I discovered the work of Philip K. Dick after seeking out and reading his book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’, the novel that would later become the film ‘Blade Runner’.
Blade Runner is back in the news because its long-awaited sequel, ‘Blade Runner 2049’, is currently in cinemas. In addition to this, there is a series of visualised short stories by Dick over on Channel 4 (here in the UK) titled ‘Electric Dreams’. There is set to be ten episodes in all, but at the time of writing only seven have been aired.
I enjoyed the first episode ‘The Hood Maker’ although I found little to it beyond it reminding me of the revived TV series ‘The Tomorrow People’ that I enjoyed watching a few years back. There would be some more such episodes.
The second episode, of Dick’s series is ‘Impossible Planet’ and I think more of Dick at his best by testing our perceptions of reality. With this statement in mind I wonder if Blade Runner was him at his best; it made me question if Deckard, the lead character in that, was real, but not myself – what I liked about the film was the special effects in the pre-CGI-age. What I have read and learned about Dick since then makes me appreciate his mind even more; ‘Impossible Planet’ adds to that. Without detailing the entire plot, it centres around a couple of guys who are commissioned to take an old lady to visit earth, since they live in space at a time when humans have left earth. The thing is, they’re used to faking the places they take their passengers to, using displayed special effects in place of real windows. The passengers are usually in awe of the sights they see, and “seeing the hand of God” is also employed and they totally buy into the hype as it is sold to them. This whole scenario echoed how our current-day advertising tends to work, and seemed to be Dick poking fun at anyone that gets suckered into it, but beyond this we can question our whole reality and the world we see and how it is sold/taught to us. Similar to Blade Runner, this short story leaves us with questions about what is real.
The third episode, The Commuter, had me scratching my head and I turned to the internet afterwards to try and understand what it was about. Here it painted the picture of it being about a town that never quite got built, but the rendering on screen seemed to be more about the lead character and his dealings with his wife and son, and what I couldn’t figure out by half way through was whether he actually had a son. By the end I decided he did have a son but the journey throughout was his toying with the idea of what if he hadn’t had the burden, what would life have been like. In addition to all this I couldn’t help but to mentally compare the people in this town, a sort of ideal place (at first) all imaginary, to the images of people the Jehovah’s Witnesses use throughout their publications; from how the artist has them expressed to how they’re dressed (complete with satchel). It was quite unnerving.
At this point I started to consider how the different episodes were like the different episodes of Doctor Who, where he arrives at a different place and time and uncovers something strange going on. That and how the opening sequence was similar to a series I used to watch called ‘A Town Called Eureka.’
Back to Electric Dreams and the forth episode, gave me more to figure out, and was even less interesting to me. I really didn’t get ‘Crazy Diamond’. The setting in the future had a kind of Truman Show mixed with the Teletubbies vibe to it, either that or the couple it was based around lived in a Hobbit house.
Episode five was back to making me question reality with ‘Real Life’ vs. a simulation. Having been a visitor to the virtual world that is Second Life for a number of years, and having a female avatar for a while, probably made me relate somewhat more to this episode.
The final episode of the seven is ‘Human Is’, and it was another of those “blah” episodes for me; essentially alien beings take over the bodies of a couple of humans, and one of the possible victims turns from an uninterested husband into a lover again for his wife, who by the end seemed to me to be the one taken over. I didn’t get any more out of it than that.
I wonder if I might glean more from these short stories if I were to read Dick’s originals, or if I should avoid parting with any more of my time; either way, I think they can be found here to download: