Virtual Relations : FICTION : BLADE RUNNER 2, By K. W. Jeter (Bantam Books: $21.95: 340 pp.)

Seattle writer and lawyer Mark Lindquist has lived in and written about Los Angeles. He is the author of "Sad Movies" and "Carnival Desires."

Los Angeles, 2021. The atmosphere is scoured raw by the merciless Santa Ana winds. Fires flare as subterranean gases rise from the city streets and ignite. Relief comes in the occasional monsoons, which temporarily shield inhabitants from the blistering sun.

At night, multilingual neon glares senselessly from both vertical and horizontal buildings. Earthquakes are less of a concern now that the taller buildings lie in crooked angles on their sides, casualties of past seismic activity. The Van Nuys Pet Hospital still features the blinking pink puppy that is transformed from sad and injured to happy and bandaged every few seconds. You could use such a resurrection.

Whereas in the 1990s there was merely a small voice in your head telling you to leave town, now a United Nations blimp circles the city, exhorting you not only to leave town, but to leave the planet. "Start anew!" Unseen speakers boom out promises of a better life awaiting you among the stars you can only rarely glimpse. The brown stew of pollutants in the air is so thick the government-issue breathing masks seem beside the point. You've lost the will to deal with the scavenger dwarfs who steal the emission control units off vehicles stalled in traffic. On the plus side, nobody talks much about the O.J. Simpson trial anymore.

You tried to leave Los Angeles before. You moved north to the remote cabin where you stayed with the one you love, Rachel. Problem is, the one you love spends most of her time in a life-support pod. Also, she is not human. She is a replicant. Replicants, designed by the Tyrell corporation for labor--slavery really--are almost indistinguishable from humans, but they have a life-span of four years. To extend your time together, you bring Rachel alive for a short spell every two months. Despite this, or maybe because of it, the relationship is going swell.

One other problem though. You are a blade runner. Blade runners are the must brutal of the formidably brutal Los Angeles Police Department. Blade runners have a simple job: exterminate escaped replicants. Replicants, designed from human templates, are designed to lack emotion so they can excel as slaves. Some replicants seem to have developed emotions--or were they secretly designed that way?--and as a result they resent their servitude. They escape, and they become dangerous. Rachel was one of the five you were assigned to kill. You killed four. Then you quit. You quit not because you hated it, but because you realized you were liking it too much.

Now the powerful Tyrell Corporation wants you to resume your previous profession. There may be a sixth replicant on the run. Or there may not be. Circumstances are suspect, tinged with the haze of conspiracy. Some have even suggested you may be the replicant.

Still, your sense that you are human is reinforced by some tangible evidence: A human woman loves you. Sarah, the human template for Rachel, has inherited the Tyrell corporation from her father. Sarah wants to be loved. She wants to be loved by you. Sarah is willing to destroy the corporation for love. Anyone that irrational must be human.

So why love a replicant, rather than the human upon which she is based? Why love the copy? This is the biggest danger of living in Los Angeles: You have learned to prefer the dead to the living, the fake to the real.

Your original creator, Philip K. Dick, who authored "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep," which was made into the movie "Blade Runner," is dead. K. W. Jeter, however, has uncannily inhabited Dick's mind and is continuing your story with a duplicate eye, voice, weltanschauung. Jeter's sense of irony, his appreciation of the cosmic joke, parallels your increasingly dark tangled life. Jeter has craftily assimilated the mind of Dick with the minds of the "Blade Runner" screenwriters David Peoples and Hampton Fancher to the point where it's hard to say for sure who created what.

All you know is that you must return to Los Angeles, take this last job, hunt for the sixth replicant. Complete this final assignment and you can be with the one you love. You can start anew. You can be human. You can even learn to prefer the real to the fake, though you are not sure how yet. First, you will have to be far from Los Angeles.

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