Richard's Reviews > Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
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's review
Mar 09, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: scifi, classic, bookclub
Recommended to Richard by:
Recommended for: Experienced readers of Philip K. Dick
Read in October, 2009

This is a somewhat typical Philip K. Dick novel, albeit not quite as good as I expected.

PDK is mostly famous for the movies that have been made from his novels. His books are a bit obscure, even among many Science Fiction fans, and for a good reason: he's not a very good storyteller.

Now, scifi fans are frequently a tolerant bunch. Among them are fans that will tolerate abysmal writing because the author nails the science (typically physics). Others couldn't care less about hard science, but want to see interesting projections of the technology our grandchildren will get to play with (or be oppressed by).

But PDK doesn't do well at the visionary technology thing: this book was written in 1974, and he had folks who were fifty years old and had been genetically bred to be superior humans; he had nuclear weapons the size of sesame seeds that could be secretly planted on people and detonated remotely to assassinate them; he had rocket cars and interplanetary travel... but he also was still using phonograph records because the story was set in 1988!

He doesn't do stories too well, either. This one had some pretty glaring holes in the plot once you spend a few minutes pondering everything.

And even with all that, it simply wasn't well thought out. His protagonist is desperately trying to solve the puzzle his life has become, and it turns out a character not even introduced until two-thirds into the book is responsible. Had PDK gone to a writing workshop or handed his story to a writing coach, they probably would have told him he was crazy.

But, frankly, those that enjoy him will overlook all of this, because one doesn't read PDK for plot coherence, visionary futurism or character development. He has this quirk in his brain that lets him spin out freakishly interesting puzzles of an existential nature.

The movie folks love him because they can grab this central nugget of bizarreness, "re-imagine" his characters, completely re-write the dialog, and get — hopefully — a conceptually fascinating film. A film version of Flow My Tears is in development; see here. Long after his death, PDK remains very popular in Hollywood, with over seven films in development or production.

But he simply doesn't tell his stories well, so I doubt I'd ever give him five stars. And Flow My Tears suffers because the protagonist's existential crisis is philosophically less interesting than I've come to expect. Sure, there's a crisis, but it isn't philosophical or psychological, and only existential in a superficial manner.

This isn't a good book for PDK beginners. For anyone curious, watch one of the better movies (Blade Runner, from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, or Minority Report, from the short story The Minority Report), then read the matching story and consider the differences and similarities and decide whether you can enjoy the unpolished version.
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Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

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message 1: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 19, 2009 12:56AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've still never read any of his novels, but I did read The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and found it pretty disappointing. Your review pretty much nailed my general feelings about his work and what I anticipate his novels to be like.

Several of my friends seem to really enjoy his novels and these are folks who aren't into sci-fi all too much. But several of them have also said that I've basically missed the bus of Really Enjoying Philip K. Dick's Books--the consensus seems to be that they (much like Robert Anton Wilson's stuff) are better read as a teenager. The Valis Trilogy still sounds interesting to me. I think I'll at least give that a whirl at some point.

Richard Given your taste for cognition/philosophy, I'm quite surprised that you don't enjoy him. He isn't know for his non-fiction (although I would really like to track down his essay "Will the Atomic Bomb Ever Be Perfected, and If So, What Becomes of Robert Heinlein?"). Try a collection of his short stories and novellas instead.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've only read the one collection of his, which I just now wrote a very brief and unspecific review for.

Richard You mean the Shifting Realities thing? That's my point: he's not telling his freaky existential stories there. It's like going to Nietzsche and only reading his children's stories.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Yeah, I'm not trying to reject his novels. I guess I'm just saying I was put off by that collection. It would've been best to avoid it, at least until having given some of his novels a shot first. My best friend, whose taste I trust implicitly, has told me many great things about his novels (even while criticizing elements of them, much like your review here), so I'm interested in reading his work. Like I said, the Valis Trilogy will probably be my first stop.

message 6: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Oct 19, 2009 01:39AM) (new)

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I bet Nietzsche's children's stories would be great, if they existed. It's fun to imagine what the hell they'd consist of...


message 7: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I've still never read any of his novels, but I did read The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings and found it pretty disappointing. Your review pretty..."

Since you're mentioning consensuses... RAW maybe, but PKD is definitely worth rereading as an adult - authentic metaphysical paranoia is good at any age! Yes he's a hack writer, and he wrote too quickly, but he had a high octane imagination that as far as I'm concerned was able to create mental spaces in his works that at times can seem realer than the "real" world.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Sounds good. I should've mentioned that the consensus wasn't to equate R.A. Wilson with PDK, but rather I used to think of them as basically the same, but my friends have corrected me on this, saying that PDK is much better on the whole.

Any thoughts on me losing my virginity to Dick (haha) by way of the VALIS trilogy?

message 9: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins RAW was basically a trickster anarchist. PKD really wanted to figure things out and his books are rich with humanity.

Knowing what I know of you I'm inclined to NOT recommend the Valis books, at least not for a cherry popper (I can already hear your mumblings - "pseudophilosophic bullshit mystical claptrap irrationality..."). If you're starting fresh you might as well start from near the beginning. I really like Time Out Of Joint, which has a fairly conventional set-up but contains many of the themes that obsessed him throughout his life.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Oh, I know there's a lot of god-talk in VALIS, but I enjoy that stuff when it's acknowledged as fiction. ;) The stuff in his non-fiction writings definitely had me mumbling like that a bit.

I'll get your recommendation on my shelf as well, though. Thanks.

message 11: by Eddie (new)

Eddie Watkins VALIS crosses the line into (some would say delusional) non-fiction, like a bridge to and from his fiction to the book you read.

message 12: by Tim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Tim I find that his storytelling is excellent at times, but admittedly uneven as here. I recommend A Scanner Darkly for anyone who wants to see him at the height of his power. For that matter, I think Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is as good as Blade Runner.

Chollie Good review--with all of his warts and jumpy style, PDK is afterall, PDK. At one time I was a devourer of his books...

Jonathon Great review! This certainly made me briefly re-evaluate why I'm a fan of science fiction--at least to quantify my own affinity for Dick's books with their certainly real flaws. I'm coming to learn that I am great fan of authors with very stylistic prose; such story flaws have also been perceived by others in SF favorites of my own, such as Gibson's classic Neuromancer (style over substance? I don't care. the style was too good.) That's not to say that's all there is to his stories--it takes more than just style to pull me in. I think that Dick certainly mastered a style that resonated with readers in his time and will continue to do so in years to come.

While I read, I kept imagining how I would make this book into a movie and the things I would change to make it translate into a more coherent narrative--I suppose that's one thing that really caught my attention in your review.

message 15: by Bukk (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bukk Who or what the hell is PDK?

Chris Baker The fact that he doesn't give a toss about how to construct a story as per the rules of workshops is what makes his writing so good!

message 17: by Soni (new) - rated it 5 stars

Soni Chiba I wish I could write as eloquently and definitive as most of the commenters on this post. However, my grammatical skills and punctuation are not up to par. It's frustrating really, as much as I read, writing and punctuation are not my forte.

Richard Soni wrote: "I wish I could write as eloquently and definitive as most of the commenters on this post. However, my grammatical skills and punctuation are not up to par. It's frustrating really, as much as I rea..."

Soni, starting out by keeping them short and sweet is a good idea, and your brief comment here was great. Practice, practice, practice.

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