What is that makes us human? This iconic novel by Philip K Dick (on which the movie “Blade Runner” is based) attempts to answer this by putting us in the future; a future where androids (or ‘andys’) have become a household ‘slave’; a future where earth has become a largely inhospitable terrain due to a radioactive war.
Andys, like any other slaves, rise up frequently against their masters (i.e. humans) and attempt to mesh in with the human populace. And since science progresses to improve everything, the andys have become almost indistinguishable from humans. The only way to hunt them down is through what is basically a empathy-meter. Since andys are not supposed to have this very crucial human feature, they can only simulate it and thus can be caught.
But this basic assumption is questioned at various points in the book, from both angles. Do all humans possess empathy and are all androids devoid of it? the moral high ground that humans take in hunting down androids is itself brought into question.
Rick Deckard, an ageing bounty hunter (who track down renegade androids), decides to take up on last case of tracking down five runaway androids, before retiring for good. As he progresses in this task, he comes face to face with the assumptions under which the murders are made palatable. His increasing doubts about the work that he is doing become apparent as the book progresses.
Finally as the book ends, the reader ask themselves the question – is there anything that makes us uniquely human?
One of the finest books of the golden age of science fiction writing…