“Within him an actual hatred once more manifested itself toward his electric sheep, which he had to tend, had to care about, as if it lived. The tyranny of an object, he thought. It doesn’t know I exist.” —Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
“What is real?” is the central theme of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968). In the novel, nuclear fallout led to the collapse of Earth’s ecosystem, turning real animals into status symbols among the remains of humanity, as colonists flock to other planets with the promise of android companionship. But android models are becoming indistinguishable from humans—blurring the line between property and slavery—and when androids escape servitude, bounty hunters like Rick Deckard must use empathy tests to distinguish real from unreal before “retiring” them. The story plays with the nature of objective versus subjective reality as Deckard is forced to reexamine what it means to be human.
While the British New Wave was a reaction to Golden Age American Hard SF trends, the American New Wave began in part as a reaction to the British movement, in part thanks to the publication of the Dangerous Visions (1967) anthology assembled and edited by Harlan Ellison, and in part due to a postmodern shift in attitudes towards technology at the dawning of the Cold War. This conflict of warring political philosophies made good and evil appear less black and white, as both sides used cults of personalities and new forms of mass media to sway public opinion as it became harder to discern what was real and what was propaganda. In this new reality, the boilerplate SF whiz-bang plots with scientists positioned as heroes against obvious evil felt stale, and one of the most important postmodern writers at the birth of this American New Wave was Philip Kindred Dick.