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.
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.”
Dick 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
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.
Another article you may be interested in: Sci-Fi Robots