Tag: sci-fi

Why The Doctor Who Series Opener Was Awesome

Posted by – September 13, 2014

a bit belated, but…

The debut of the new Doctor—episode 8.1: Deep Breath—was great,
because…

1. the female Tyrannosaur inadvertently loosed on Victorian London…

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener "Deep Breath," this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I'M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

from the beginning moments of the new Doctor Who series opener “Deep Breath,” this Tyrannosaur roars at ringing Big Ben clock in London like I’M LOUDER THAN YOU! Epic.

 

CAUTION: Spoilers Ahead

2. Badass lesbian kung fu detectives, one of whom is dino sapiens, in Victorian London.

Madame Vastra, actually part of the Silurian or homo reptilia race, an early Eocene civilization that rose from the dinosaurs and I call dino sapiens, and wife Jenny Flint are awesome leather-clad ninja space detectives who help the police of Victorian London fight crime and kick ass, especially when unusual or otherworldly villainy is afoot.

Vastra and Jenny as the tyrannosaur walks the Thames.

Apparently awakened from cryo-hibernation by the early construction of the London Underground, explained here, Vastra took to eating Victorian commuters until The Doctor gave her a pep talk. Thereafter, Vastra has mainly limited her diet to the worst of London’s serial killers, child murderers, and the like; she catches them, then “has them for dinner” so to speak.

Madame Vastra and Jenny are totally badass… and after Sontaran nurse Strax was nearly killed alongside the pair while helping The Doctor in the Battle of Demons Run, Strax joined the woman and dino duo in 1888 London.  Being an alien potato of non-imposing stature (roughly 5-feet) in appearance and a super aggressive commando programmed to fight for the “glory of the Sontaran Empire” in behavior, Strax doesn’t exactly blend in easily in Victorian London.  But his attempts to understand humans from the point of view of a mono-gender world of cloned super soldiers provides a lot of comic relief.
Internet rumors about a Vastra-Jenny-Strax spin-off show are indicative of little more than the three’s huge popularity, but I want to go on record as totally FOR such a TV series! The trio, also known as the Paternoster Gang after their HQ (Vastra’s manse) on Paternoster Row, is a lot of fun, and certainly a big part of why I loved the episode.

another favorite Paternoster Row moment of mine: Jenny thought she was posing for a painting – but Vastra just thought her posing “brighten[ed] the room” …and because “art.”

3. A scene that confronts Ableism and Agism

This episode is about the new Doctor, The Doctor regenerating into a new body.

The Doctor regenerating into the Twelfth Doctor (TV: The Time of The Doctor)

During regeneration, disorientation, loss of function and motor control, and sleeping for 24 hours or something are the norm, and there can be regeneration sickness, even regeneration madness as with the Sixth Doctor, who tried to kill his companion Peri during regeneration-related insanity/disorientation.  The Tenth Doctor had some regeneration sickness and was revived by a strong cuppa tea.

In this sensitive time of regeneration, The Doctor is… well, disabled doesn’t seem the right word, but certainly vulnerable, not himself, not in his usual fighting shape. The Doctor, the Time Lord who protects all times of Earth’s people, suddenly needs protection. Often, by coincidence or purposefully, alien enemies attack right when The Doctor is least prepared to fight back. This regeneration, The Doctor is disoriented and blacking out when the space detective trio takes him (and Clara) to Paternoster Row, and gives Clara a reality check that is unforgettable.

As the new Doctor is recuperating, Clara, the latest in Doctor Who’s cavalcade of pretty companions, is being weird and whiny about The Doctor regenerating as an older, less flirty, not-Matt-Smith.  Madame Vastra reacts by indirectly calling out Clara as a stranger, then dons the veil of srs bzn™ and brings Clara into the sitting room for a serious business sit-down.  The exchange that follows is epic, smacking down Clara’s superficiality, agism, ableism. The takeaway: even allies need to check their own biases, reality check. Checketh yourself before you wrecketh yourself. 

Clara being smackdownt

The sitting room smackdown scene. I definitely relate to being “lost in the ruin of [your]self,” I feel those feels of late…

4. the art direction

Doctor Who keeps getting more beautiful, more well done.  This episode didn’t have the type of visual flourish and experimental quick cuts/editing like 6th series (11th Doctor) standout 6.11: The God Complex; it’s visually awesome in its own way.  “Deep Breath” has big movie looks, brilliant and cinematic wide shots, and great use of color.  Someone behind the camera really understands how color works.  It isn’t over-killed thankfully, but different settings have unique color schemes.
The example that sticks out most is the T-Rex post-mortem from a bridge scene, where everything is bathed in orange from the immolated dinosaur.  Whatever future technology the villains used to burn the tyrannosaur, it has set the Thames aglow, and in bouncing off the rippling waters, colors everyone in fiery tones.

Like this…

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange...

The Doctor looking down into the Thames, everything orange…

and this…

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Madame Vastra and Jenny, colored in more subtle orange.

Fiery rebirth, The Doctor rising from the dino ashes…

5. the villains: Space Age Clockwork Repair Droids

The Clockwork Repair Droids, last seen in the totally awesome Tenth Doctor episode 2.4: The Girl in the Fireplace on the 51st century ship Madame de Pompadour, are a threat to humanity because

The Clockwork Repair Droids (minus V for Vendetta-ish masks) in early Tenth Doctor episode The Girl in the Fireplace.

they’re programmed to repair/maintain their ship and themselves by any means necessary, up to and including cannibalizing people for parts.  While the Clockwork Droids the 10th Doctor faced seemed almost accidentally villainous, repair AI gone wrong after massive damage, these clockwork droids (evidently from the sister ship Marie Antoinette) seem way more psycho and evil as they seek “The Promised Land,” whatever that is.
We don’t know what caused these droids to come to Earth, whether they (and other robo-foes of The Doctor) were called to Earth but didn’t know what century, or if the Clockwork Droids were trying to find what happened to the sister ship Madame de Pompadour‘s droids The Doctor deactivated in 18th century Versailles, accidentally ended up in Mesozoic times and were tampered with or signaled later on, but the unrelenting drive to get to “The Promised Land” is intriguing.

That these droids would dedicate such an inordinate amount of time and energy to extract parts and skin from people for a hot air balloon of human skin instead of robbing or buying a balloon from the local hot air balloon vendor—by this point, 1898, hot air balloons are a long-established and commonplace technology—and that they would go to the trouble of building and running Mancini’s, like “if Hannibal Lecter were to open an Italian restaurant,” fancy cuisine and YOU are the main course… it means that they are so whacked out, perhaps from all the human elements they’ve incorporated, becoming inverted cyborgs or near it, they’re human-obsessed, now almost singlemindedly people scavenging.  That is very creepy, and an excellent nemesis to begin the new Doctor with…

they also look really cool.

The half of the Half-faced Man that has moving clockwork exposed.

The idea of inverted cyborgs, androids using so many human replacement parts they’ve ambiguized the distinction between droid and cyborg but are still computers at base-foundation, networked and controlled by one “control node” android, is fascinating.
And it is a good way to debut the new “The Promised Land” mystery arc.

I think that the “Promised Land”/Missy’s virtual world (see Who is Missy?) is a virtual world, digital world, and that the Half-faced Man is uploaded first is significant.  The Half-faced Man is the control node for all the Marie Antoinette clockwork droids, but he awakens in psychotic Mary Poppins’ “paradise” and no clockwork droids reactivated as far as we know. This, and that the miniaturized soldier woman in the following episode is obliterated at the atomic level but appears whole and non-miniaturized in Missy’s “heaven,” implies that the consciousness is being uploaded at the moment of death, NOT the body moved. So far, all Missy’s “guests” are from atomized or abandoned dead bodies, and this leads me to believe that the Great Intelligence, or somebody/something with G.I.-esque upload abilities, is uploading people killed in The Doctor’s missions.

and in case you’re wondering if The Doctor killed the Half-faced Man or not, that’s his MURDER FACE™ after the deed!

6. The Doctor (now Peter Capaldi)

The new Doctor got some great, hilarious lines, like the one about “attack eyebrows” that are so “independently cross” they’re liable to “cede from” the north of his face (a sly topical crack about Scottish independence).

But no one really loves this Doctor. Because you’re not supposed to…not really.
The blog An American View of British Science Fiction shed light on this for me… the new Doctor is more like the First and Sixth Doctors, the hardcore, colder, more alien Time Lords.  That, I think, will be a freshener for the series if it doesn’t veer too dreary.

Check out Doctor Who: Deep Breath (2014) | An American View of British Science Fiction for the explanation, how Twelfth Doctor is like the Sixth Doctor and First Doctor. It’s made me want to look into the Classic Doctors.

Nick

Elsewhere on the web:

VoteSaxon07’s SPOILERIFIC REVIEW : Deep Breath is a detailed video review I like, and I agree with the bit about Clara and the Matt Smith cameo – if she’s still too thick to figure out who The Doctor is by the end of the episode and all he did, including rescuing her from vivisection at the hands of the clockwork droids, she should leave, not get a bonus phone-a-friend.

Doctor Who blogging: “Deep Breath” | FlickFilosopher.com – another in-depth review I admired and recommend.

TV Tropes: Deep Breath – I love their dissection of popular tropes Moffat employs in this episode.

TARDIS Wiki – Deep Breath

Stuart Reviews Stuff: The Girl in the Fireplace Review– on why this Tenth Doctor episode is one of the best episodes “of Anything” EVAR

Watch the Classic Doctors: Classic Doctor Who on Hulu

The Hawkmen’s Sky City Runs on Radium

Posted by – September 3, 2014

and now for something completely different

Depictions of Radioactivity Fears in 1936 Flash Gordon Serial

Defining my terms: Up until at least the mid-1950s, newsreels, cartoon shorts like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, and this week’s chapter of your favorite movie serials were shown before or between the feature(s)—the full-length movies—and the afternoon at the movies was the main audio-visual mass media form people consumed, the core method industrialized societies used to spread images, information and propaganda.  Before being supplanted by TV shows, movie serials were hugely popular.

Lest I sugarcoat, I say this up front: the problematic aspects of the old serials are… well, glaring and intensely pre-civil-rights in content and tone. “Talkie” film serials are part of American culture in the 1930s and ’40s mostly, so they’re a time window showing a very different country… in the Flash Gordon serial, the first ever space adventure on the silver screen, the supervillain Ming the Merciless is obviously in the mold of the Fu Manchu evil genius.  The imperial court, the costumes and sets, the official state cult of Tao, and high concentration of non-Earth humanoid races give the series a definite otherworldly—even bizarro world—look and feel, and that mitigates the Fu Manchuness of Ming.  At its worst the Ming depiction is tame compared to the WW2-fueled anti-Asian hate that pervaded later serials¹, but this early Flash Gordon has no shortage of very Earth-like sexism (despite the uber-strong Princess Aura²).

I dig movie serials because their story structure is really prominent, clear, and crucial, the story mechanics are visible like exposed wooden planks and beams.  Serials also offer a bounty of delicious cultural tropes and images: fresh, raw, not adulterated or distilled, as they originate here or appear for the first time in this new visual form, the picture show.  For example, most subsequent space operas imitate, derive from, or refer to Flash Gordon, since it invented the opening crawl, and, along with the comic strip it sprung from, created the first visual depictions of sci-fi elements—themselves mainly borrowed from pulp writer and space opera originator E.E. Smith—including the space fleet, the tractor beam/gravity beams, the Evil Interplanetary Overlord, the planet of crystal spires and togas (proto version) and more…

Even The Sky City Has an Energy Crisis

Spoilers ahead: The hawkmen’s sky city, and it is truly the “city of the hawkmen,” with not a hawkwoman or hawkchild ever seen, and no women in the city at all excepting visitors Princess Aura and Dale Arden and background servant-girls who don’t wear hawk gear.  The spire-laden city

The hawkmen’s sky city in the Flash Gordon serial (1936), held aloft by gravity beams powered by the atom furnaces.

is ruled by Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, who is like a Viking warlord of the skies complete with Beard of Barbarism, big hammy laugh, big ambitions, and big appetites for babes, beer and beasts (always om-nomming a leg of roast beast).

The sky city feels both medieval and high tech, great lumber doors like a castle and moody candlelit walls, for example, the mega technology backgrounded (as befitting a civilization of togas and crystal spires).  The underlying technology is abruptly foregrounded, however, when King Vultan sentences Flash and his bros to feed the steampunk-looking atom furnaces piles o’ radium with the other prisoners (apparently we’ll use manual labor, slaves doing rote grunt work in the space age).

Flash Gordon and his bros enslaved by the hawkmen and made to shovel “radium” into the “atom furnaces”… hawkman overseer(s) are always present to whip the slaves. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future?

 

Most of what I’m talking about appears in Chapter 6 of the Flash Gordon serial:

The sky city is featured in Chapters 5-8…

 

the moving, setting, re-setting of the “hands” on this clock is essential to the atom furnaces’ operation …somehow. The clock, which a hawkman worker mans at all times, moves in rhythm with the gears, the fires… industry as performance art.

 

The atom furnaces look and feel like relics of the bygone days of steam power, Vultan’s prisoners seemingly shoveling coal just like in an old steamboat engine room, but the narratives around these “atom furnaces” are unambiguously modern.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that his friends will continue sentenced to shovel radium into the atom furnaces until he finds a “new force” to hold up the sky city.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that the sky city is held aloft with gravity beams run on radium-fueled atom furnaces, but there are fears of running out of radium. Like concerns today around peak oil, peak coal, peak uranium, and increasingly, peak water, King Vultan is—between bursts of boisterous laughter—worried about “peak radium,” having neared or passed that point of no return or peak where the depletion of a finite resource is only a matter of time thereafter, raising the possibility of the hawkmen’s sky city crashing to the ground and bringing an ugly, apocalyptic end to hawk-civilization.

Vultan wants Zarkov to discover a “new force” to hold up the sky city, which sounds funky, but it is 1936. Einstein had published Special Relativity just 20 years previous, electromagnetism as one invisible force was being translated into radio and other magic things, new theories of physics droppin’ right and left, and amidst all that a “new force” or new field being discovered didn’t seem so implausible. Sci-fi stories and novels of the ’20s and ’30s—I’m particularly thinking of E.E. Smith “the father of space opera”—often draw on a hypothetical fifth force of nature³ being discovered and harnessed to propel space adventurers through the solar system and used to beam at foes.

Dr. Zarkov replies to Vultan with concerns that Flash and friends will get lethal doses of radiation from shoveling radium. The subtext is our fear as we enter “the atomic age.”

Vultan answers “it’s a pleasant death! LOL!” and that they’ll indeed be radiated until Zarkov invents a new alternative energy source. Dr. Zarkov does eventually discover a new force of physics to beam the city aloft. He turns on the new beam, powered by an unexplained new infinite force, just in the nick of time, right after Flash Gordon + super-bros explode the atom furnace. No word on what happened with the deadly radioactive fallout from all that radium goin’ up like a roman candle.

Lots of implications here, lots of subtext…

 

“Will Radium Restore Youth?” Article in Popular Science Monthly, June 1923 (copy of the issue). Not only was radium injected and chugged as an “elixir of life,” it was used in all types of cosmetics, and there were even radium condoms for superpowered radioactive wangs; read more at the excellent blog post Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin

My last post on radium in fracking wastewater was written in part to lay the groundwork for this post… RADIUM: it’s not just for Marie Curie anymore.
RADIUM: coming to an aquifer near you!

there are some disturbing (mildly disturbing, depending on your perspective) themes, images and subtexts in the Flash Gordon serial… pretty sure that I would want to give younger or more sheltered teens an explainer/guided watching… and most of the more disturbing aspects aren’t about radiation…

I understand that the writers want to set up King Vultan and the hawkmen as formidable opponents, so when they turn to aid Flash Gordon against Ming the Merciless, it is a really high stakes event, Vultan and Flash shaking on a Fire Forged Friendship that really matters.  In all Flash Gordon incarnations, Vultan ends up friends with Flash Gordon on an “enemy of my enemy” basis, and in the 1979 animated series Flash goes from forced labor at the atom furnaces to Fire Forged Friends in the course of one episode—view it free on Hulu—and his threatening turn feels more like a Challenge of the Week.  But here, King Vultan is closer to a serious villain.  Though he has some human moments, like trying to get Dale to eat her roast beast, Vultan electric-tortures, radiates, and almost executes Flash!

And then there’s this…

A hawkman guard aggressively greets Dr. Zarkov (unfortunately still in the mandatory hot pants of Ming’s Go-Go Enslavement) with a heil salute. The hawkmen use the heil again and again. Given that these serials were shown before/after newsreels of the Nazis (1936) how would audiences have reacted?

Thank you for reading!  Hope I gave some nutritious food for thought…

The hawkmen continue to echo down the decades, not just in the many subsequent and new Flash Gordon works, but in the DC universe, the Justice League and related content… since the DC Comics heroes Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Hawkgirl, et al were inspired by the Hawkmen in Alex Raymond’s founding Flash Gordon comic strip.  Hawkman creator Dennis Neville said that he modeled his Hawkman design on the hawkmen of the sky city on planet Mongo.  I feel that the Silver Age Hawkman, Hawkgirl and other Hawk-characters, hailing from crystal spiresque high towers (sky city-like) on the distant planet Thanagar, are an even more direct homage to the old Raymond comic strips

Recommended Resources:
Tropes in Flash Gordon serial – TVtropes.org – listing some of the cultural tropes invented or employed by the Flash Gordon serial
Know Thy History: Flash Gordon – from the excellent comics review blog The Webcomic Overlook

Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin
9 Ways People Used Radium Before We Understood the Risks | Mental Floss

E. E. Smith novels – public domain audiobooks @ LibraVox

 

Tip of the hat to the wondiferous disability-in-moving-pictures blogger spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacecrip for inspiring me to blog about film again.

Nick

 

Footnotes:
1. Especially during the War with Imperial Japan, racist depictions of Asians hit an all-time low. In the original Batman serial (1943) they refer to Japanese internment as “…the wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed japs” (view on youtube).  Though the concept of internment is inadvertently revealed as failed and ineffective moments later, when the evil genius and supervillain Dr. Daka, Hirohito’s baddest agent, is introduced as the antagonist, conspicuously non-imprisoned and unfettered in his evil-doing. I hate the sugarcoating and outright omitting of the ugly moments of our history, and I want my descriptions of the past to feel near as close to the real and biting reality of the people who lived it as possible in blag format.
2. Princess Aura is one badass woman, probably ahead of her time, but she is also really complicated. She can evil-rescue Flash, seem the heroine one moment, seem villainess the next…  In the animated series, done by the He-Man producers, she’s largely a copy/paste of their She-ra animations, but is more the Action Girl than in the old serial, where she’s daddy’s little villainess exemplified, but villainess wanting the hero always applies…
3. something akin to a fifth force of nature may still be possible, if physicists can figure out dark energy/matter.

A Few Thoughts on Theme in Popular Sci-fi & Fantasy Novels

Posted by – November 27, 2013

In an incidental comment in a previous blog post, I wrote:

Personally, I think the novel is best used when your/my/the author’s ideas about something large (our past, our future, technology, childhood, humanity, the soul, big stuff) are deep enough that you need an entire novel to explore them in proper detail. Length of a given novel should be tied to exploring its theme, I guess I’m saying…

I thought theme deserved a post of its own.  I think that it’s crucial, and understanding theme important, but too often overlooked.

In Philip K Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the theme is empathy, or …answering how humans are different from androids, what makes us human, which, in the novel, largely boils down to empathy.

Rick Deckard is one of two android-bounty hunters employed by the San Francisco Police Dept., but when the senior bounty hunter gets injured—damn-near killed—by the new androids with the uber-sophisticated Nexus Six brain types, Rick suddenly has the Nexus Six assignment on his desk.  The SFPD wants all him to “retire,” deactivate, kill, these loose Nexus Sixes, and since they’ve proven so

Nexus-6 androids vs. humans... if you could duplicate the human brain exactly how would be different?  do androids dream?

Painting by Nick Dupree, September 28, 2013: Nexus-6 androids vs. humans… if you could duplicate the human brain exactly how would be different? do androids dream?

dangerous, they want the mission done within 24 hours.  This complex and super tough assignment falling to Rick is the inciting incident.
Hunting down the “andys” is more difficult than ever, since the difference between humans and the most advanced androids has narrowed so much; they’re physically indistinguishable and psychologically and socially getting harder and harder to tell apart.  With the Nexus Six brain types, the only way to identify one as non-human is to either with the Voigt-Kampff test—measuring empathetic responses in increasing facial blood flow, or lack thereof, when asked a series of questions—or the simpler Boneli Test, which measures reaction time to visual stimuli, as it’s a fraction of a second slower in androids.  Rick only knows the Voigt-Kampff test, meaning he has to put facial electrode pick-ups on andys and interview them before killing them, excepting active combat situations, when a post-mortem bone marrow microscopy test is used to confirm inorganic status.
It’s possible for the Nexus Sixes to appear indistinguishable from humans with psychopathic tendencies or stunted or low empathy on the Voigt-Kampff test.  It’s implied that the upcoming Nexus-7 brain types, expected to be released in a matter of months, will be able to pass the Voigt-Kampff test and the Boneli test.

The questions on the Voigt-Kampff test stem from the culture and dominant philosophy/religion of post-apocalyptic humanity, Mercerism.  Humanity has mostly left for the Mars colonies, since Earth’s an irradiated, desert hellscape following the nuclear devastation of World War Terminus.  The government incentivizes emigration with free android helpers for Mars colonists, but enforces an android ban on Earth, where few people remain aside from those whose jobs require it (like Rick) and the population who’ve been affected by the radiation badly enough it has lowered their working-skills or I.Q., and are officially regarded as mutated subhumans, and therefore banned from emigrating by the government; unofficially they’re called the derogatory name “chickenheads.”
Mercerism has apparently grown up in response to the android dystopia and fallout-induced extinction of most Earth animals, and is built around the importance of empathic connections with humans and animals.  So questions on the Voigt-Kampff test take for granted that Mercerism is everyone’s belief, assuming strong empathic connections with animals, and asking things to elicit horror and disgust around eating, killing animals, fur rugs, etc.

With most animals extinct, remaining animals are highly prized, and owning an animal (very expensive) a major badge of honor and status symbol.  Men having a midlife crisis buy a goat or something, not a car, since animals are rare and flying cars ubiquitous.  Mercerism has made people more human, or at least people have focused on the human characteristics that android duplicates can’t mimic or understand, empathic connection with animals and the main ceremony of Mercerism, the empathy box, which is sort of a virtual world that lets the people connect with the prophet Wilbur Mercer and feel his pain as he’s pounded with rocks.
Mercerism and the valuing of having an animal at home to empathize with, those are my favorite parts of the novel.  There’s kind of a keeping up with the Jones competition around owning an animal… “I own a goat,” “well, I own a mare, and she’ll make more horses,” but it’s a competition to restore species.  The demand for animals is so great, some get electric animals, as they’re less expensive, or perhaps duplicates of species that are legitimately extinct (like owls and most other avian species).  Rick Deckard finds his electric sheep deeply depressing, though.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is theme driven, more theme driven than any other example I can think of… because the theme question, “how are we different from identical-brained androids?” drives the plot. In order to hunt down the andys on his list, Rick Deckard has to understand the difference and is haunted by the similarities, so his search, the plot, is all wrapped up in the theme. If the human brain can be duplicated with exactitude, synapse by synapse, which (by the way) IBM’s Blue Brain Project is working toward and is already seeing progress with, how would we humans be different from androids with those identical brains and flesh and bone that’s indistinguishable until put under a microscope? (the Battlestar Galactica reboot’s cylon duplicates seem to be inspired by Philip K. Dick’s androids in this book)
Assuming an identical-brained android, humans are different in their having a soul and the capacity for empathic connection, these are things that can’t be duplicated. And all this zeroing-in on what makes us human is done through showing, not telling.

While Rick Deckard struggles with the lines between android and human, J.R. Isadore, the novel’s other protagonist, a “chickenhead” who empathizes with andys and animals (electric and otherwise), in fact he can’t always tell them apart in his job picking up electric animals as a driver for an electric “animal hospital,” is hoping for connection in his abandoned neighborhood.  J.R. Isadore is clearly the most autobiographical character here—Philip K. Dick used J.R. Isadore as a pen name a few times—and his empathy and generosity, almost like his mental disabilities also deteriorate the logical walls most people have to divide up empathy, is poignant and beautiful. He empathizes with the androids, and the most terrifying scene is one where this female andy, incapable of empathy but super-intelligent and manipulative, something close to a high-functioning human psychopath (moreso than the other andys), begins to dismember a spider, perhaps the last spider on Earth. J.R. empathizes with the spider, empathizes with the andys (and they outnumber him 3-to-1) and there’s nothing he can do; we feel his conflicted agony as this horrible female disrespects and maims a life-form she doesn’t understand or appreciate in the slightest.
Having J.R. Isadore there illuminating other facets of the theme takes Do Androids Dream from great sci-fi novel to great literature that adds to our humanity. It works so well because its theme neatly drives the tightly-structured plot, which covers an incredible amount of ground in just over 61,000 words.  It is extremely organized storytelling, ironic coming from an author known for stream of consciousness narratives and, literally, being schizophrenic.
This book has so much humanity in it: there’s something really beautiful about how the gentle J.R. Isadore and violent Rick Deckard alike want animals to love and connect with… both feel this terrible yearning for extinct species to return, that the human race is incomplete without all Earth’s animals. They are part of our Earth family.

The version of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I had (from the New York Public Library online MP3 audiobook collection) was packaged as Blade Runner, the name of the 1982 movie (actually taken from the title of an Alan E. Nourse novel), a new audiobook version released in 2007 by Random House Audio to coincide with the release of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. But this audiobook, read by Scott Brick, has the same content as Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Blade Runner

Blade Runner
I rate it a must-read, a classic.

Theme, well-written, can be the difference between good, great and classic.

What’s the theme of George R. R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones? (the first book in his A Song of Ice and Fire series)

I don’t know what the theme is… perhaps you’d have to read more books in the Song of Ice and Fire series before a clear theme emerges.  The first book is roughly 284,000 words long, and though all of the words seem needed for all the complex, viewpoint-characters—chapter-breaks mean a different character’s point of view, telling the story from multiple viewpoints—I started having difficulties with book two, A Clash of Kings, which weighs-in at a daunting 326,000 words (approximately).  It’s clear why it takes Martin five years or so to complete each novel in this series: they’re hefty behemoths.  I got bogged-down in A Clash of Kings because of the length, the fact that characters from the background in book one (that we’ve not had time to really know and invest in) are given chapters to helm the viewpoint, even total a-hole Theon Greyjoy.  And an obvious theme to buy-into is not readily available.
The theme is probably like this George R.R. Martin quote that’s been going around Twitter: “History is a wheel, for the nature of man is fundamentally unchanging.” It reflects a bleaker worldview than Philip K. Dick’s novel with killing eerily-human robots on a devastated, irradiated, dead Earth ^

But A Song of Ice and Fire isn’t bleak really, because the theme—even assuming it is discernible and I described it remotely accurately—isn’t prominent in the novels. Martin foregrounds character more than anything else.  A Song of Ice and Fire is character-driven, as is typical of epic fantasy, and it works so well (and nearly sells more copies than the rest of the fantasy genre combined) because of

Tyrion “the (p)imp” mural, filling the side of a building entirely, somewhere on Herbrand St., London, England

its awesome, iconic characters, his uncommonly vivid characterizations and rich story-arcs for viewpoint-characters that draw you in like no one else’s characters.

Richly-complex, iconic characters like Daenerys, Mother of Dragons™, Tyrion the Imp™ and Jaime the Kingslayer™ drive the story and are hard not to follow and root for, even when richly-layered with past misdeeds and evil-doings, and that’s why they translate so well to the screen (and to hilarious internet memes).  Thanks to the HBO series, Martin’s characters have become pop culture giants.  Tyrion (as portrayed by Peter Dinklage) has become a disability icon of sorts, making what’s obvious in the disability community—that the physically “other” are no less protagonists (or villains) than anyone else, even amidst medieval civil wars—mainstream.

I grok that many novels won’t have a theme, and it’s okay to mainly focus on character and/or plot; not everything has to explore deeper issues,
Still, I love a good theme.

Nick