on June 21, 2004
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).
on April 28, 2004
The premise of this novel is that by taking a toxic drug called KR-3 one can become "unbound in space" and start to inhabit alternate spatial corridors branching off from the "real" one. When Alys Buckman, a malevolent, sadomasochistic power-tripper, thoroughly decadent in all matters of sex and drugs, takes KR-3, she is able to pull Jason Taverner, popular TV entertainer, into an alternate reality where no one except her knows who he is. Taverner's "star" status is the reference point for his reality, until he wakes up in a world where people think he's insane, suffering from delusions of grandeur. He's solipsistic because he incorrectly believes the world still revolves around him. But Alys is a solipsist who happens to be right, for she makes Jason a performer on the stage of her mind, and her mind only. Terrifyingly for Taverner, he must survive as a nonperson in a police state where to be caught without identification can mean spending the rest of one's life in a forced-labor camp. Interestingly, the policeman Felix Buckman, Alys's brother, is portrayed sympathetically, even though he represents the State that crushes individuals like butterflies under its heel. He is the character who finally discovers love as a redemptive force. Dick holds out empathy as the only salvation from the unforgiving human and existential forces that try to expunge one's identity and cast one into the outer darkness of insanity.
on March 4, 2004
I thought the ending was fantastic. Not satisfying? Hardly. I found it to be entertainingly and purposefully glib, yet replete with serious meaning. Satisfying meaning. Meanings within meanings. Yes, one either gets and appreciates this sort of thing or one does not. Which isn't to say that anyone who 'gets it' has to 'get it' in exactly the same way. Such is the ambiguity of true art. It is, however, a well documented scientific fact that those who do not 'get' PKD are a lot less fun to have around at parties.
Flawed genius? Yes, maybe, but Dick was a creator of beautiful art, even if his art was, out of necessity, posing as pulp SF. But, hey, the absence of flaw in beauty is in ITSELF a flaw, as has been astutely noted.
Okay, yeah yeah yeah, what is real? What makes us human? That jazz has been thoroughly covered, and rightly so. But another one of the many, many (this IS by Dick, after all) admirable threads that tie all the characters of 'Flow My Tears' together is the ever-popular and universal theme of love...wanting to love, wanting to be loved, temporizing over love, gettin' some love (woo-hoo!), crazy-nutty-unrealistic love, incestuous love (whoa, didn't see THAT coming! Go Dick!), meaningless-life-draining-phone-oriented-cyber-love (curiously prophetic), losing one's love, having one's love stomped all over by forces that are beyond one's control. And, yes, we are INDEED living in a 'police state', my naively optimistic, overly pampered and isolated brothers and sisters. That's ALREADY true as blue, and getting worse.
But, in the end, not unlike so many real-life characters I've met, Dick's characters seem to never get enough love. And who can blame them? Not I. But, out of all the characters in 'Flow My Tears', do any of them actually find love? Yes! The beautiful blue vase was "much loved." Good for it! I'm satisfied. What? Yes, the blue vase DOES count as a character. It surely does. Oh, whatever. Please remind me never to invite you to any parties.
on February 5, 2004
Once again, Philip K. Dick blends startling realism with surreal sci-fi. This time, the focus of his book is one Jason Taverner, TV star, singer and Six. One morning, Taverner wakes up to find himself in a low-grade motel he doesn't recognize. He quickly realizes that he has "vanished"-- all memory of him has been expunged, and he simply doesn't exist anymore, in a police state where not having an identity is a crime in itself.
The book begins by focusing fairly steadily on Taverner, a classic Dicksian protagonist. He is confused, disoriented, but profoundly in control of his desperate situation. After meeting up with a deranged identity forger, he finds himself at odds with the ubiquitous "police" that run people's everyday lives. However, at about this point Dick introduces Police General Felix Buckham and his fetishist sister Alys. The two are constantly at odds, the general's firm belief in rules clashing with Alys's firm belief in breaking them. Alys later becomes a more important character, as she "saves" Taverner after his second run-in with the general. After taking him to her house, she feeds him a hallucinogen, then goes to get him the counterdrug. Along the way, she dies, leaving Taverner the main suspect. He flees, and begins to realize that people know about him again. He hypothesizes that the drug she gave him was what had maintained his illusion of stardom, and that he was really just a nobody, a bum. I will not reveal the ending in this review, except to say that it far stranger than even Taverner believes.
PKD starts out strong with this one, but his focus begins to shift to Buckham later in the book. With his usual attention to detail, Dick hints vaguely at ways this world differs from our own: the lockdowns of campuses, the legality of certain drugs, and most of all the experiments that created superhumans called "Sixes." What the Sixes do exactly is unclear, but Taverner is one, and he has powers of persuasion far beyond the human norm. This and other vagueties are resolved in an epilogue that seems unusually contrived; perhaps it is mocking the omnipotent epilogues that wrap things up so neatly, a common feature in contemporary sci-fi. Whatever its message, Flow My Tears raises thought-provoking questions on life, love, and loss.
on September 24, 2003
Phil Dick is an author that one either gets or doesn't get. His philosophical, paranoiac brand of science fiction both alienates many fans of "hard" science fiction and attracts many non-genre fans. Two main questions run through all of his work: "What is reality?" and "What does it mean to be human?" This is one of his better-known novels, though it is not one of his best. The basic plot is hardly an original SF one -- unlike most Dick, which basically defines the word "original": a man wakes up in a world in which he does not exist. Dick, however, puts a unique spin on this tried-and-true formula, as only he could. Interspersed throughout the book are long philosophical dialogues on such subjects as the meaning of love, the purpose of pain, the nature of justice, and other such Big Matters that come out of nowhere and disappear just as fast. This sense of half-reality is a defining characteristic of all of Dick's work; one critic put it well when he said that he couldn't decide if Dick's dialogue is totally unreal, or more real than most. Never a prose artist, Dick writes with a hand that belies his pulp origins -- and yet, paradoxically, nevertheless laces his books with obscure literary references, startling philosophical asides, and half-used concepts that lesser authors could build an entire career on. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, in addition to having one of the absolute greatest titles in all of literature, takes a steady shot at much familiar Dickian subject matter: paranoia, the nature of reality, alienation, and a distrust and suspicion of the powers that be. One need not forget to take into account that this book was written in the early 70's, in the wake of Watergate -- (keep a sharp eye out for the hilarious and disturbing mention of Nixon that Dick subtly inserts into this book --, when the entire country seemed to be falling apart; if this scenario sounds familiar, pay close attention to the police state that Dick envisions in this novel. It actually seemed as if the country might, indeed, be heading toward the future that Dick outlined in this book -- and perhaps, alas, it does now as well. Dick created some great characters for this book. They act as real, living, breathing people do -- irrationally and full of contradictions. Jason Taverner, famous television star and protagonist, is by no means a hero; indeed, in some ways, he is quite a detestable character. On the other hand, the policeman, whom we are ostensibly supposed to hate, is the one whom we ultimately end up feeling sympathy and empathy for. This is yet another instance of Dick's shifting reality of contradictions and subversions. One thing I do not understand is the numerous complaints about this book's ending. I have read about a dozen PKD books, and this is one of the very few that HAD a satisfactory ending. With some of his other books, notably Ubik and The Man In the High Castle, I was quite frustrated at the ending -- not so here. Every loose end, for once, is finally tied up. That said, it would have been better if Dick had left the ending as it stood and not added the epilogue -- but one gets the feeling that Dick did this to parody the pop culture epilogue cliché, especially in light of the book's protagonist. All of this aside, I also think that this is not one of Dick's great books. It's a fine work, to be sure, but he has certainly done better: it is not as original as his best works, and it generally lacks their deeper meaning. This is certainly a great book for the Dick fan to read, but I would recommend starting with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or A Scanner Darkly.
on June 8, 2003
I have been interested in reading Philip K. Dick for some time now, after realizing he was the original author behind two of my favorite science fiction films, "Total Recall" and "Minority Report". Not knowing where to start, I lucked out by picking up "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" on a whim. I will definitely be seeking out more Philip K. Dick novels in the future. "Flow My Tears..." is one of those great novels that works equally well on multiple levels. It is an exciting thriller, while at the same time working as both a haunting allegory of what could happen to our country if too many freedoms are lost, as well as being a fascinating treatise on the concepts of reality, identity and humanity.
One of the unintentionally funny aspects of this novel, which was originally published in 1974, is seeing how Dick envisioned the "future" of 1988, when the novel is set. In Dick's 1988 all vehicles could fly and all phones were picturephones, yet LP's were still the standard format for producing music and the most popular show on television was a musical variety program.
Despite a few miscalculations about the future, it is actually amazing how well this novel stands the test of time. In today's America, as we continue to debate which, if any, civil liberties we are willing to sacrifice in the name of security, the police state of "Flow My Tears..." with forced labor camps, miniature nuclear devices that can be implanted on citizens and detonated at the whim of the police, and where innocent people can be framed and tried for crimes they had nothing to do with, this novel is surprisingly relevant nearly 30 years after its publish date.
on June 1, 2003
I have read a lot of PKD's works and have always found that his short stories are stronger than his novels. This is because he is great with ideas and concepts but extremely week on character and prose. He tends to recycle his ideas and his subplots and characters are nearly the same in a huge amount of his novels. This is probably because he had to churn these out quickly to make a living.
This novel is by far one of his best. Though some of the sci-fi ideas are recycled, he instead uses it this time as a diving board into a deeper ocean of present day existential angst. What appears to be one of his "What is reality" type of novels on the outset is really a "What does it mean to be human" type of novel in it's core. It may not work as well as a Sci-Fi novel as does Ubik or Three Stigmata (his other two strong works), but it really works well as a means of reflecting life, death, lonelyness, 'popularity', anonyminity, value, empathy, selfishness, self-preservation and meaning.
What it is really about is how people make meaning out of their lives. Jason, the main character is just a means of meeting different characters that find ways of creating meaning out of their ordinary lives. We find that the woman who hates animals has very meaningful experiences with animals. When Jason loathes someone, there is also a bit of self-loathing as well--the anonymous Jason is a person he is trying to escape from.
Many characters have contradictions and the one that seems to show the most is the Policeman in the title. The story could have been left with a darker and more philosophical ending but for some reason an Epilogue is added to make some final twists that may be less satisfactory then what was before. On the otherhand it also seems to make fun of TV endings and makes you realise, that it is afterall, just a story.
on April 30, 2003
From the beginning this book reads like a drug induced hallucination. Jason Taverner loses his identity and finds himself caught in limbo in a controlled police state where those without papers are criminals. Can he get back to his reality, or did his reality ever actually exist. Are all his memories simply a narcotic trip that has ended?
In case you are wondering where you have heard of this idea before, it is explored in the short story "We can remember it for you wholesale" which was made as the movie "Total Recall".
Taverners new state of being introduces him to a side of life that he was unaware of, a frightening no mans land that he is unequipped to survive in.
The characters he meets are equally disturbing, the manic identity card forger, the incestuous police chief with a penchant for weeping and his fetishistic sister who comes to police HQ to sleep off her drug overdoses.
In the book the author makes some interesting predictions of things that have happened, cybersex (which he calls telephone orgies) being the most luridly notable, surround sound music systems is another, and he points to the growth in use of cellular phones. Other predictions are either way off the mark or have not happened yet. Cars have not been replaced by flyers, and the black population of the USA is certainly not an endangered species. And if the US military has a H-bomb the size of a seed that can be planted under the skin they aren't broadcasting the fact yet!
He also briefly explores the concept of genetic enhancement and a race of superhumans.
But what is most interesting about this book for me is the style of the prose. It seems disassociated from the subject, poetic at times, and objective. You never feel as though you are within the experience, everything is viewed through a lens, or a TV screen. This makes the story less personal, and as a result, less believable. The reader is less inclined to suspend disbelief, so you are always aware that this is fiction and not reality.
on December 28, 2002
It had been nearly twenty years since I had last read Flow My Tears. At the time, it had been my first exposure to Philip K. Dick, and it easily motivated me to continue collecting his works, to the point where I have almost all his published stories, even the obscure ones. At long last, I have revisited the work that started it all for me, and I was not disappointed.
The plot is almost Twilight-Zonish: Jason Taverner, a major talk-show host suddenly wakes up to find all traces of his identity have disappeared and no one remembers him. In the oppressive near-future world that he lives in, everything requires proof of identity and it doesn't take much to find yourself suddenly in a forced labor camp, so Jason has some real problems.
Although this in itself doesn't sound all that original, it is in the execution that this story succeeds. Dick goes beyond the lost identity story to show a nightmarish world that could follow from our own. Quaintly, the story takes place in 1988, but just imagine it 14 years in the future (which was the timeframe based on when the story was written). It would not be pleasant to live in this world.
Dick has two common themes running throughout most of his stories: what is it to be human, and what is reality? This second theme is examined creatively in this work. It is a definite loss that Dick died relatively young, before he was really known; now, he is more recognized, and his influence in science fiction is hard to understate. This is a great book to be introduced to him with.
on September 30, 2002
I am a PKD fan and I regularly select a PKD work from my bookshelf to reread between other books. Now it was the turn of 'Flow My Tears'. This is a very pacy novel that generates great impetus with its engaging characters. And it resolves into such a typical PKD ending - enigmatic and open-ended. Did PKD have difficulty with endings, or is it we, the readers, who have difficulty with his endings?
There is one point early in the novel when Eddy, the hotel clerk, takes Jason Taverner to the forger Kathy. But does Eddy stay or leave? It appears that he leaves but then he is still there. This seems to me to be a case of poor editing - I would have expected that a good editor would have picked up this inconsistency and given PKD the chance to correct it. But then I don't know how difficult PKD was to work with.
From p39 in the Daw edition there is a great quote: 'He felt sympathetic. The truth, he had often reflected, was overrated as a virtue.' On p61 there is an original word 'thungly' - or is that a misprint? It doesn't conjure up any immediate impression for me - but I really don't mind an author creating words and 'kipple' from 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep' is definitely part of my everyday vocabulary.
I have previously reviewed a marvellous biography of Brahms by Jan Swafford. In the evaluation of Brahms and his place in musical history Swafford aligns Brahms with the classical tradition - Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven of the fourth symphony - and opposed to the 'moderns' of his day - Beethoven of the Pastoral Symphony, Berlioz, Liszt and especially Wagner. And then he links Brahms into the future via - of all composers - Schoenberg. What does this have to do with PKD and 'Flow My Tears'? Well let's consider this quote from p95 and you may wonder, like me, just how perceptive PKD was. 'He detested Wagner. Wagner and those like him such as Berlioz, had set music back three centuries. Until Karlheinz Stockhausen in his "Gesang der Junglinge" had once more brought music up to date.' For those who do not know modern 'classical' music, Stockhausen is a whole step further advanced along the avante garde than Schoenberg but the drift of ideas is clearly the same as the one ventured on by Swafford. PKD continues to surprise in surprising ways! The next time I reread a novel I fully expect a new revelation that will only then become apparent from some other reading I've done in the meantime.
There is one serious anachronism in this novel. It relates to phonograph records - even the term is so outdated. Perhaps a future publisher should do PKD the service of reworking the text to replace phonograph with compact disc. The story would work just as well. There is a minor point I would quibble at (and that's a bit of a play on words) - in this novel people get about by means of flying cars called - yes, quibbles. And yet at one stage the police have a (heli)copter - surely they would be obsolete if every vehicle could fly?
I hope in this review I have opened up just some of the ways in which PKD and his writing fascinate me - it's not just the story, or the plot, or the language use, or the philosophy, or .... It's so much more in one giant amalgamation.