Great scene: Deckard’s first “retirement” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

This is a fascinating action scene. For one, it’s so short: it’s barely a page of reading, and less than a minute of book time, from the moment that the android Polokov enters disguised as a Soviet detective to Rick Deckard’s catching on to Deckard’s killing it. And most of that is taken up by dialogue, especially this amazing exchange:

“You’re not Polokov, you’re Kadalyi”, Rick said.
“Don’t you mean the other way around? You’re a bit confused.”
“I mean you’re Polokov, the android; you’re not from the Soviet police.”

This is the only occurrence I can think of in fiction where a character gets a key expository sentence backwards mid-action. And it’s so perfect for this moment, and does so much work in such a compressed space. It establishes Deckard’s disorientation; he’s caught on, but he’s off guard and reacting in real time to the appearance of the threat. And it works within the larger theme of this part of the book of the confusion between the real and the fake: Deckard, like Isadore in the preceding chapter, is losing his grip on which is which. At the same time, Polokov’s matter-of-fact, somewhat condescending correction establishes the basic nature of androids: cold and superior, even when their cover has just been blown.

The following line of dialogue, “Why won’t my laser tube fire?”, is also great. It simultaneously conveys the narrative fact that things have just escalated to violence, and that Rick has recovered his wits and is now a step ahead of Polokov. Again, this is thematically relevant; androids have a superiority complex, but it’s grounded in an inferiority complex because they’re puzzled by the empathetic, intuitive side of humanity. Rick just out-intuited Polokov, and after Rick explains how he countered the laser, Polokov descends into animal rage: “Then I’ll have to break your pencil neck.” A paragraph later, Rick blows his head off.

Most action scenes draw out the drama, describing the events in elaborate detail. In contrast, this scene is incredibly compressed. As a reader, this is very disorienting; we go from what seems like a pedestrian scene — the introduction of a new character — to a life-or-death situation, and then straight to the aftermath, with no warning. I love this because it allows the reader to feel a little of Rick’s adrenaline, as opposed to aestheticizing and distancing the reader from the violence. It also grounds Rick’s paranoia; the reader experiences first-hand what it’s like to not know if the person you’re talking to is an ordinary human or an android trying to kill you. As the first of Rick’s several android encounters, it creates the psychological context for the following ones, each of which further escalates the threat to his sense of reality.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick.

Great scene: Deckard’s first “retirement” in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

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