While it may be breaking a cardinal rule of reviewing books—because it’s been years since I’ve read this book, I have a very good reason for reviewing it. I also don’t plan on reviewing too many classics on this blog. However, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (DADOES) by Philip K. Dick has some very important lessons (particularly for sci-fi and fantasy writers) that we have been talking a little bit about on our podcast at the Uprising Review. Those lessons happen to be on world building.
When you think of world building, chances are you start thinking about Star Wars, Lord of the Rings etc. and those are great examples. However, they are both very fleshed out worlds that have only grown over time. In stark contrast, the world of DADOES is relatively small and while there are certainly many many things going on in that world, the reader never finds out about any of it. It leaves a lot to the imagination and that is something every writer needs to realize and on different levels, try to emulate.
The original Star Wars movie is a fantastic example. After watching A New Hope, there was a whole lot we knew nothing about. Clone Wars? Jedi? Emperor? We knew almost nothing about these things at the beginning of the first trilogy. As the plot progressed, we learned more and with the expanded universe (which Disney did away with) we learned about every single tiny detail. That is too often what writers look to when creating a world. But DADOES shows us a great example that less is more.
DADOES focuses on one character that on a grand scale, seems rather insignificant. We’re talking about a world where people have moved off planet or build really awesome technology and yet PKD decides to write a story about some guy still on earth who has the simple job of hunting Androids. His explanations of the world that Rick Deckard lives in are quite sparse too. Their affection for buying fake animals for instance is never fully explained. He largely leaves it up to the readers to piece together the details and gives them enough context to figure it out.
Unlike PKD, too many writers fail to realize that their readers are smarter than they give them credit for. Not only is it often times okay to leave out a bit of back-story, it’s necessary. Let the readers fill in the blanks themselves; or better yet, come up with their own ideas of what concepts like Mercerism is or what the Third Word War was like. DADOES is a book that I strongly encourage any writer particularly of science fiction or fantasy to read. There are many great examples of writers who build great worlds and with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick shows he is up there with the best of them.