The novella began as a story treatment for a proposed film adaptation of Alan E. Nourse's novel The Bladerunner. A later edition published in the 1980s changed the formatting of the title to Blade Runner, a movie. Burroughs' treatment is set in the early 21st century and involves mutated viruses and "a medical-care apocalypse". The term "blade runner" referred to a smuggler of medical supplies, e.g. scalpels.
The title was later bought for use in Ridley Scott's 1982 science fiction film, Blade Runner. The plot of that film was based on Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and not the Nourse and Burroughs source material, although the film does incorporate the term "blade runner," though with a different meaning than in the novel.