where the writers are
An Android on a Book Tour: the Story of PK Dick's Replicant

I’m struck by the recent book review of “How to Build an Android: The True Story of Philip K. Dick’s Robotic Resurrection” and I’ve been puzzling over some questions it raises for writers.

First, the facts.  The book “explains how a team of researchers at the Univ. of Memphis collaborated in 2005 with an artist and robotics experts to create what was then the most sophisticated android anywhere, a replica of the head of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick” (science fiction author of Blade Runner etc.).  The android’s face was sculpted with a skin-like polymer, his non-functioning body was draped in Dick’s clothing donated by the family, and his speech was assembled “through an immense database of Dick’s own words as expressed during his lifetime in books and interviews…Phil could spit out an accurate Dick answer to a specific question if it found a match.” Or he was programmed to improvise.

But here’s the part straight out of a Dick novel: his creator was taking the head to Google for a meeting and inadvertently left him in the overhead bin of the plane, never to be seen again.  Fans wondered whether the head was stolen, or if it had escaped? Had the head decided to go there on his own?

Of course for me, I partly wonder whether having an android replica is the ultimate compliment to a writer.  We publish in part so that our words live on after us, don’t we? Isn’t this the ultimate in words living on after?  Wouldn’t we want to be included in a montage or snippets of the best/newest/combined work, which is essentially a new work of art, created without us, but using our work? So what’s the difference?

I think most writers would say no, we wouldn’t want this: art comes from the spark of life, no android could do it and we wouldn’t want our words butchered or strung together without it.    What if the android lived on for decades creating chopped up hacked together versions of our work? Or even more frightening, what if it did a better job?  What if our replicant was more talented? What if the android was just the ultimate in social media marketing: an android programmed to read/perform/promote our work without changing it in any way, out there on an endless book tour, ‘sleeping’ in the closet of a bookstore before walking undaunted through the rain to the next bookstore.  Once again, a Philip K. Dick story that’s kinda creepy in a sad and intriguing way.