Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

What does it mean to be alive? In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the androids can be as intelligent as humans and the Nexus-6 models embody the next improvements. And they are certainly smarter than the “chickenheads,” humans whose brains radiation has damaged. But in this world, androids couldn’t empathize as humans could. In Star Trek, the Next Generation, the android Data sought to be human through the “emotions chip,” but here Philip K. Dick stresses empathy over other emotions such as fear and anger. A more interesting question, as suggested by the title: can androids dream? And can they reflect on the self and reflect on the reflection? Through this novel, Dick raises a question that, as technology advances, becomes more relevant. What defines humans?

A related question is the ethics of bounty-hunting androids. To the extend that androids are human, bounty-hunting becomes less legitimate. The police catch criminals and the courts try them before deciding on the punishment. To what extend do androids have rights to a fair trial? A broader question is what right they have? In the novel, they are only slaves and certainly do not have the right to liberty. And since organizations like the Rosen Association create these androids, is it ethical for these manufacturers to consider them properties?

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, like Philip K. Dick’s other novels is provocative and mind-bending and the reader would, after reading it, ponder on existence and reality. This is a great sci-fi read.

Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin

Iris Chase in her old age wants to let her alienated granddaughter know that the latter’s grandmother was actually Iris’s sister Laura. She tells the story of her unhappy marriage to Richard Griffen and his affair with Laura, who submitted to the man only to save Alex Thomas, a communist running from the authorities.

Iris publishes the novel The Blind Assassin, the affair between her and Alex, in Laura’s name, perhaps to compensate for Laura killing herself after learning of the affair. When we learn of Laura’s death in the beginning of the novel, we know it wasn’t an accident and suspect suicide. Midway through the novel, we may have suspected she killed herself because Richard had raped her, but the real reason was more powerful. Laura realized Iris and Alex had betrayed her.

The Blind Assassin is about the plight of women in an age when they were considered men’s possessions and their only goal was to satisfy them. There are plenty of novels and movies that tell of the suffering and dehumanization, but such a theme is worth telling and retelling.

When I read of how Iris married Richard Griffen hoping the businessman would save her father’s business and how she continued to submit to him even after she found out he had cheated her father and caused him to commit suicide, I wished she had the courage and strength to free herself from his grasp. I wished she Laura rebelling against the forces that repressed her. But she is Iris and not Laura. And she rebelled in the only way she knew, by having a secret affair with Alex Thomas and living a double life.

Margaret Atwood (Source: Vanwaffle at Wikimedia)

The Blind Assassin is a tragic tale and the greatest tragedy is Laura committing suicide after learning of the affair between Iris and Alex.

The tale-within-a-tale that Iris wrote and attributed to Laura misleads the readers to believe that Laura had the affair with Alex. What strikes me is the quality of writing between the main narrative and Iris’s novel, the former demonstrating Atwood’s skills and the latter Iris’s lack of. Perhaps Margaret Atwood wants to show Iris’s hollow life through the writing. The lovers in Iris’s novel come across as aloof and flat and they seemed out of the reader’s reach.

Though both Iris and Laura suffered and sacrificed, I like the latter more perhaps because she fought harder against overwhelming odds.

Book Review of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest

James O. Incandenza created the film Infinite Jest, a.k.a. “the Entertainment,” so addictive that anyone watching it couldn’t take her eyes off it and eventually dies from lack of food and water. Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents (A.F.R.), or the Wheelchair Assassins, a Québécois separatist group seeking to have Canada secede from the Organization of North American Nations (O.N.A.N.), searches for the master copy and intends to distribute copies and use the film as a weapon of mass destruction. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is a satire about our contemporary culture. Specifically, addiction. And not only to entertainment, i.e. the film Infinite Jest. The novel depicts the addicts in The Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery House trying, or not trying, to recover from cannabis, cocaine, Demerol and other drugs. And in nearby Enfield Tennis Academy, many students are on drugs. Wallace’s writing is humorous, but beneath the events, sadness flows.

Brighton, MA

While thinking about the power of entertainment in our culture, I recall Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, where he describes how TV, and more generally, visual entertainment, has transformed the way we think and process information. Whereas reading requires us to process the words and sentences and to imagine the scenes, we can “absorb” the information much quicker when we view a picture or watch a video. But just as taking too much easily digestible sugar rather than complex carbohydrates isn’t good for the body, watching too much TV may be harmful to the mind, from not exercising the muscles in the brain. We have the Internet and we don’t lack information, but what’s more important than information is the ability to analyze data, qualitatively and quantitatively, and to imagine new ideas and possibilities.

John Hersey’s Hiroshima

Through the stories of six men and women in Hiroshima who survived the atomic bomb, we glimpse into the horror of war and in particular, that of weapons of mass destruction. Those whom the bomb disintegrated were the lucky ones. Those who survived suffered, some longer than other, some through burning and deformation, others through radiation sickness that eventually caused cancer and deformed births. As in all wars, civilians suffered, not by choice, being swept away in the current of history.

Atomic Bombs Explosions (Photo: Charles Levy)

As we face the refugee crisis in Europe, we are reminded that the ambition, greed, hatred and fear of a few can sow the seeds of suffering for thousands who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hiroshima After the Bombing

Even after thousands of years, we still have trouble resolving differences and conflicts through negotiations and compromises. Too often, we believe in “winner takes all” and assume that the victor must vanquish his enemy to prevent revenge and secure permanent victory. Millions have died in Europe and Asia during W.W. II, but today, seventy years later, conflicts that kill and displace civilians continue. Force that induces fear to stop violence is double-edged sword, and it has led to greater violence. In light of our current condition, stories in Hersey’s Hiroshima, like other accounts of war casualties, remind us that we have to work harder toward becoming more civilized.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial