Philip K. Dick – We Can Build You

Title: We Can Build You
Author: Philip K. Dick
Year: 1972

Philip K. Dick seldom worries about credibility or realism in his writing, but each novel has its own strange deviations from what I as a reader would consider likely or realistic. We Can Build You is based on the notion of creating simulacra, a sort of reproduction of humans in a mechanical form. However, many idiosyncrasies surround this output of near perfect androids, and it is obvious that the technical or practical issues are not of interest to the author (which is as far as I know true for all his novels).

Instead, the focus of the novel is the human beings involved in the upheavals, personal and otherwise, which follow the introduction of the simulacra. The main character is Louis Rosen, a small-scale co-owner of a spinet and electric organ company, which introduces the worlds two first simulacra, one of Edwin M. Stanton and another of Abraham Lincoln. Supposedly, they are to be used to reenact the Civil War; only one of the idiosyncrasies mentioned above.

Having read a fair number of novels by Philip K. Dick, I can sense the greatness of other novels, yet unwritten at the time of We Can Build You publication. The focus of Louis’ love, Pris, bears close resemblance to the android with the same name used in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? The discussions about artificial intelligence and what is genuinely human are also present, but are much more developed in later works.

There are passages in this novel which are inspiring and formidably well written, especially the interaction between Louis and Pris. Their topics of their discussions range from themselves, the situation they find themselves in and life in general. These sections are interesting not only because they are relevant to the story and portrays the characters in a beautiful way, but also because they have great bearing on my life and my thoughts outside the novel. Few authors manage to inspire my own writing as much as Philip K. Dick does. So, as is the case for many of his other novels, the characters are the main reason I like this novel.

However (considering the average grade I give this novel, a however is surely expected at this point), the novel fails in some areas. In fact, I have already mentioned one of the problems. This novel only contains traces of future greatness, not greatness itself (apart from the conversations mentioned above). I have read many novels by this author and this one simply fails to impress me; it is not bad, but it is not even close to his best books. Its focus seems shattered, distributed between the personal problems of the characters and the simulacra, and I feel that these two parts do not fit very well together. Still, the characters and the interaction between them is well worth three snails, even though I am a bit disappointed by the other parts.

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