Friday, December 09, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Dust to Dust vol. 1

I didn't completely understand Blade Runner the first time I saw it. I loved the world building in the film, and I still listen to the music, but even today I think I'm only half-sure of what's going on when I see the film. I've also read the original story by Philip K Dick, which is more head scratchingly confusing at times than the movie - and that's after you consider how different it is from the film. But, I'm also enough of a fan that I've flitted on the edges of this "universe" for awhile now - many of Dick's short stories are actually all a part of this same universe (despite the fact that the films based on them are never connected) and then there's novels like K. W. Jeter's sequels to Blade Runner (the movie) - but even those are sequels to the original film, not the director's cut, which clearly makes the audience question if Deckard is an android.

You may be wondering why I'm going on about all of this, and it's because before you begin reading Dust to Dust - which is a prequel to the original story by Dick - you first need to realize that in Do Androids Dream, Deckard is not an android. So, the original story never dealt with that concept - which helps explain why Dust to Dust does. What we have here may be the birth of the Blade Runner - the lawman charged with retiring androids who have broken the law by disobeying their programming. It's not completely clear if this is the first case of this happening, but it's not a well known phenomina.

We're also made aware that this story takes place not long after the Dust fell - it was a kind of radioactive bio-weapon which caused most of the animals on Earth to die, and left some humans with ESP and other sensory enhancing abilities (or curses). While Dick's original story takes place generations later, this is the generation that saw the Dust fall. Scientists are still analyzing it, trying to figure out how to revitalize life on Earth - how to make the animals immune, so that they don't have to keep on building all of these android replicants. One such scientist is Dr. Samantha Wu, and while she's working on the Dust she may just mistakenly come across an even more important find - how to enable an android to "feel".

Meanwhile, an android named Charlie Victor has been given an assignment - hunt down his own kind who have come to Earth illegally, and retire them. To help him he enlists the aid of Malcom Reed, a phychic who can tell apart android from humans because he can't read any emotions off of the replicants. They have a picture of one of the escapees, so they use facial recognition software to scan the cameras covering the city to encover their first lead. They slowly follow the trail into a shoot-out at an abandonded apartment building, as they begin to wonder if they aren't being lured into a trap.

But their next stop takes them to the laboratory where Samantha works - as it turns out her assistant is one of the renegade androids. Before they can capture her though, she flees with Malcom as her captive - wondering how it is that he can tell apart replicants from humans, and knowing it's imperative for her to find out. But Malcom is slowly losing his mind as his body comes off the medications that have dulled his ability to read emotions for years, as it was the only way he could function in society - so he may wind up a willing accomplice to these unfeelings machinces who are such a relief for him to be around.

This is where part 1 ends, a cliffhanger that resolves itself in vol. 2 (which I'll review next week), so without going into those details I'll mention some of my feelings on this opening. First up, the art is nice and fitting for the story, it reminds me of how I remember NOW Comics' Terminator book looking. There are little touches here and there that make it feel a part of the Blade Runner universe, from the look of the covers to the use of police cars like the ones Deckard uses in the film - there's even a hint that these scientists might be on the verge of discovering the same method Deckard uses to determine if someone is a replicant in the film (Voight-Kampff Empathy Test).

There are layers to every character, androids and humans alike. Through Samantha we see how the Dust affected most people, because her mother died from exposure. Charlie Victor remembers his time fighting wars for the humans out in space, and how some of his fellow replicants began to rebel against their programming and ask the question - why? The other scientists talk about religion, the police chat about everyday stuff - it feels like a living place, a real future, not just one where we only see the heroic stuff, but the mundane stuff as well. It's possible that it's even in the mundane that the most important things are happening, without you even realizing it. At this point, we still don't even know what the replicants plans are - just that they've rebelled and are among us. We'll find out why in vol 2.


Michael Offutt, Expert Critic said...

I actually have not read Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I've read Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I just never got around to Mr. Dick's books (that sounds weird O.o)...

Maybe I should. There's so much to read that it's difficult for me to make choices. Right now I'm reading 1Q84 and loving it although I haven't picked out the sci-fi angle yet.

I did enjoy Bladerunner.

Maurice Mitchell said...

I read the Amazon preview and it's amazing! The writing is so introspective just like Philip K Dick.

N. R. Williams said...

Nice to meet you. I came over from Edi's blog. What a complete review. Very impressed.