The best sci-fi, or rather, the most effective sci-fi, walks the line between the fantastical and real. It shows that the most horrifying parts of our collective future aren’t necessarily aliens or other supernatural phenomena, but rather humanity itself and its relationship with its creations. The new Amazon series “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams” is a flawed but intriguing addition to the canon of works such as “Black Mirror” that explore our relationship with technology and warn of the consequences.
“Electric Dreams” inevitably lends itself to several comparisons with the Netflix (previously Channel 4) hit “Black Mirror.” Similar to the latter, it features a set of standalone episodes, adaptions of works by the American writer Philip K. Dick (known for “The Man in the High Castle” and “Blade Runner”). Nonetheless, it rarely captures its British counterpart’s sheer, bleak dread and often feels rather predictable. Some episodes, such as “Real Life,” do skillfully adapt Dick’s Cold War tales and examine the possible effects of virtual reality technology. However, most of the episodes — while tackling nuanced issues — miss the mark in terms of having the effect that Dick’s stories often have on audiences.
Despite its flaws, “Electric Dreams” begs the discussion once again about the different approaches similar works take on the future and how we should learn from them. “Black Mirror” tackles its subjects, ranging from euthanasia to augmented reality, in a twisted, satirical (dare one say British) fashion. For the most part, “Black Mirror” episodes feel very real and their devastating effects arise from the small tweaks that the writers make to the world. Episodes of “Electric Dreams” on the other hand have a sense of paranoia due to the fact that a lot of Dick’s works that they are based on were written in the repressive back-drop of the Cold War, the first time in history where humanity came face to face with its own ability to wipe itself out. It shares several similarities with Radiohead’s 1997 classic OK Computer, an album which, through songs such as “Paranoid Android” and “No Surprises,” creates a simultaneously frenetic and deflated reaction to modern life.
Ever since “The Twilight Zone” aired in the 1960s, works in all formats of entertainment have dealt with the relationship between humanity and technology. Some may dismiss them as fear-mongering and unrealistic, while others may start to resent the march of technological progress. What these shows should remind us is the fact that it is our duty to take a step back and reflect on ourselves. After all, it is not the technology that is inherently awful, but rather human nature itself that can make it have awful effects.