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Group Reads Discussions 2008 > Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - What Does the Title Mean? NO SPOILERS!

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Sandi (Sandikal) Very few books are titled with a question. What is Dick trying to say by making the title of this book a question? If not electric sheep, then what do androids dream of? Do you find the title compelling or confusing?


Ben (bcaldwell) | 251 comments I don't know, but looking through PKD's bibliography, I'd say he should have let someone else come up with the titles.


Jon (jonmoss) | 894 comments It sounds very philosophical. However, since I can't contain any spoilers in this comment, I can't readily discuss what's on my mind about why this title is phrased the way it is.


Kristjan (BookTroll) | 189 comments Sandi said: Very few books are titled with a question. What is Dick trying to say by making the title of this book a question? If not electric sheep, then what do androids dream of? Do you find the title compelling or confusing?

Initially I was a tad confused about the title ... why would an android need to dream and what is the purpose of electronic sheep. This is a book that I would not typically pick up to read without some recommendation from somebody I knew.

Dreaming is primary thought to be a function of a living being (in this case humans); this brings about a comparison between something that looks, and to some extent behaves, like a human and what we might consider a real human. Is there really a difference? What makes us uniquely human if we are able to create a reasonable similacrum? What if we even program in all of the human mental faults and insecurities ... would androids/robots be human then? Are we actually just complex bio machines and do the differences warrant a different selection of inherent rights (such as those endowed upon us by our creator).



message 5: by Mike (last edited Jul 01, 2008 11:08AM) (new)

Mike Philbin (MikePhilbin) Ben,
the original titles of Dick's works were liberally altered by Don Wollheim @ Ace books, if legend is to be believed.

The irony is if electric people are 'dreaming' of sheep, they're still awake trying to sleep.

:)


Angie | 341 comments I thought this was a strange title. I also would not have picked this book up based off title only. But the more I say the title to myself the more intrigued I am to read it. So it has grows on me. I wish my copy would get here!


Sue (suelange) I never paid much attention to the book previously. The title always made it seem like some long academic thought experiment on the Turing Test or something. It made me think of a long boring opinion of what it means to be a human and how the author goes about proving whatever the opinion is. Kind of like Pascal's proof of God's existence. Yeah, sure, great insights to be had for the reading, but I'd rather wait for the movie or at least "The Idiot's Guide to Existentialism" or something.

Loved Blade Runner, though, and ever since I found out this book was the inspiration for the movie, I've wanted to read it. Now I am. Therefore now I think.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) I don't know, but I always thought it was linked with the I, Robot debate of whether robots of any kind can have souls, or feel, or have free will. Dreaming would have to be a sign of all of the above, I would think.

It's curious: while living in Japan I found that this kind of thing is quite alien to the Japanese, because they (in general) can't understand the concept of a machine having any kind of human feeling etc., while amongst us in other countries, it's obviously something that bothers us. Another good example of this is that awful Steven Speilberg movie Artificial Intelligence . Anyone know what I'm talking about?


Ben (bcaldwell) | 251 comments Yes, I think you are spot on, Shannon. That is interesting about the Japanese, too. Maybe we owe that particular fascination of Western society completely to Asimov?


Amy (amyhageman) | 60 comments I like the philosophical question inherent in the title - but normally would not read it based on just the title because robots/android books are not a particular interest of mine.
I decided I wanted to read this book based on a number of other authors/scientists who listed this as having an influence on their lives.(sorry, can't remember the other connections now...)
I would hope this book would help illuminate what it means to be human - and how the line between humans and machines (if there is a line) will be drawn...
Haven't seen the movie or started the book yet.

Sort of related: I listened to an NPR report recently about nursing homes using a robotic seal as a pet to help give elderly residents comfort....and my local grocery store has the ubiquitous self-check lane which ALWAYS says, 'Welcome, valued customer' - is there any meaning in the adjective when it's coming from a machine? I guess I would hope this book would help me clarify some of my own thoughts about technology as it evolves.


Kai (wlow) | 64 comments i always thought the interesting part of the title was "electric" sheep, being something like not if androids do dream, but are their dreams "artificial"?. not in the sense that their dreams are not real, but if they are machines created/invented by people, and if they gain self awareness and start to have dreams, are their dreams also a creation of Mankind, "electric" dreams!, or is a "dream" a dream.

without spoilers i guess it's hard to go into much detail, but as a title itself thats what i got from it phrased as a question


Beth A. (BethALM) I hope this won't be a spoiler...



Before starting this book I thought "dream of electric sheep" meant a sleeping dream, but now that I am two chapters into the book I am starting to think it means dream as in "to long for"...

I am thinking of how Rick is obsessed with having a live pet. Will androids have that same kind of passion for something? Will it change Rick if he finds that they do?


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) I was just thinking about that too Kai, that the title's suggesting that if they do dream it must be of something electric as opposed to something "real" or natural.

For some reason, the "electric sheep" part of the title is what I always noticed. I tend to forget about androids and dreams. It's been years since I read it, but wasn't there something similar in Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency?


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) Beth, I just read your comment (we must have posted at the same time) and I honestly hadn't thought of it that way before, but I think that's a really good perspective. It makes much more sense to me.

I'm only in chapter 4 at the mo but it does seem, that with the test they have to tell androids from humans being based on empathy, that the desire to have an animal companion is something that the androids aren't supposed to be able to have. Though I do remember, from the movie, that this hypothesis definitely comes into question.


Mike Philbin (MikePhilbin) "it means dream as in 'to long for'... "

beautifully put.

:)


Thomas | 255 comments I found the title's irrationality annoying, not ironic, until I picked up the book and discovered that there really were electric sheep to desire. Then the perspective shifted. The irony now seems to be that humans don't really want electric sheep, only live sheep (which is counterintuitive if you don't live in a world with electric seals). It's actually a straightforward question, and it does get answered later on.


Kai (wlow) | 64 comments Hi Shannon, yea, i mean if the title was just "do androids dream?" and dream being just a (don't know the word for it) a representation of some human quality...then it wouldn't seem that intriguing of a title (just thinking of the title by itself without actually considering whats IN the book).

if that was the title it wouldn't seem like an interesting read i guess, and you'd think it would be just you know your typical scifi stuff about man's creations being imbued with "humanity, soul, etc (whatever)" at the onset of creation, or bootstrapping themselves (the androids) to self awareness (i think there's a word for that too that i can't think of)

so for me i guess the title's not necessarily can androids have "dreams", but what is the nature of those "dreams" (dreams being defined however you want)

and i read Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency way back, and i don't remember much, but i think also i didn't really understand it all that well at the time :)


Rob (Robo) | 15 comments I think Beth's got it, spot on.


Sue (suelange) How can you not love Douglas Adams? Who else could think up a device that would save you the hassle of watching tv. Brilliant.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) Electric monk! Thank you, I could not remember exactly what it was! I read that book when I was twelve or something and a fair bit of it went over my head, but then a lot of it slugged me good. I keep meaning to re-read it.

Thomas, I thought it was some metaphorical philosophical - lots of "-ical" - title until I started reading it too. But I find the concept of electric animals - or, rather, that there are hardly any real animals left - pretty terrifying.

I hadn't realised before I started this book that it's actually post-apocalyptic. I love post-apocalyptic books. If the planet is falling apart, covered in junk and radioactive dust, how is anyone still alive there? I just read the bit about crushing hovercars and dumping them in the bay and I couldn't help but wince.


Thomas | 255 comments Then it's good for you that people in Canada are the ones with a ready source of animals.


Shannon (Giraffe Days) (Giraffe_Days) I noticed that too - surely it's a bad idea to remove the animals from their natural habitat? Even if it is radioactive? That made me quite angry! (pretty much everything about this futuristic world is upsetting.)


Kristjan (BookTroll) | 189 comments Shannon said: That made me quite angry! (pretty much everything about this futuristic world is upsetting.)

Check your dial ... happiness is only a quarter turn to the right :)


J-Lynn (JVanPelt) | 118 comments Regardless of deep meaning--I think the title is a lot of fun. I chose this book when we voted based on the title. I am so bored with all of the obvious titles or one word titles or cliched titles--there are too many books out there and too little time--I appreciate a little creativity in the title.


Nick Brennan | 1 comments Is being human being able to know the grace of sleep? Can the brain only want to drop out of existence, even if it cannot sleep? Is the soul and the ability to momentarily access the immaterial and escape existence what keeps humans going through existence?


Gregor Xane (GregorXane) | 44 comments Beth A. wrote: "I hope this won't be a spoiler...



Before starting this book I thought "dream of electric sheep" meant a sleeping dream, but now that I am two chapters into the book I am starting to think it mea..."


This sense of 'dream' is how I've interpreted the title.


Coralie | 49 comments This is my number one favourite book title of all time.


Tobias Haßdenteufel | 4 comments Let's not forget that Dick's book titles were often picked by his editors, because he thought he sucked at it. Having read the book I'm not sure this one makes much sense either.


Gregor Xane (GregorXane) | 44 comments Yes, PKD was horrible at coming up with titles.


Micah R Sisk (MicahRSisk) | 413 comments J-Lynn wrote: "Regardless of deep meaning--I think the title is a lot of fun..."

Thank you! I'm constantly amazed at how differently people tend to interpret things than me. I thought maybe I was the only one who see the humor in the title.

I have always believed, and still do, that the title is nothing more than a play on the old "counting sheep" to get to sleep thing.

And since there are androids in the book, and electric sheep, the title's just a twist of perspective. If you know Dick's work, you'll understand that a twist of perspective is one of his signature moves.

People dream of sheep, so maybe androids dream of electric sheep. Slight smirk. No great mystery.

And I've always loved his other titles as well. In fact, I don't see much wrong with any of them. Most of them just sound like SF novels (Solar Lottery, The Simulacra, Counter-Clock World, Clans of the Alphane Moon, Vulcan's Hammer, The Game-Players of Titan...etc.), some I find quite evocative (The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The Penultimate Truth, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, The Divine Invasion, VALIS, Ubik). **shrug**


Gregor Xane (GregorXane) | 44 comments Micah wrote: "J-Lynn wrote: "Regardless of deep meaning--I think the title is a lot of fun..."

Thank you! I'm constantly amazed at how differently people tend to interpret things than me. I thought maybe I was ..."


A few of the titles you listed are ones settled on after Dick's editors talked him out of his original titles.

For example:

Solar Lottery - original title: Quizmaster Take All
The Simulacrum - original title: The First Lady of Earth
Counter-Clock World - original title: The Dead Are Young

These two below really demonstrate that Dick didn't have the knack for titles:

The Penultimate Truth - original title: In the Mold of Yancy
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - original title: The Killers Are Among Us! Cried Rick Deckard to the Special Man


message 32: by Ryan (last edited Apr 02, 2014 07:15PM) (new)

Ryan Sean O'Reilly (RyanSeanOReilly) | 3 comments In one of Brandon Sanderson's lectures (Write About Dragons) he talks about titles and a student mentions "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" as a possible "wordy" title. However, Sanderson said that at the time PKD wrote this book it would have been more advantageous to have a longer more eye-catching title to stand out among the other half-dozen or so short stories in a magazine (I guess that's where this story was probably originally published). So I wonder if that's why PKD came up with this title?

It's a great book, we just reviewed it on my podcast (No Deodorant In Outer Space), but none of the hosts got into the title - though I did talk about how Ridley Scott bought the title for "Bladerunner" from another author of a completely different story...

Anyway, I think the title gets at the heart of what the story is about: What does it mean to be human? Are androids like us if they dream like us?


message 33: by [deleted user] (last edited Apr 03, 2014 12:57AM) (new)

Gregor wrote: original title: The Killers Are Among Us! Cried Rick Deckard to the Special Man

Presumably you would only have been allowed to buy the book if you could remember the title correctly.

The odd thing is that although this is an awful title, the superficially similar Harlan Ellison title '"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman' is brilliant. Hard to explain why.


Gregor Xane (GregorXane) | 44 comments Chris wrote: "Gregor wrote: original title: The Killers Are Among Us! Cried Rick Deckard to the Special Man

Presumably you would only have been allowed to buy the book if you could remember the title correctly..."


Part of the problem with Dick's title is that it seems like a rip-off of the well-known Ellison title. However, the biggest problem, I think, is the phrase "The Special Man." What the hell? Also, without having read the book, who's Rick Deckard? In Ellison's title, Harlequin and Ticktockman both mean something, suggest images to the reader. "Special Man" means nothing. It's too generic.


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Okay, so not as hard to explain as I thought!


Gregor Xane (GregorXane) | 44 comments Chris wrote: "Okay, so not as hard to explain as I thought!"

Ha! And what an odd thing to spend my time analyzing.


Micah R Sisk (MicahRSisk) | 413 comments Gregor wrote: "A few of the titles you listed are ones settled on after Dick's editors talked him out of his original titles..."

So? There's absolutely nothing odd about that, as is pointed out in the link below, Orwell's 1984 was originally titled The Last Man in Europe. Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises was originally called Fiesta. Pride and Prejudice? Original title was First Impressions.

http://mentalfloss.com/article/26044/...

And as Ryan points out, in 1968 longer titles were more in vogue. Same year that Do Androids came out (1968) Ellison published "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream"...and that was just a short story.

Same year, Roger Zelazny (who co-authored a book with Dick) wrote "The Man Who Loved the Faioli" another short story.

It was a very different time from now. Seems like for ages the recent trend is one word titles. Fits our three second attention span culture better, I guess.


Iscah Iscah | 22 comments Maybe I missed it, but I'm surprised no one's mentioned the idea of "counting sheep" as a means to fall asleep.

The title is a playful way to invoke the idea of androids or A.I.s developing progressively more human characteristics...or desiring to.

I would like to read the story some day. It's hard to gage what my interest would be purely on the title, since Blade Runner is what sparked my curiosity. But I always thought it was an interesting title.

But then Data was my favorite character on Star Trek: Next Generation.


L.G. Estrella | 224 comments Ben wrote: "I don't know, but looking through PKD's bibliography, I'd say he should have let someone else come up with the titles."

You beat me to it. But really, I think a lot of his titles have a certain charm in how, well, weird they are.


Ryan Sean O'Reilly (RyanSeanOReilly) | 3 comments I enjoy long titles,though they are much harder to pull off. I think its a good point to say that people's attention span has lessened over the years. But its also interesting to contrast this with the length of the Lord of the Rings movies and George RR Martin's books ...


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