‘Flow my tears, the Policeman said’ was published in 1974, and was the only one of Philip K. Dick’s novels to be nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975. Which all goes to prove that other people enjoyed this novel more than I did!
The title, by the way, references a John Dowland poem, as one of the more ‘evil’ characters has a soft spot for fine art and fine music.
There are certainly many admirable things about the book. It investigates the nature of perceived reality, which is one of Dick’s favorite themes, and does it so well that the reader is completely entrenched in whichever reality the main character, Jason Taverner, is experiencing.
The other characters are well painted, and very believable as people, with all the failings, enthusiasms, and ambiguities that real people possess. The ending is surprising, and thankfully, provides one of those “Oh!” moments, when it all comes together and makes sense, just as happens at the conclusion of a great Agatha Christie novel.
However, it is a very dark world Dick portrays. Jason Taverner is a genetically modified celebrity (a ‘six’), with a global audience of 30 million people. He has wealth, women, fancy clothes, and is loving it. The next thing he knows, he wakes up in a dodgy hotel room, with no identity cards. The world he lives in is a military dictatorship, ruled by the ‘nats’ and the ‘pols’, and anyone discovering his loss of identity could have him shipped off to the forced labour camps.
Soon Jason is thrust unwillingly into the grimy underworld that his celebrity previously insulated him from. Everyone is willing to betray everyone else, drug use and mental illness are rife, as are all forms of sexual depravity, from simple meaningless sex, to cyber sex which burns out your brain, to incest.
Worst of all, Jason’s identity loss extends not just to his cards, but he seems to have been erased from existence. No-one remembers who he is, and he doesn’t even have a birth certificate record. For a man in love with his fame, this is quite a blow.
It was this dark and dystopian world which I found a little hard to continue to wade through. It is quite unremittingly grim, and at times makes no sense at all. Take this section:
“Would you like to see my bondage cartoons?”
“What,” he said, “that’s?”
“Drawings, very stylised, of chicks tied up, and men -”
“Can I lie down?” he said, “My legs won’t work. I think my right legs extends to the moon. In other worlds’ – he considered – “I broke it standing up.”
OK, I admit it – most of the book does make more sense than this. However, Dick’s more paranoid side definitely comes out in this book. As many of you will know, the author had some sort of breakdown or revelation in 1974, which had religious overtones, and which lead to him having something of a split personality. His experiences are partially documented in his later novel ‘Radio Free Albemuth’ – an even darker book than this one. I’m not sure if this novel was written before or afterwards, but is does start to develop those fears about the absolute power of the police state, and paranoia about the people who surround us.
There are also a few curiously old fashioned things about the future world depicted. People still use phonograph records, played with a needle. Also, the flying cars (quibbles) have chokes. However, these are minor blips in the otherwise believable world created.
So, in summary, this books is well written, and it is engrossing. But it’s certainly not all sunshine and butterflies. My rating: three and a half stars.