Despite my love for all things Philip K. Dick, I managed to avoid this book for years. After seeing (and enjoying) BLADE RUNNER I felt like, "What's the point? I already know where the book's going to go."
Wow. Besides the fact that both the movie and the book feature a character named Rick Deckard whose job entails the elimination of renegade robots, these two pieces couldn't be further apart. And it was that enormous difference that really made me appreciate the novel.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follows Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter for the San Francisco Police Department whose life is a series of disappointments. His wife has dialed her Penfield Mood Organ to "Despair" and he's suffering the pangs of lost status ever since his life sheep died and he had to replace it with an inferior electric sheep. In this post-apocalyptic world where animal life is virtually extinct, owning a goat is consider not only a sacred duty, but a sign of influence and power. So Deckard's main motivation for retiring the androids (or "andys" - there's no mention of replicants or even "blade runners") is so that he can afford an ostrich.
You can't make this stuff up.
Over on the android side there's no military robot breakout and search for an extension of life. The android's escape because they're sick of being treated like tools, and just want to live the time they have doing whatever they want? There's a larger question throughout the novel about the sanctity of life and the nature of existence - the main difference between humans and the androids is the ability to feel empathy - something that the populace does through a constructed religion called Mercerism, which is based on a shared group experience of an old man climbing a mountain while being stoned (as in having rocks thrown at him...not the other thing). When it's discovered that this religion is based on a sham, where does the distinction then lie?
It's always been these types of questions that propel the best of PKD's novels and short stories, and in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? he presents an interesting look at what we do when confronted with our own limitations. I don't know if my admiration for the book comes from it being a truly great book, or from being such a welcome surprise from the movie. Either way, if you're at all a fan of Dick's work you should probably read this much sooner that I did.