Even as BOOM! Studios continues its massive and Eisner-nominated 24-issue full-text adaptation of Philip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?"-the novel upon which "Blade Runner" was based-the publisher is set to expand upon that universe in a new miniseries titled "Dust to Dust." Written by "Cinderella: From Fabletown with Love" scribe Chris Roberson with art by Robert Adler, the twelve-issue miniseries debuts in May. CBR News caught up with Roberson to discuss "Dust to Dust" and the worlds of Philip K. Dick.
"The story opens in the immediate aftermath of World War Terminus-a war in which there weren't really any winners, only losers," Roberson told CBR. "The conflict came to an end when one side or the other released a radioactive substance called 'dust' into the atmosphere. Animals began to die off in extinction-level numbers and many people died or developed genetic defects. Many of the survivors are now in the process of leaving Earth behind and heading to the off-world colonies, where they will be assisted by androids programmed to serve their every wish. The androids were originally developed for combat, though, and some of them rebel against the idea of becoming servile colonial servants. When a group of androids goes 'rogue' and runs away, it falls to a veteran named Charlie Victor to go after them.
"Victor is assigned one of the 'specials' as his partner, a man named Malcolm Reed. The specials are beings who have been affected by exposure to dust. Reed developed a brain tumor, and that prevents him from joining the off-world colonies, or even from reproducing," Roberson explained. "But Reed was set apart from normal people even before he ever came into contact with dust. Diagnosed as a schizophrenic in his teenage years, Reed suffered from a lack of affect, an inability to experience emotions of his own or to understand or empathize with the emotions of others.
"Reed's brain tumor changes all that. Now, he still can't feel his own emotions, but he has a heightened empathic sense and is able to pick up on the emotions of those around him. Since androids don't have emotions, if he encounters someone and can't feel anything from them, chances are they are one of the rogue androids. So Reed serves as Victor's walking android detector."
Given that "Dust to Dust" is a companion piece to BOOM!'s "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" adaptation, CBR News asked Roberson whether his series will strive to match the style of its parent book, which contains all the text from Dick's novel with art by Tony Parker, or whether it would more closely reflect its origins as an original comics project. "My marching orders from BOOM! were that it should be its own thing, a regular comic, as opposed to the more textural adaptation they're doing of the original novel," Roberson said. "And as much as possible, we've tried to make the comic work completely independently, so that a reader doesn't have to be familiar with the original novel or the adaptation at all in order to enjoy it. Those readers that are familiar with PKD's story, of course, will hopefully get even more out of it, since we've included all sorts of little hooks and hints that point back to the original."
Roberson told CBR that the project began at last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, when BOOM! Marketing Director Chip Mosher introduced him to Matt Gagnon, the publisher's Managing Editor. "Matt and I stayed up late into the wee hours one night talking about our favorite science fiction authors and novels," Roberson said. "We kept in touch after the convention and a few months later he emailed me out of the blue and asked if I had any affinity for the work of PKD and if I'd have any interest in doing a prequel to 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?'
"I went through a period in my twenties when I read everything by PKD that I could get my hands on, and while 'DADOES' wasn't my favorite (which would probably have to be 'Valis'), it was right up there at the top. The idea of continuing PKD's story with those same characters would be pretty intimidating, and potentially not very worthwhile, but it occurred to me early on that the world of 'DADOES' was a fascinating one and that there were all sorts of other stories that could be told in it," the writer continued. "In particular there are all of these fascinating references to World War Terminus and its aftermath that PKD tosses aside fairly quickly, and rereading the novel after Matt contacted me I had a real desire to find out more about that.
"So that's what 'Dust to Dust' has worked out to be, a different story with an entirely new set of characters that explores the history of that world a bit, seeing things that we've only gotten glimpses of before."
As to other details that may have gone unexamined in Dick's original, Roberson said he's also hoping to shed some light on how people may have reacted to the ecological disaster wrought by dust. "In addition to World War Terminus and the early days of android detection, there's the fact that all animal life died off as a result of the dust in the atmosphere," the writer said. "There had to have been people trying to save the few animals that were left, and that's where researcher Samantha Wu enters the story. She's a scientist who is trying to find a cure for dust, but circumstances quickly spiral out of her control."
Prior to the period of enthusiasm for Dick's novels that Roberson mentioned, the writer found that he had to grow into PKD's sci-fi worlds. "I was in middle school when 'Blade Runner' hit theaters and I've probably seen it a few dozen times since then. But even though I was aware of PKD's novels when I was in high school, I don't think I read any of them until I got into college," Roberson told CBR. "I must have started with the wrong ones, or I wasn't ready for them, but after reading a couple I just kind of shrugged and moved on.
"I kept hearing great things about him, though, and so I gave him another chance when I was in my mid-20s. Clearly I hadn't been ready for his work before and I needed a few more years to develop before I could appreciate what was going on in those books, because when I read PKD again at the age of 25 or 26, it was like a bomb went off in my head. I read them one after another, as fast as I could lay hands on them.
"One of the things I respect about PKD's novels and stories is that he was always working his way through the same basic themes, approaching them from different angles all the time. What is reality? What is identity? What is humanity? But as much as I get from the thematic underpinnings of those books, it shouldn't be forgotten that they aren't philosophical treatises. They are first and foremost really terrific stories. They work on multiple levels, with loads of memorable characters, settings and scenes, but with this deeper layer of meaning underneath as the author continues to interrogate these essential questions."
In addition to the "Dust to Dust," DC Comics recently previewed Roberson's "I, Zombie," which debuts May 5 and features art by Mike Allred. "In terms of genre and tone, 'I, Zombie; 'Cinderella;' and 'Dust to Dust' probably couldn't be more different, but if a reader enjoyed one of them I think there would be a solid chance they'd enjoy the others, as well," Roberson said. "I hope so, at least!"
"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust" #1 is in stores May 26; two hardcover collections of BOOM!'s "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" are available now.