Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
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it was amazing

Philip K. Dick's 1974 Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is a strange, thoroughly Dickian tale of fractured realities, a book that disquiets us and keeps us unsure and guessing until the very end.

In the formerly quite-near future of 1988, Jason Taverner is handsome, talented, famous--immediately recognizable. After all, The Jason Taverner Show, that popular "hour-long music and variety program,...[holds] the second highest rating among the year's best TV shows," and has "thirty million viewers" across Earth and "the Martian colonies" (1975 DAW paperback, pages 7-8). Taverner generates so much even in "residuals" from his show that he'll "be dead before [they] pay off" (page 7). He owns a "Rolls flyship [rocket] in all its costly splendor" (page 8), carries a huge "wad of government-certified bills" in a "custom-tailored genuine silk suit" which is "one of perhaps ten in the whole world" (page 11), and maintains a house over in Zurich where he and his beautiful girlfriend, the famous singer Heath Hart, can get away from it all (page 10).

And Taverner is a "six," as is Heather. Products of that "noble experiment" of genetic engineering "[f]orty-five beautiful years ago" (pages 9-10), they-- Hmm. Yet 45 years ago would be 1943. Gene-splicing then? So...is this perhaps a different worldline from our own even for starters? Interesting. But perhaps I digress--

Taverner is a six. Intellectually, he is superior to the "ordinaries" (page 9). In Las Vegas "he c[an]--and d[oes]--always win at blackjack; he ha[s] the edge over everyone, even the dealer. Even, he th[inks] sleekly, the pit boss" (page 12). Visually, he has what Heather, herself "goddamn beautiful-looking," calls "your incurable physical beauty" (page 10); others comment on this throughout the book. He also exudes a subtly powerful affect, which his girlfriend alludes to when she attempts to sneer: "You and your magnetism. Your charm" (page 10). Moreover, he has "enormous recuperative ability" in his mentality, something that "ha[s] been built into each of [the sixes]. Among much, much else. Things which even he, at forty-two years, didn't know them all" (page 13).

Taverner is "famous, rich, loved" (page 13), and even though, "[t]rue, his hair ha[s] become mostly gray and he d[oes] tint it. And a few wrinkles ha[ve] appeared here and there[,]" he still has "his charisma, the force they had inscribed on the chromosomes forty-two years ago" (page 11). And yet... Although he tut-tuts about Heather's supposed "six aloofness" and "cherished so-called individuality" (page 11), if these are six characteristics, then he has them, too, does he not? Heather accuses during an argument, "You have always been flashy. Flashy and loud" (page 12), and it becomes clear that he has always liked to swagger his way through without regard for the effects upon others. Using his maleness, for example, "he [can] control a situation that involve[s] a woman; it [is], in point of fact, his specialty" (page 15), and with his drive and his other talents he has left behind him, or perhaps under him, "a lot," "Mostly in the form of dead bodies, the remains of other entertainers he ha[s] trampled on his long climb to the top" (page 13).

Yet also trampled, we discover, might be an unknown number of women used and then discarded on the way. Marilyn Mason, for example, may be quite "out of her mind" now (page 15), but it wasn't her mind--or, really, even the voice of this prospective singer--that had interested him two years earlier. When she approached him at the studio one day, "he had taken notice of her. Tight little worried face, short legs, skirt far too short--he had , as was his practice, taken it all in at first glance" (page 13). And of course, as he admits, "grinn[ing]" to the "laugh[ing]" Heather, she indeed does "have nice boobs" (page 14). In the week before the audition with Columbia Records he arranged for her, "[a] lot had gone on...but it hadn't had anything to do with singing" (page 13).

How many others are there? we might wonder--girls whose willingness comes from being "worried" and vulnerable. The text never says. But this one is enough, for, vengeful, she flips open at Jason a plastic bag containing a "geletainlike Callisto cuddle sponge with its fifty feeding tubes" to dig into his chest (page 15)...and when he awakes in a seedy hotel, he is a nothing and a nobody. He still has his roll of bills, but no one recognizes him, not strangers who probably should, not his agent on the vidphone, or his attorney, or Heather either.

This would be alienating and disorienting shift anywhere and anytime. The world of the setting only 14 years in the future from the time of the book's publication, however, is a particularly difficult one to navigate for someone who, even regardless of fame and money, suddenly lacks all of his identification cards, "[c]ards that ma[k]e it possible for him to stay alive" (page 21). Earlier we are given teasing hints about "forced labor camp[s]" (page 8) and then the "student commune[s]" located in "the rabbit warrens" beneath universities, where "all the smelly, bearded students [are] kept subsurface lifelong by the pols and the nats. The police and the national guard, who [ring] every campus, keeping the students from creeping across society like so many black rats..." (page 12). And now Jason is "what they call an unperson" (page 21). "I can't live two hours without my ID, he sa[ys] to himself." Security checkpoints are everywhere, after all, and any nat or pol naturally would take him for "a student or teacher escaped from one of the campuses," and he would "spend the rest of [his] life as a slave doing heavy manual labor" (page 21).

Such is the United States after the Second Civil War. This world of "student kibbutzim under the burned-out campuses" (page 141), omnipresent police checkpoints, forced labor camps even on the Moon (page 23), the illicit "phone-grid transex network" (page 10) whose "electronically enhanced" orgies might burn out one's brain (pages 138-39), and strange drugs available to those in the know is difficult to navigate unless one is wealthy and connected and scrupulously documented. And white. Due to "...Tidman's notorious sterilization bill passed by Congress back in the terrible days of the Insurrection" (page 25), black couples are allowed only one child each, such that "the black population is halved every generation" (page 26). This "solved the race problem, all right," one character says a little bitterly (page 26). Although Jason agrees that a careless driver who hits a black pedestrian should indeed receive the death penalty, when the man notes the irony of "[p]rotect[ing] [them] by a thousand laws" and yet "making them die out," Jason counters, "Something had to be done." When the other protests, Jason says flatly, "There're enough blacks alive to suit me." To quote the other man, "Christ" (page 26).

Just as the novel's future is one desperately screwed-up place, therefore, even the protagonist himself ain't so great either... Jason Taverner may be a mentally and physically superior six, but he is manipulative and selfish and gloatingly smug. Yet follow him through this tale we must, for we just have to know what in the world--whichever world it is--happened to make Jason Taverner wake up in "[a] lousy, bug-infested cheap wino hotel" (page 18) with no identity cards, no record of his birth at "the birth-registration control center in Iowa" (page 22)...and no one, absolutely no one, who remembers him.

As the plot twists and turns, disorientingly, arrestingly, we will keep guessing, but as usual, Philip K. Dick will not let us off quickly. Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is peculiar and unsettling and yet thoroughly interesting, a 5-star read.

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Reading Progress

October 17, 2020 – Started Reading
October 19, 2020 – Finished Reading
November 5, 2020 – Shelved

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