I’ve read two beautiful books recently that I highly recommend.
The first is Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. This is the book that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was based on, and it’s a wonderful read because of the way Dick examines the essence of human consciousness.
The 30 second summary is that Decker is a cop whose job it is to hunt and decommission androids, which are getting more and more lifelike as technology progresses. The only way to suss them out is to give them an empathy test, because manufacturers haven’t figured out how to give robots feelings yet. Similar to a lie detector test, there is a range of acceptable responses, and anything that falls outside that range is considered to be an android, which must then be terminated. From this three sentence summary, you can see the basic framework that Dick has setup, which allows him to explore the question of “what does it really mean to be human?” Beautiful.
The second is not quite as easy to read, but still highly recommended: Jose Saramago’s Blindness. On the superficial level, the extremely long sentences and paragraphs, along with the fact that dialogue is given neither line breaks nor quotation marks, is a bit quirky and may be offputting. You soon get used to it though, and it’s no big deal.
Again, a brief synopsis: people in an unnamed country mysteriously start going blind, among them, an eye doctor. The government decides to quarantine them as pariahs, and the doctor’s wife feigns blindness as well so as to be with her husband. The asylum in which they are quarantined soon bulges with hundreds of blind prisoners, and gradually, all semblences of civility and order disappear, to be replaced with chaos and depravity. Throughout it all, the doctor’s wife is the lone person who can see, and she must figure out the optimal survival strategy.
As a thought experiment, it’s fascinating to imagine what would happen if everyone in the world suddenly became blind. Saramago pulls no punches in describing the utter madness that can occur; there’s a rape scene that made me physically ill. Still, it’s a beautiful book with tons of wry wit, profound insights, and interesting characters. Again, highly recommended.
If you can make it through the Saramago book, you get the bonus feelgood points of having read a Nobel prize winning work. Booyakasha.