on July 16, 1999
My first Dick book. While not for everyone, it's pretty accessible to anyone who can appreciate alternate reality/paranoid sci-fi. It's classic man-against-the-clock stolen identity stuff in the tradition of D.O.A. and (to a much, much lesser extent) Enemy of the State. Jason Taverner, anti-hero as he may be, is a great character in which to carry the main storyline of arrogant celebrity turned underground fugitive, but the smaller characters are what make this book into something more than "one man out to get back what was stolen from him." When read as a whole, it is a great testament to being human in the face of mechanical adversity. Not clanking robots, mind you (although it does have it's share of cool futuristic gadgetry), but rather the mechanisms imposed by society, and ourselves, that would otherwise strip away or mask what is good and human in everyone. The best character in the book (in my humble opinion) is the policeman who has a ferocious hard-on for nailing the fugitive Taverner, and from whom the wonderful title is taken. To those who start this book and are inclined to put it down partway through, be assured! Good things will come to those who wait. The scene at the end that involves the title is one of the singly most beautiful ever penned, in sci-fi or any other genre. But it is a very subtle beauty and perhaps not suited for every reading palette. If yours is a refined taste that can grasp a sentiment that is not delivered with a sledgehammer, and enjoys it in the setting of a eerie future America that smacks dangerously of our present one, read this book post-haste.
on October 5, 1996
Written straight from Philip K. Dick's broken and wandering heart, this is one of the genre's best, and saddest, books. Instead of clanking heavy-metal robotics, quantum theory, or brave new worlds, Dick offers up our future peopled by fragile humans, all looking for love. It is impossible to read this book, and not feel Phil's heart breaking as he wrote every beautiful word
on December 19, 2011
Philip K. Dick had a limitless imagination, perfect for science fiction. His books burst with clever and grotesque detail, adding inimitable colour to their worlds. But this could also be a weakness. In the process of tossing off an idea, Dick's mind would already come up with ten more, and he'd never return to flesh out many of his fascinating inventions. His narratives, even the best ones, often seem to spiral off into unending, senselessly ornate embellishment.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is an example of this kind of derailment. In addition to the main story, in which a famous TV personality seems to be suddenly transported to a parallel universe where he never existed, we are introduced to the following details:
1. A bizarre alien creature called the "Callisto cuddle sponge" is used in an attempt to kill the protagonist early on, and never comes up again. Not only that, but there is no mention of an advanced space program or life on other worlds. The would-be assassin also disappears from the story. The protagonist's strange predicament starts immediately after this assassination attempt, yet ultimately is shown to have nothing to do with it.
2. All universities have been destroyed and turned into underground ghettos, where the remaining "students," who apparently opposed the government at one point, lead a half-feral existence and struggle to survive. The government itself has turned into a police state.
3. Jason Taverner is the product of genetic engineering (a "six"), which gives him extraordinary physical and mental powers. This appears to mark him for death, as the program has been forbidden, and the government is hunting down all survivors. However, this ultimately has nothing to do with his predicament.
4. A minor character is revealed to hold the key to Taverner's situation. There is a long explanation about how it all has to do with some kind of drug that allows its users to alter reality. Prior to this revelation, the novel has not given any hint that such a drug may exist.
This wouldn't really be a problem in one of Dick's earlier novels like The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch -- well, it would, but those novels were all over the place, and one might expect anything to happen at any turn. The Callisto cuddle sponge could easily fit into one of those unstructured, anarchic stories. But this novel belongs to Dick's later period. It was written in 1974, only three years before his late-career masterwork A Scanner Darkly. Like that novel, and some others from this period, Flow My Tears pays much more attention to mood and tone. It is a dark, creepy story that focuses on the main character's feelings of bewilderment, loss, and fear.
Jason Taverner resembles the protagonists of Dick's best novels, like Rick Deckard or Bob Arctor -- he's strong, collected, and determined, but still subject to anxiety and sadness. Since he's not constantly high, his mind is clear enough to give the reader an impression of his personality. He is very sympathetic. Dick delves deep into his state of mind, as he learns that no one knows or remembers him. Taverner contacts one close friend and lover, but is sharply rebuffed. Another former lover doesn't recognize him either, but they establish a sweet rapport, a second chance for a romance that had never quite gone anywhere in the original timeline.
As you can see, there is a lot of emotion invested into this situation. You'd expect it all to mean something. There has to be some greater reason why Taverner's being put through all this, and if not, at least there's got to be some meaning in his efforts to make sense of it all. But after all, the resolution is arbitrary -- it turns out that the situation was caused, and resolved, by a frivolous plot detail. It has to do with the police commander's decadent sister taking reality-altering drugs. Taverner has no connection to her, and this resolution is tangential to everything he does throughout the novel. It also has the effect of severing all those interesting plot threads. For example, how did Ruth Rae get out of that jam with the police, and why didn't Taverner ever bother resuming contact? And what about the chief of police? He interrogates Taverner in a scene that seems like it might be the dramatic climax of the novel. At least that's how this sort of thing should culminate -- the protagonist should face off against the antagonist, and they should engage in a tense conversation full of sophistry, veiled threats, and sober reflection on morality. This is kind of what happens here (the policeman tries to get the advantage by showing his knowledge of Taverner's genetically engineered origins), only there's no follow-up to any of the tension. It amounts to nothing.
On top of that, it's also difficult to suspend disbelief here, even for a science-fiction novel. I'd buy it if Taverner himself ingested a substance that transported him to another universe. But giving other people the power to alter objective reality through drug-taking feels too much like magic, and cheapens Taverner's struggle.
Flow My Tears has many of the same elements as Dick's masterpieces, Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly. But unlike those novels, it never quite overcomes the author's tendency to try to do everything at once. If you're looking to delve deeper into Dick, I'd suggest Dr. Bloodmoney, which has many of the same narrative problems, but keeps the courage of its convictions, and doesn't magically cancel its depressing setting at the least satisfying moment.
This is my first Phillip K. Dick novel, and in my opinion "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" deserves high praise. For starters, it wins the fight against one of the most difficult opponents that a sci-fi novel could face: Cliché. Simply put, this story is based on an overused plot-the man who loses his identity and struggles to regain a sense of self. Cliche is a tough monster to beat, and most sci-fi novels are devoured by it boots and all. Going into this novel (which I read on a recommendation from a friend) I had low expectations, because I for one am sick to death of this particular premise. However, Phillip Dick somehow managed to actually win the battle against this tired fiction formula, and won me over in the process. He actually found, somehow, a unique way of telling the story. A very unique way.
It deserves kudos for this alone. Not the snack, but the regard and esteem.
Apart from being pleasantly surprised at Dick's ability to pull this story off, there is a lot more that deserves commendation, too... there's a like-him-hate-him anti hero, a wonderfully fleshed-out policeman (two, actually), and a manically bizarre "mini-heroine" that pops up to simultaneously help, hurt and hinder the protagonist, Jason Taverner.
Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was Dick's writing style. The story is written upon a fine line between poetry and prose that often lulled me into a false sense of security. He managed on several occasions to make me say "wow" due to some particularly inspiring turn of phrase, or through some witty and poignant philosophical observation... in fact, some of his descriptions, in their poetic simplicity, created such vivid images in my mind that I am inclined to compare them to Bradbury's classic Fahrenheit 451, which contains one of my favorite pieces of descriptive text of all time.
All-in-all, "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" is an easy read with very realistic characters, a healthy dose of political and philosophical impact (which is what sci-fi is all about after all), a delightful plot-twist at the ending (I loved the ending), and an overall quality and completeness that many novels lack. The ending (did I mention that I loved the ending) was ripe with potentialities as well, an amalgam of hidden possibilities and quantum probabilities. Basically, the premise of the book (that a man is sucked into some alternate reality where he does not exist) is caused by something that does not fully cease to occur until somewhere in the epilogue (That will make more sense after you read the book. Pay attention at the end, and wonder just what is real and what isn't. It's fun).
A truly astonishing work that, in my opinion, should easily stand among PKD's best work save for one flaw - an unnecessary epilogue that saps a bit of power from the otherwise gut-wrenching finish, putting a happy polish on what should have been a more bleak finale.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is, like the works that best represent Philip K. Dick's career, a "What is reality?" book. The scenario he lets unfold - one day a guy is the Johnny Carson of his time, known and loved by all, the next day he is an unknown without an identity and doesn't know why - keeps you turning pages, wanting to know the truth as badly as the protagonist. The world he creates is, as always, intricate in its not-quite-the-world-we-know details. And the ending? Wow. Remove that epilogue (which in a very unDickian manner wraps everything up in a neat little bow at the end) and it's very powerful. If you've read PKD before, this will be familiar to you - twisted reality, hazy drugs, a world turned on its head - and if you haven't, Flow My Tears offers a good look at everything that makes up what a Philip k. Dick book is.
If only it didn't have that darn Hollywood ending ...
on December 16, 2005
Philip K. Dick, as many people know, had a series of visions / hallucinations throughout his life and these are explained in detail on the Philip K. Dick page on the Wikipedia. The famous illustrator and cultural documentarian/commentator R. Crumb illustrated "The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick" -- an 8 page comic story / graphic novella [philipkdickfans daught-kham (four wards lash) weirdo (forewards lash) weirdo1 (daught aychee,tee,em ] (sorry, phonetics... otherwise ah-mah-zhan sense "or's" it! )
On "page 8", the last page of the story there is a reference to this book (Flow my tears) stating: "One of his books in which there is a "cipher" a secret prophetic message aimed at "particular people"; and which Dick was not even aware of when he wrote the book in 1974."
I just thought that was interesting. Cheers!
on April 1, 2014
WARNING: Review contains spoilers.
Something of a disclaimer: before "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said," I had never read a Philip K. Dick book or story. I hadn't even seen one of the movies based on his books (though "Blade Runner" and "Minority Report" are on my "must watch" list). But I knew he was a classic sci-fi author, and given that I have enjoyed other works by classic authors of the genre, including Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury, I figured I needed to give PKD's works a shot. And when I was gifted a Kindle that had several of his works on it, I decided to try his work out and see how I liked it. "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" was my first (admittedly random) choice.
The verdict? The author has great ideas, but unfortunately the execution leaves something to be desired.
Jason Taverner is a celebrity talk-show host and singer, and one of the genetically-modified superior humans known as Sixes. He lives an extravagant lifestyle in an America that has become a police state, with political dissidents interred in labor camps and university campuses, and where the pols (police) and nats (National Guard) reign supreme. One day, after an attack by a jealous ex-girlfriend, Taverner falls asleep in a hospital... and wakes up in a seedy motel room with no ID, no record of his existence anywhere, and with neither his agent nor his former lover having any memory of who he was. Terrified and desperate, he goes on the run, trying to survive in a world where having no ID is practically a criminal offense in itself. Along the way he falls in with a psychotic forgery expert, a rich former flame, a naïve potter, and a calculating police general and his depraved sister/lover. How long can he survive, and will he ever discover what's happened to his life as he knows it?
The concept, while not wholly original, is a captivating one. And PKD weaves a brutal but fascinating world of an all-too-realistic future. True, some of the technology feels dated (we're still listening to phonograph records in the future?) and much of the "future" has a sixties vibe to it (recreational drug use is rampant, universities are homes to the political rebels, etc.), but there are still fascinating concepts and ideas. And PKD did predict a few things -- the necessity of having ID to go anywhere, and even Internet pornography (he calls it the "phone grid," but given that the Internet started off via phone lines, this is pretty dang prescient.)
I do wish some concepts had gotten more attention, however. The parasitic creature that attacks Taverner in the first part of the book gets no more attention in the rest of the story, and though Taverner being a "Six" is brought up often, this seems to be more of an informed ability than anything else -- we don't see how it gives him any particular advantage. Also, the police general bluffs Taverner at one point by boasting about being a "Seven," the next step up from a Six. Taverner never discovers otherwise, and it never comes up again. Surely this could have made for an interesting plot twist somewhere along the line.
The characters are a thoroughly unlikable bunch as well. Taverner is an unsympathetic protagonist, using everyone who crosses paths with him. Buckman, the police general, makes a show of doing good (it's stated that he tries to put down rebellions via peaceful means), but his incestuous relationship with his sister and his willingness to pin a crime Taverner didn't commit onto him deprive him of much sympathy. Every character is either psychotic, sociopathic, or hopelessly naïve, and it makes it difficult to identify with them or feel any sympathy for them.
My biggest problem with the book is the ending. It involves a twist that comes straight out of nowhere, and snapped my willing suspension of belief. Twist endings can be done, but they have to be done well and with some modicum of foreshadowing. This twist wasn't foreshadowed at all, and might as well have been an "it was all just a dream" or "it was all just a drug trip" in the end.
I'm not giving up on PKD's work yet, and I fully intend to give his stories another chance ("The Man in the High Castle" looks especially promising). But I regret that this was my first work of his, as I feel it could have been executed much better. A fascinating premise, to be sure, but one that ultimately falls apart due to unlikable characters and an unbelievable ending.
on July 21, 2014
An amazing read through and through, a nightmare that has you confused (and I suspect Dick was confused writing it too), set in a world that you you learn about from peripheral information, one of Dick's more subtle works for sure, and a very good read. The only problem is "Part 4". The Epilogue. Honestly, to anybody considering buying this book, I would honestly suggest just not reading it. I know it is tempting, but it takes away a lot of the punch that the book offers.
on July 16, 2014
This was not my first PKD novel, so I knew what I was going to be getting into and it did not disappoint. Less "out there" than "Ubik" and not as "familiar" as "Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep". A good read.
on July 30, 2013
Only Philip K. Dick could spin a parable about loneliness and disaffection with as much heart and wit as displayed in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said. His themes here are familiar to anyone who has read a Dick novel before. A near future America - which, in this early 70's narrative, means 1988 - that unsuccessfully tries to hide its cultural decay and social dysfunction behind empty celebrity worship and self-gratifying class boundaries. The only problem with living in a rigid stratified society is that, when you're radically removed from your accepted place in it, you effectively lose everything you hold dear... including your own identity.
Jason Taverner is a Leno-esque television host who takes no end of smug pride in his chart-topping viewership. He's the top of the television world, and he makes damn sure everyone knows it. And then it all, somehow, goes away. Quite literally overnight, he finds himself without any identity, he awakes in a flophouse in the bad part of town with little more that the clothes on his back and the cash in his wallet. Trying to call his agent and lawyer, and even his girlfriend, with whom he has spent the previous night, leads to nothing. They have no idea who he is, nor do they seem to care to find out. Jason learns to his horror that his birth certificate doesn't even exist on file. In short, Jason Taverner does not exist.
Instead of fretting and fearing the worst, like most of us would do, Jason treats his situation like a minor setback on the road to recovering his identity, and finding out what has occurred. Throughout his journey, Jason meets some interesting dwellers of a world he never knew existed - such as a neurotic young woman who provides fake IDs and acts a police snitch to ensure the release of a boyfriend, who may not be alive, from a forced labor camp that may or may not even exist. Along the way, Jason catches glimpse of his past life from a perspective he'd never seen before.
Throughout this strange and ingenious dreamscape, Dick returns to some of his favorite thematic concerns: the relationship between objective and subjective realities, and the undeniable human need for connection and companionship. Flow My Tears is mostly a story about subjectivity, and how one's personal sense of the world can be affected by external influences outside of one's control.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is, in the end a deeply humanist novel, which questions the roles life requires us to play, and the way in which those roles may in fact inhibit rather than enhance our growth and our ability to connect to each other meaningfully. It does get a bit overemotional toward the end, and Dick doesn't always concern himself to follow any strict plotting either. But as always, a journey through the mind of Philip K. Dick offers a unique experience that will enrich your own perceptions of our world and move you in ways only the best fiction can.
Four and half stars