Museums in novels : Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Exhibitions and museums have been a favourite setting for many novelists. Below is the first in a guaranteed Dan Brown-free list of our favourite museum scenes from novels, where we look at the Philip K Dick's Sci-Fi classic, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.

This novel is set in a post-apocalyptic near future, where Earth and its populations have been damaged by Nuclear War. The book follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter of androids, who is faced with "retiring" six escaped Nexus-6 brain model androids, the latest and most advanced model.  Sound familiar, well yes - this is the novel on which the film Blade Runner is based.

One of the most important criteria that Deckard uses for assessing humanity in the novel is empathy and the museum scene in the novel demonstrates Deckard's growing empathy for one of the androids he is chasing. Below is an extract.....

  

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At the opera house Rick Deckard and Phil Resch were informed that the rehearsal had ended. And Miss Luft had left.

“Did she say where she intended to go?” Phil Resch asked the stagehand, showing his police identification.

“Over to the museum.” The stagehand studied the ID card. “She said she wanted to take in the exhibit of Edvard Munch that’s there, now. It ends tomorrow.”

And Luba Luft, Rick thought to himself, ends today.

As the two of them walked down the sidewalk to the museum, Phil Resch said, “What odds will you give? She’s flown; we won’t find her at the museum.”

“Maybe,” Rick said.

They arrived at the museum building, noted on which floor the Munch exhibit could be found, and ascended. Shortly, they wandered amid paintings and woodcuts. Many people had turned out for the exhibit, including a grammar school class; the shrill voice of the teacher penetrated all the rooms comprising the exhibit, and Rick thought, That’s what you’d expect an andy to sound — and look — like. Instead of like Rachael Rosen and Luba Luft. And — the man beside him. Or rather the thing beside him.

“Did you ever hear of an andy having a pet of any sort?” Phil Resch asked him.

For some obscure reason he felt the need to be brutally honest; perhaps he had already begun preparing himself for what lay ahead. “In two cases that I know of, andys owned and cared for animals. But it’s rare. From what I’ve been able to learn, it generally fails; the andy is unable to keep the animal alive. Animals require an environment of warmth to flourish. Except for reptiles and insects.”

“Would a squirrel need that? An atmosphere of love? Because Buffy is doing fine, as
sleek as an otter. I groom and comb him every other day.” At an oil painting Phil Resch halted, gazed intently. The painting showed a hairless, oppressed creature with a head like an inverted pear, its hands clapped in horror to its ears, its mouth open in a vast, soundless scream. Twisted ripples of the creature’s torment, echoes of its cry, flooded out into the air surrounding it; the man or woman, whichever it was, had become contained by its own howl. It had covered its ears against its own sound. The creature stood on a bridge and no one else was present; the creature screamed in isolation. Cut off by — or despite — its outcry.

“He did a woodcut of this,” Rick said, reading the card tacked below the painting.

“I think,” Phil Resch said, “that this is how an andy must feet.” He traced in the air the convolutions, visible in the picture, of the creature’s cry. “I don’t feel like that, so maybe I’m not an — ” He broke off, as several persons strolled up to inspect the picture.

“There’s Luba Luft.” Rick pointed and Phil Resch halted his somber introspection and defense; the two of them walked at a measured pace toward her, taking their time as if nothing confronted them; as always it was vital to preserve the atmosphere of the commonplace. Other humans, having no knowledge of the presence of androids among them, had to be protected at all costs — even that of losing the quarry.

Holding a printed catalogue, Luba Luft, wearing shiny tapered pants and an illuminated gold vestlike top, stood absorbed in the picture before her: a drawing of a young girl, hands clasped together, seated on the edge of a bed, an expression of bewildered wonder and new, groping awe imprinted on the face.

“Want me to buy it for you?” Rick said to Luba Luft; he stood beside her, holding laxly onto her upper arm, informing her by his loose grip that he knew he had possession of her — he did not have to strain in an effort to detain her. On the other side of her Phil Resch put his hand on her shoulder and Rick saw the bulge of the laser tube. Phil Resch did not intend to take chances, not after the near miss with Inspector Garland.

“It’s not for sale.” Luba Luft glanced at him idly, then violently as she recognized him; her eyes faded and the color dimmed from her face, leaving it cadaverous, as if already starting to decay. As if life had in an instant retreated to some point far inside her, leaving the body to its automatic ruin. “I thought they arrested you. Do you mean they let you go?”

“Miss Luft,” he said, “this is Mr. Resch. Phil Resch, this is the quite well-known opera singer Luba Luft.” To Luba he said, “The harness bull that arrested me is an android. So was his superior. Do you know — did you know — an Inspector Garland? He told me that you all came here in one ship as a group.”

“The police department which you called,” Phil Resch said to her, “operating out of a building on Mission, is the organizing agency by which it would appear your group keeps in touch. They even feel confident enough to hire a human bounty hunter; evidently — ”

“You?” Luba Luft said. “You’re not human. No more than I am: you’re an android, too.”

An interval of silence passed and then Phil Resch said in a low but controlled voice, “Well, we’ll deal with that at the proper time.” To Rick he said, “Let’s take her to my car.”

One of them on each side of her they prodded her in the direction of the museum elevator. Luba Luft did not come willingly, but on the other hand she did not actively resist; seemingly she had become resigned. Rick had seen that before in androids, in crucial situations. The artificial life force animating them seemed to fail if pressed too far . . . at least in some of them. But not all.

And it could flare up again furiously.

Androids, however, had as he knew an innate desire to remain inconspicuous. In the museum, with so many people roaming around, Luba Luft would tend to do nothing. The real encounter — for her probably the final one — would take place in the car, where no one else could see. Alone, with appalling abruptness, she could shed her inhibitions. He prepared himself — and did not think about Phil Resch. As Resch had said, it would be dealt with at a proper time.

At the end of the corridor near the elevators, a little store-like affair had been set up; it sold prints and art books, and Luba halted there, tarrying. “Listen,” she said to Rick. Some of the colour had returned to her face; once more she looked — at least briefly — alive. “Buy me a reproduction of that picture I was looking at when you found me. The one of the girt sitting on the bed.”

Puberty by Edvard Munch

After a pause Rick said to the clerk, a heavy-jowled, middle-aged woman with netted gray hair, “Do you have a print of Munch’s Puberty?” “Only in this book of his collected work,” the clerk said, lifting down a handsome glossy volume. “Twenty-five dollars.” “I’ll take it.” He reached for his wallet.


Phil Resch said, “My departmental budget could never in a million years be stretched — ” “My own money,” Rick said; he handed the woman the bills and Luba the book. “Now let’s get started down,” he said to her and Phil Resch.


“It’s very nice of you,” Luba said as they entered the elevator. “There’s something very strange and touching about humans. An android would never have done that.” 

 

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