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Solving the "Blade Runner" mystery - the backstory for Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"

Off-Ramp literary commentator Marc Haefele, who is also an Argentinaphile, studies up during breakfast at Philippe's.
Off-Ramp literary commentator Marc Haefele, who is also an Argentinaphile, studies up during breakfast at Philippe's. John Rabe

Last month, Lawrence Downes reviewed David F. Dufty's How to Build an Android in the New York Times Book Review. The book is the story of an android designed to look and talk like famed science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Downes writes:

But the character who ends up being most intriguing is poor nonhuman Phil, whose unknown destiny gives the book a tinge of sorrow. Tied as he is to the life and words of a deeply troubled and testy namesake, he can be churlish at times, giving snotty answers to simple questions. A Wall Street Journal writer said of Phil, “The most advanced robot on exhibition was also, in my view, the most obnoxious.”

That’s hardly surprising. But one mystery is why Phil’s creators never gave him an answer to a question you would expect anyone to ask Philip K. Dick. It’s the title of the story that inspired Blade Runner: Do androids dream of electric sheep?

That prompted this letter to the editor of the book review from Off-Ramp commentator Marc Haefele, who has a long and wonderful resume which includes editing Dick back in the day.

To the Editor:

Lawrence Downes, in his review of David F. Dufty’s How to Build an Android, wonders how the Philip K. Dick android would have answered the question posed by the book title Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I can tell you exactly what the real Philip K. Dick would have said: “I don’t know. It wasn’t my original title.”

The original title of the manuscript I received as Phil’s editor at Doubleday & Company, around the end of 1967, was Do Androids Dream? I felt the title was a little too paperback sci-fi sounding. So I proposed to my superior, Lawrence Ashmead, that the book be called The Electric Sheep. He suggested the compromise that appeared on the published hardcover the following year. Phil did not object.

Looking back, I think Do Androids Dream? was a better title.

This week on Off-Ramp, Marc reviews the Getty's Klimt exhibit, debunking the snob who labeled Klimt a "kitschmaster."

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