Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true ** probably true

Friday, September 16, 2005

The Origin of 'Mercer Machine'

Several people have asked me what the hell a mercer machine is. Good question.

It all started when I was, oh, eleven or twelve. It was when Blade Runner came out, in 1982. Even back then, they had movie tie-in novels. I picked up the Blade Runner tie-in novel (can still remember the cover, black with blood red lettering and the main characters in various poses from the movie. Below the title, however, in parentheses, was the subtitle “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and the author, Philip K. Dick.

Hollywood has really picked up on the Philip Dick phenomenon in recent years, with the Tom Cruise vehicle Minority Report, Screamers, Total Recall and Paycheck. But Ridley Scott was the first with Blade Runner.

How much any of these movies keeps to the spirit if not the letter of their literary parents is open to (intense) debate, but nevermind. We’re talking about the origin of the Mercer Machine.

In ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’, the earth has pretty much killed off all its natural wildlife due to pollution and urban expansion (which is why, in the movie, the one stripper android is able to be tracked by her android snake’s shed scale—there ain’t no real snakes). Most people have in their dwellings what’s referred to as a Mercer Machine (so named for its creator).

What this machine does, basically, is amplify a person’s sense of empathy. Without any sort of flora or fauna, no puppy dogs or cute kittens, humanity is becoming more and more remote, emotionless, unempathetic. The line between androids and humans on an emotional level is getting very fine, with advances in android tech and the degradation of human emotion.

That’s what stuck with me from the book, the idea of a machine that would help us to remain human. And that’s one of the functions of the internet in general and this blog in particular for me.

Instead of becoming remote—a stranger in a strange land who looks different, thinks different, speaks different, acts different and so withdraws, this blog has allowed me, as a Westerner in Singapore, to gain an understanding of and to a certain extent even become a part of the fabric of the society of Singapore. I’m as grateful to blogging and the internet and personal computing as Harrison Ford’s character Deckard would have been to the Mercer Machine had they not cut that bit out of the movie.


j. said...

I absolutely loved that movie as a kid. I may not have gotten it all, but I loved it nonetheless.

expat@large said...

I can't recollect the Mercer Machine from the book (mine is in Geelong , and wouldn't you just kill for some first editions of PKD these days!) but my Director's Cut version of the movie has the Voigt-Kompf Machine, the "smoking wont affect the results" machine for picking Replicants from humans. ("Let me tell you about my mother...") Only having watched it 87 times (this year) I couldn't be sure, so after reading this post I watched it again just to make sure.

There is a terrific audio archive of interviews over at and an interesting discussion about Harrison Ford in the the role of Deckard here.

What are you doing this week? Need to catch up. (Expat-blogger community thing...? Nah, typical drunken expat thing.)


MercerMachine said...

hi j- rent it now! buy it now! the director's cut, of course.

hi expat- yah, in the book it was a throwaway idea actually. maybe a paragraph or two. Scott prolly cut it because it would have been difficult to translate it into film, plus possible confusion with the vc machine.

If you're still around this week we should definitely meet up!

bingsy said...

Can you guess who I am? Okay, maybe not - 'tis a voice from your not quite that distant past, Christien of Randy and Christien fame.

At any rate, I am very very excited and happy for you, and hope that everything you are experiencing is your absolute dream come true. I'm a little bummed that you are in Singapore, and I can't meet your wife and Ryan. However, I do get a sense that your being in Singapore is a big part of everything that is good in your life.

Well this is a wordy comment. I just wanted to say that Randy is reading that novel tie-in as I write this. A co-worker, who looks suspiciously like you, lent it to him. Odd, now that I think of it.

I hate blogger, because they don't necessarily email comments to the blog. It could be you will never ever see this comment.

Oh well.