, either through immediate frightening chills from demons and monsters or through a prospective future that is unimaginably dark and inhuman. Novels written by profound authors that all link to a common thread: L. Ron Hubbard’s psychological thriller, which is aptly named Fear.

So what inspired those authors to write these stories? What got them thinking about the themes and the plot lines? What got them to put those indelible words on paper?

The Backstory of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was adapted into the film Blade Runner 2019 in 1982 and more recently Blade Runner 2049, is set in a post-apocalyptic world damaged by nuclear war.

Man in the High Castle (1st Edition Hardcover)Its origin began while Philip K. Dick was doing research for The Man in the High Castle. At the time he was reading diaries seized after World War II of Gestapo officers and agents—in German no less, as he knew it well enough to read it—at the UC Berkeley Library. These documents and journals weren’t readily available to the general public and were stamped in German on the cover “For the Eyes of the Higher Police Only”—meaning the Gestapo. According to Dick “I had to read what those guys wrote in their private journals to write ‘Man In the High Castle’ and that’s why I’ve never written a sequel to it. Because it’s too horrible.”

Through this research, he became aware of traumatic experiences perpetrated by people who committed inconceivable crimes and violence, as in the Holocaust. He came to believe that those beings were monsters who pretended to be human.

In one of the journals, a Nazi officer complains about not being able to sleep because he was “kept awake at night by the cries of starving children.” Instead of empathizing with their suffering, the officer only saw them as a nuisance that disturbed his sleep. That one line had a deep impact on Dick who thought, “It is not human to complain in your diary that starving children are keeping you awake.”

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep original coverDick started thinking of people who lacked any empathy as “androids.” Empathy, of course, is the main theme of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the crux upon which his reflection of life hangs. The storyline revolves around androids being almost identical to humans and the question of what it means to be empathetic and whether that allows someone to be valued as a living thing. The protagonist in the story, Rick Deckard, soon learns that androids may be capable of empathy while humans may be completely devoid of it, a realization that changes his understanding of himself.

The Link to Fear

FearAnd how does this novel then relate to L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear?

As it happened, Philip K. Dick’s writing was influenced in no small measure by Mr. Hubbard’s work. In a letter to Peter Fitting written on June 11, 1970, Dick wrote: “What I am writing is really psychological fantasies, on the order of L. Ron Hubbard’s Fear, which impressed me very much, and still does. Without Fear I would never have come up with what I do.” ─Phillip K. Dick.

Fear laid the foundation for what was to become the psychological thriller book genre, and this one with a creepy twist at the end. For more information, see Fear.

10 replies
  1. Mourgos
    Mourgos says:

    this is a cool article. I read Dick’s book and it’s nothing like the Blade Runner films. Interesting psychological and sociological story of a possible future.

  2. Jim Miner
    Jim Miner says:

    very interesting. I am a huge fan of both authors. PKD might be the most influential SF author in the later 20th century. Interesting how one great man inspires another.

  3. Josh
    Josh says:

    Great article, though I am particularly interested in your sources, specifically that of the letter to Peter Fitting dated on June 11, 1970. You see, I’m currently writing my own paper about P.K.D., and that letter seems to have content that I definitely need for my argument. I would deeply appreciate it if you would contact me and send me a pdf. or a link to it.

    • John Goodwin
      John Goodwin says:

      Hello Josh,
      This quote comes from “The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick, 1938 – 1971,” Underwood Books, 1996 p. 269
      Hope this helps.
      John Goodwin

      • Frank Bertrand
        Frank Bertrand says:

        So, did one John Goodwin write this article? And just what Philip K. Dick essay, letter, and/or interview did the quotes about the title of his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? come from. Await your earliest convenient reply. Thank you.

        • John Goodwin
          John Goodwin says:

          Hello Frank,
          This is John Goodwin and someone wrote the article for me. The book referenced is “The Selected Letters of Philip K. Dick 1938-1971” (published by Underwood Books, Grass Valley, California, (C) 1996) ISBN 1-887424-20-2
          It is on page 269 in a letter to Peter Fitting on June 11, 1970, “What I am writing is really psychological fantasies, on the order of L. Ron Hubbard’s FEAR, which impressed me very much, and still does. Without FEAR I would never have come up with what I do.”
          BTW, if you would like a scan of the pages, send me your email address and I will forward to you. [email protected]

  4. Alex
    Alex says:

    What about the Dancing Girl from Ganymede (1950) by Leigh Brackett – bounty-hunters hunting androids that escaped from Earth, hard-boiled protagonist falls in love with one of them, questions her humanity. Very few seem to mention this precursor, is it relevant or irrelevant?


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