The last nuclear world war has left the world changed, the population is only a fraction of what it once was, so many rooms lie empty and deserted just cluttered with the junk that people left behind. Many animal species are exctinct or close to exctinction, and every household is morally obliged to keep an animal. Many people emmigrated to mars, where android companions and servants are popular. Androids are outlawed on earth, but they sneak in anyway and try to pose as human, until they're discovered and 'retired'.
Rick Deckard is a bounty hunter for the police who hunts down and retires illegal androids. When the local top bounty hunter gets hospitalised by a rogue android, Rick gets passed his current job, 6 androids with the latest AI tech that makes them near impossible to spot under the testing system. Meanwhile Rick also has a depressed wife at home, and a broken electric sheep that is his greatest shame, what Rick wants most of all is a real live animal.
The question of how to tell androids and humans apart was probably the most defining point of this book. The test that Rick used checked for signs like blushing and hesitation when being asked about morally questionable subjects like promiscuity or the killing of animals. But then there are certain humans with abnormal morals, or a deficiency of empathy, that can fail a test where an android might pass.
Theres a definate mechanical creepyness in the android characters that makes it hard to sympathise with them, so it was never in question in my mind, whose side we were on. I mean in the end it's team Rick all the way. Possibly helped by the fact that I remember seeing the movie, and no one could possibly side against Harrison Ford.. really..
Having said that there were a lot of differences to the movie, the movie doesn't have the issue with animals and electric animals at all, which I think is a bit of a loss, it certainly gave something more empathic to Rick Deckard's character. All he wants is a real live animal, it's a deep moral craving to do his human duty, and it really sets the foundation for his whole personality. But then I think the movie set out to do something completely different with Rick.
The 'religion' of mercerism, was the one point that I never truly grasped in the novel. It's a strange thing where everyone sort of mentally hooks in to a virtual reality where you get to be this guy called mercer, who is walking up a hill and having stones thrown at him. And at the same time you feel the emotions of everyone else in the world who is 'being' mercer. It was all a bit too surreal for me, and I couldn't really get into. Which meant that I probably missed out on some of the effect, and probably didn't get the ending as well as I should have.. but I think this is my failing probably, for not being able to 'connect' with what the author intended. It's a shame, I think I must be an android.