This is something of a convoluted story. The famous 1968 science fiction novel by Philip K. Dick has an unusual title. It’s quite long for a book title, and it ends with a question mark. What’s more, there are few clues within the book itself as to why it’s titled as it is. And so, the question of the hour is, why is it called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Why Is It Called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The book’s original, working title was Electric Shepherd. This title, while awkward and dorky sounding, gels much better with the content of the book. The protagonist is actually the proud owner of an electric sheep. While never in the book is he referred to as an “electric shepherd,” that’s basically what he is, even if he is a shepherd to only one electric animal.
But this title was apparently deemed too awkward and dorky sounding for such a cool, fast-paced book.
So, back to the original question: why is it called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Clearly, the reference to sheep is retained. The idea of electric is also retained, not only in the sheep, but in the idea of an android. In the book (as I explained in this blog post), androids are fake humans with machine parts so sophisticated that they are all but indistinguishable from real humans.
Implied in the title is also the witty idea of counting sheep, a popular way of falling asleep. However, this doesn’t quite make sense in the question posed in the title, because it refers to dreaming of the sheep while sleeping, not before sleeping.
But does it really refer to sleeping? Consider the following passage from the novel:
“Do androids dream? Rick asked himself. Evidently; that’s why they occasionally kill their employers and flee here.”
This clearly uses another definition of “dream”: to aspire to something; to wish for something.
In the novel, the protagonist wishes for a real, nonelectric sheep. So the title is asking us, do androids wish for an electric sheep?
Evidently; that’s why they try to impersonate real humans, who have electric sheep.
This is a long train of thought to unpack, but I think I got there. It’s a long title, and it requires a long explanation. Whew! Electric Shepherd would have been simpler! But, I have to concede, not as cool.
Why Is It Called Blade Runner?
This story gets crazier still, because a movie was made from the book. Why is it called Blade Runner?
According to a Vulture article titled Digging Into the Odd History of Blade Runner’s Title, the answer is basically that it sounds cool. Not that it has anything to do with the movie or book.
Coolness Is Not Nothing
But there’s something to be said for coolness. When trying to encapsulate such a cool story, in just a few titular words, the coolness must be somehow retained.
And Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is nothing if not cool. Coolness bleeds off every page.
Furthermore, this is a fabulous novel not just in coolness, but in many other ways. It’s a classic, not only in creativity and style, but also in serious literary heft. The book made me think, all the way through, and the ending was especially thought provoking and utterly, fantastically profound. I won’t give any spoilers here, but the ending is incredible. Do check it out.
And at the apex of coolness in this novel? The electric shepherd himself!
Who would have dreamed such a thing?