Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?
An Astrological Analysis of the Face Behind
This article first appeared in the Astrological Association newlestter, more moons ago than I care to recount. Here, I have tidied it up a little, but otherwise this does not deviate much from the original. You can view a copy of the chart here.
It is always fascinating to see the chart of a writer whose stories have been read and re-read by many, with great pleasure and interest. Here, I will examine the natal chart of science-fiction writer, Philip K. Dick. I shall be looking at this in connection with one or two of his best-known novels. One of these - Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep?, was the inspiration for the film, BladeRunner.
According to his biography, Divine Invasions, Philip K. Dick was born at noon, in Chicago on 14.12.1928, although this is corrected elsewhere to 12.15. He died at the age of 53, but not before producing a staggering proliferation of stories, some of which he completed in one go, working from day into night. It is well known that he abused many drugs throughout the 60's. His emotional life was stormy, and he divorced several times. He is considered by some to have been a literary genius.
The main plot of Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep, is this. Rick Deckard, the protagonist of the tale, is a bounty hunter. He is employed to track down and eliminate renegade humanoid robots who have escaped from Mars' colonies, and now masquerade as human beings. He is befriended by a young girl, Rachael Rosen. She turns out to be an android, whose mission is specifically to seduce bounty hunters, in order to neutralise them. Once able to empathise with androids, most bounty hunters are unable to kill them. (Here, the film deviates from the hook, by turning the story into a Hollywood romance; none is intended in Dick's novel, as we shall see).
In fact, the only way to distinguish androids from humans is through the administration on each suspect of a series of psychological tests, which look for the capacity for empathy. However intelligent the androids, they are unable to empathise, and this is contrasted with some of earth's inhabitants. Many of these are brain damaged in this future world because of the effects of dust from radiation, of a future war. The dust has killed off most of the animals, so that they now have a disproportionate value for most humans. Deckard, in fact, has to make do with a pet electric sheep, as he cannot afford an authentic one.
Dick in the novel rather than in the film, makes it clear that whilst some androids may engender our sympathy, they are evil because they have no soul. Thus, the readers can easily feel revulsion towards the androids in the chapter where they pull the legs off a spider, just to see if the creature can still move without them. And again, when Rachael kills Deckard's authentic new pet.
In a typical Dickian manoeuvre, however (many of Dick's novels are called 'reality games'), Deckard has his own humanity called into question when one of his own quarry makes him fear that he too, may be an android. There is real poignance at the end when Deckard discovers in the dust-ridden desert, what he believes to be a real toad. This is only for his wife to show him that it, like his electric sheep, is a fake.
Brian Aldiss, in Trillion-Year-Spree, suggests that robots as a fictional device symbolise in modern, fragmented 20th-Century life, depersonalisation, or the fear of this. Dick is very clear on this.
In one of his non-fiction essays, 'the Human and the Android', he explicitly states that 'android' is synonymous with 'schizoid,' a condition for which Dick tells us he has no sympathy. He suggests that the state of depersonalisation is close to being the root of all evil, because it tempts us to see the organic and fragile as ultimately replaceable, just like his electric sheep. That perhaps is why the need to defend the authentic from the mechanical becomes a personal crusade forDick's protagonist, Deckard, as the latter states in the novel; 'as long as the humanoid robot is there to kill its masters/make love/sing in operas as a counterfeit, the more my (killing) skills will be needed.'
Deckard, like Dick himself, appears to be a champion for truth and authenticity, qualities that clearly seem to be somehow under threat in his novel. How are these themes reflected in Dick's chart?
It comes as no surprise to find a strong Uranian theme in his natal chart, with that planet rising in Aries in his 1st House - making an almost irresistible pun through the title, electric sheep! The Moon and Venus are in Aquarius. Uranus and Aquarius seem to appear frequently in the charts of science-fiction writers H. G. Wells is the first to come to mind with his Moon rising in Aquarius, Jules Verne, Aquarius Sun Sign, and Arthur C. Clarke, of 2001 fame, who also has Uranus on his ascendant.
This all makes sense, as science-fiction might be defined as that branch of literature which speculates on how the future might turn out, extrapolating on trends in society already happening. Uranus in astrology is traditionally about the future, as well as those discoveries and inventions which might either raise the consciousness of humanity in readiness for better things, or which might also, like Prometheus's gift of fire, be misused by a collective awareness not ready for it. This latter fear that our creature inventions might rise up and destroy us, is what Asimov called the 'Frankenstein complex'. Clearly, Dick does not share Asimov's more sanguine belief in the benefits that more technology might ultimately bring us.
Frankenstein apart, this is perhaps because it can also be recognised that Uranian progress and technology can also have the effect of sundering us from our roots and connections with nature - or perhaps the fully organic. In this light, Dick's novels can be seen to anticipate the world of future shock where everything comes to have its inbuilt obsolescence and disposability. Thus in Dick's novel, androids, whilst capable of replacing both animals and humans, only have a lifespan of four years, whilst better models are created all the time.
Liz Greene in her book Relating, suggests that the Uranian principle can not only sunder us from our roots, but may also 'rip away the fabric of what he (the individual) has previously identified as his reality, often in a highly painful way.' Indeed, Dick's novel could be seen to be about the terror experienced when reality for his protagonist can be pulled from under his feet, like the proverbial carpet. This terror is to do with the threat which comes from the encroaching loss of authentic being, and depersonalisation, which the android represents.
The grimness in Dick, however, cannot simply be attributed to the uranian theme in his chart. He also has a 9th House Sun/Mercuryl/Saturn stellium in Sagittarius, close to his MC.
If we take the Sun to represent the main protagonist - the hero - of any novel, then it seems to describe Rick Deckard well enough. Sagittarius is a truth seeker, and has no time for a counterfeit. Neither is he afraid to use violent action in order to eliminate the counterfeit: here, this seems to give him the crusading spirit, whilst the chart ruler, Mars, on his IC square Uranus, does not make him afraid to kill. What seems to make Deckard's heroic quest that much more urgent, however, is the Sun's proximity to Saturn. The Sun and Saturn are tradiditionally adversaries, so that the will to be, the Sun, now has to fight against that is leaden and entropic in Saturn and many of his stories repeat the idea of an ever-encroaching kipple of dust.
In fact, most of his main characters are very definitely highly fallible and non-heroic – more like anti-heroes in so far that they are no strangers to failure. One of his books, ’A Scanner – Darkly’ is actually a paeon to all the contemporaries he knew, who paid for their desire for fun with drugs in full, with their health and sanity. It is also worth bearing in mind that Dick’s life was also, far from easy: he suffered the usual artist’s dilemma between being true to his own vision and having to conform to current ideas about what sold. At various points in his life he suffered dire poverty and was fond of recounting of the times he was forced to live on dog food to survive.
It is for this reason that Dick is often seen as a pessimist. Yet these heroes are given a certain dignity with Dick, even when their actions seem to be most futile, as with Deckard, where he is seen to be scrabbling in the dust which to engulf everything in a ruined world, for whatever crumbs of authenticity he can find. In this later novels, such as in the Valis series, Dick takes this Sagittarian search for some kind of saving knowledge further, where he seeks God (but with tongue-in-cheek humour), and flirts with Gnostic ideas.
If Saturn is pitted against the Sun in Dick's chart, so it also appears to challenge Mercury. Mercury, to a large degree representing perception, seems for Dick, to provide only the flimsiest of reality constructs. Deckard, for instance, is not always free from the fear that he might not be an android himself. With these observations in mind, I now want to look at another of Dick's short stories, in order to demonstrate how this 9th House Mercury-Saturn link appears to underline Dick's desire to discover an inner truth which might lie beyond the usual powers of perception.
In The Electric Ant, a man wakes up in hospital, only to be told that he has been discovered he is not a man, but a humanoid robot. He is told that instead of a heart, there is a kind of cassette spool in his chest instead that programmes his reality for him. Not liking the idea of this, our hero decides to tamper with this spool. His tampering achieves a few hallucinations and a period of nothingness, after which he is brought round along with a ticking oft, by a mechanic. The second time he tries this, he succeeds in killing himself along with his personal secretary. She, like Tinkerbell, only existed - it turns out- as long as the spool of her boss was working. This rather Kafka-esque, or Laingian ontological security, seems to be catching in a lot of Dick's novels as far as his other characters go.
If Mercury and Saturn are at loggerheads in Dick's chart, then so does the latter seem to be with Uranus. Dick in real life is known to have been fairly radical in his thinking, with little time for Establishment. Nevertheless, in keeping with Sun and Saturn together at his MC, powerful father figures will keep emerging in his novels - father figures who seem to need to be destroyed if his besieged and puny solar hero figures are to free themselves.
This process seems to be at work in his novel, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Palmer Eldritch is an evil character who succeeds in ensnaring all the main characters of the story, into a solipsistic loop of self-deception through his drug, Chew-Z. This is so he might immortalise himself and become a god at his victim's expense. He appears again and again through his stigmata, which, as Palmer Eldritch is a cyborg, include a steel hand, steel teeth and false eyes, within the hallucinations of his subjects.
This story especially seems to reflect Dick's interest in Gnosticism. He seems to have felt himself to be engaged with an inner struggle against a tyrannical, demiurgic god-figure, who is derived from earlier experiences with his father. The Sagittarian stellium in the 9th with Saturn surely can't speak louder than that, although Uranus, as a technological monster in Palmer Eldritch, may yet prove to be the bigger archon. Saturn and Uranus are both tyrants in mythology -Uranus the father is castrated by Saturn, who is only to produce in turn, the equally oppressive system of the Establishment. Mythologically-minded astrologers suggest that the potentially violent conflict between these planets can only be reconciled through the Feminine, namely through Aphrodite or Venus, who is created out of Uranus's semen, after his castration. Perhaps the trouble with this is that Venus here only forms a sextile with Uranus, but not with Saturn. It is in wide conjunction with the Moon, and all this seems to do for Dick is to make the Enemy, the android, seductive: Deckard, remember, finds it most difficult to kill the females, especially the attractive ones. In another non-fiction essay, The Dark-Haired Girl, Dick confesses to have frequently been drawn to a very streetwise kind of young woman, who is every bit as cold, detached and schizoid as his heartless female androids. In fact, in one of hisnovels, ’We can build you,’ one of his android characters, Abraham Lincoln’s double, is given a good deal more sympathetic qualities than the girl who masterminded his design.
Neither do we now have to look very far for the nature of the seemingly Uranian nature of the terror, which can be perceived in Do Androids Dream Electric Sheep. The depersonalisation of Brian Aldiss's robots seems to be the same as that of the existential angst to be found in the characters described in R. D. Laing's books, which also have a lot to say on the schizoid condition, with its struggle against encroaching unrealness and the loss of a sense of personal authenticity. Again, it seems to be no accident that R. D. Laing's chart also revealed the presence of Uranus on the Ascendant and an Aquarian Moon. It may be worth noting here that Dick's natal chart - judging it without the benefits of a real working knowledge of either midpoints or harmonics - does not appear to be an especially well-integrated one. His Moon, save a wide 135 aspect, is almost unaspected, and only the Sun of his Sagittarian planets has some wide aspects from Mars and Neptune.
Perhaps his worlds are so threatened by the evil of his androids, entropic wastelands and archon figures, just because he was, at some level, aware of his own android qualities. Perhaps this is why he emphasises the importance of our own human capacities to be able to care for ourselves and for animals. This is why originally I believed that the time taken from Divine Invasions was correct, as this gives him a Pisces ascendant (which also goes a long way to describe Dick as a drug user), whereas a later one could give him an Aries Ascendant. Perhaps, however, the sextiles from Jupiter and Neptune to his Cancer Mars, along with the trine from Jupiter to his 6th House Neptune, in themselves provide the necessary balance to his chillier, Uranian/Saturnine qualities. They also provide a happier solution to the violence advocated by the Mars Uranus square - that the ills of this world can be rectiffied by warmth and kindness.
Whatever conclusions may be drawn from looking at this chart, it does seem to remain true that Dick was able to find a voice for all his preoccupations within Ilis novels, that he had something valid to say to us, both for now - and for the future.