Blade Runner is one of my favourite science fiction movies of all time. I watched it for the first time in 2002 at a film class in college and got completely knotted up not just in its genre-defining cyberpunk aesthetic but also its philosophical underpinnings.
Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched it; I only know that each time I do, I come away with something new to appreciate.
Blade Runner, first released in 1982, was my proper introduction to the works of Philip K. Dick – the movie was based on his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? Being a fan of sci-fi, I was aware of his writings and his enormous influence on the genre, but I had never felt drawn to reading him.
It was only after Blade Runner that I realised two other films I loved – Minority Report (2002) and Total Recall (1990) – were also based on Dick’s short stories, Minority Report and We Can Remember It For You Wholesale. I immediately procured both stories and read them.
This turned into somewhat of a pattern over the next few years. In 2006, I was blown away by Richard Linklater’s mind-bending animated adaptation of Dick’s A Scanner Darkly; and so I immediately bought and read the novel.
A few years later in 2011, I was extremely intrigued by the ideas in The Adjustment Bureau, which was adapted from a Dick short story, and downloaded the piece the same night itself to read.
And just last year, I binge-watched the entire first season of Amazon’s TV show The Man In The High Castle, which shot to the top on my list of favourite current TV shows. The alternative history story, in which the Axis powers win World War II, was – you guessed it – based on a novel by Dick. I bought the e-book right after I watched the season finale.
Given this consistent albeit unplanned pattern of mine, you’d think Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? would have been my very first work by Dick. That would be wrong. It’s actually taken me more than 10 years to read the book, and even then, I approached it very reluctantly.
The hesitance had to do with how much Blade Runner means to me. On the one hand, I didn’t want to read the book and realise it had been a poor adaptation of a far better story; but on the other, I didn’t want to be underwhelmed by Dick’s novel because of how invested I was in the movie.
It turns out, I needn’t have worried. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? may have provided the jumping off point for Blade Runner, but they are very separate creations with rather different stories at their core.
They’re both about a dystopian future where a bounty hunter is in pursuit of androids who are nearly indistinguishable from humans, but director Ridley Scott has taken this premise and run with it down a very different path. Both book and film are excellent, and a must for any fan of sci-fi, but they don’t need to be, shouldn’t be, compared.
And after finishing the book, I came across online what is, for me, the perfect way to end the experience: a letter Dick had sent to Blade Runner’s production company in 1981, after watching some footage from it. In it, he wrote:
“The impact of Blade Runner is simply going to be overwhelming, both on the public and on creative people – and, I believe, on science fiction as a field. … Nothing that we have done, individually or collectively, matches Blade Runner.
“… As for my own role in the Blade Runner project, I can only say that I did not know that a work of mine or a set of ideas of mine could be escalated into such stunning dimensions. My life and creative work are justified and completed by Blade Runner. Thank you … and it is going to be one hell of a commercial success. It will prove invincible.”
Could there be higher praise for the film, and from the man whose imagination spawned it? Dick died five months later and never watched the completed film. But as we’ve seen in the years since, his ideas continue to not just live, but be reborn again and again.
Sharmilla Ganesan is currently a Fulbright/Hubert H. Humphrey fellow at the University of Maryland in the United States. She is reading her way through the titles in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Join the conversation at facebook.com/BeBookedOut or Tweet @SharmillaG.