Imagine having the World at your feet. Thirty million fans repeatedly tune into your television show every week and a music career that spans decades. Fame, wealth and power in a country that is broken, means freedom.
Imagine waking up in a decaying hotel room . . . . . . and it’s all gone.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is a 1974 science-fiction novel by Philip K. Dick. The story begins in the not-so-distant future of 1988, in a dystopian landscape that has suffered a Second Civil War. The National Guard “nats” and the US police force “pols” keep the United States under control with a strong dictatorship. Jason Taverner is a television star and pop singer who lives a very lavish and powerful lifestyle until he wakes up in a world where he never existed.
It has been nearly three years since I first wrote about Philip K. Dick on this site, and my fascination with this writer and his work is as strong as ever. It has also begun to introduce me to other people who have shown an interest in PKD, including my good friend Shane over at sdmckinley.com. Because this is my first review of one of Philip K. Dick’s novels, Shane has kindly agreed to join me on this experience. I’m looking forward to discussing my thoughts on the book and hearing about it from another perspective. Shane, it’s over to you.
S.D Hello! My name is S.D. McKinley and I have many interests, now focusing on literal arts and secondly all kinds of artwork in general, as it fancies my flavour and piques my interest. I run my blog at sdmckinley.com, where I also promote my indie work and share my thoughts on other’s works.
My first exposure to anything PKD related was the movie titled A Scanner Darkly, which I proudly own on Blu-Ray and that movie was inspired by the book by PKD, which I also own. I quite like the darker side of art, so this film is what pulled my interest into the source materials for PKD and it has not disappointed me since I started.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said is a work I was sceptical of, but with this being the first actual PKD book I have fully read, I quite like it. I love how PKD adds all the universal elements into his work.
S.D Jason Taverner is a “Six”, in an elite group of genetically modified humans. After hosting his widely popular TV talk show and then visiting his ex-girlfriend, he wakes up with no identity and no pride. In this futuristic world of 1988, Taverner would be thrown into a forced labour camp without any identification.
He phones some friends that claim not to know him anymore and is reduced to a nobody. He bribes a hotel clerk to take him to a document forger, to regain some kind of identity, but the document forger and the hotel clerk are police informants. He is bugged and subdued by the informants to cooperate. He joins Kathy in a venture to the police station for further identity verification.
McNulty, a police handler, erroneously reports the man’s name as Tavern and gets a pass for 7 days after lying to the police about his identity, but then later taken into custody in Los Angeles after an apartment police raid.
The police general Buckman interrogates Taverner and figures out the Taverner doesn’t understand why he no longer exists, but then reconsiders the possibility that he is a part of a larger plot by the Sixes. Buckman releases Taverner, bugged again. Taverner is approached by a woman named Alys Buckman that reveals to Taverner some of his very own vinyl records.
They arrive at the Buckman’s home. Taverner takes mescaline offered by Alys. Taverner has a bad reaction to the supposed drug and finds assumed skeletal remains of Alys. The autopsy reveals an experimental drug called KR-3 in Alys system, that warps reality. General Buckman informs Taverner that the drug caused him to wake up in another universe. Taverner surrenders himself to the police.
N.B Thank you, S.D for this brilliant summary. Now that we understand what happens in the story, let’s try and find out why these things occur and what Philip K. Dick is trying to tell us.
S.D One of the first things I noticed about this book, especially in the beginning, was the huge amount of dialogue that can be a turn off for me, but PKD’s bleeding-edge writing keeps it interesting and intelligent enough to keep flipping the pages. While the dialogue is justified to portray the deepness of the story, I would still personally rather have it interpreted through action.
Some of the elements really threw me off, namely the part about the age of sexual consent being twelve. Not sure at all what would entice Dick to write that element in his story. I even mentioned it to Misty ( my God wife ) in disgust. Other elements I got a good laugh out of, with one of the women in the story’s character name “Marilyn Mason” which was very close to “Marilyn Manson”. I have no idea if there is any real connection to that similarity or not and with that being said, this is another story ( another being “Sin City” that I’m currently reading ) where the protagonist identifies and accompanies women frequently, which even the story ends up using against Taverner.
N.B Marilyn Mason was a bit of a surprise, and I wonder if it was deliberate by the singer or just a happy accident. I was also thrown off by the sexual consent, but I think that is a good way to remind the reader that this is a broken society. It does mention a resistance to the regime, and I would have enjoyed learning more about them. My idea is that the sexual consent age is twelve because some rich bureaucrat changed it so they wouldn’t get into trouble with the law. Living in this world, I think I would be joining the resistance and fighting for a better future.
S.D The book takes place in a dystopian 1988 police state, fourteen years after the book was written, which included flying cars ( named quibbles in the book ), so PKD missed the mark by far, since we still don’t have common flying cars here in 2021, but even still that didn’t bother me since the work is altogether fiction.
Overall, this book worked very well for me and kept my attention throughout with the snappy dialogue and brain twists that Dick successfully pinned as a writer of science fiction, especially in the young year of 1974.
“I like Byron, he thought, fighting for freedom, giving up his life to fight for Greece. Except that I am not fighting for freedom; I am fighting for a coherent society.”
My most favoured chapter is 20, where the drugs start kicking in, not only the drugs but also the intuition of Taverner and the whole world-building of the story comes to a head right on top of Taverner, that something is dead wrong about the whole situation. I’d like to think if ( not wantingly, of course ) something like that ever happened to me, it would be difficult to come to grips with quickly and in the long run.
This line made me laugh, for some deranged reason I’m sure:
“Fucking dope, he thought. You can always tell when it hits you but never when it unhits, if it ever does. It impairs you forever, or you think so; you can’t be sure. Maybe it never leaves. And they say, Hey, man, your brain’s burned out, and you say, Maybe so.”
N.B I do enjoy it when a simple line gives you a chuckle. I think it might just be my sense of humour, but I love the bluntness of Ruth Gomen’s reply to Jason Taverner.
‘Those things will kill you,’ he said. ‘There’s a reason why they’re rationed out one pack to a person a week.’ ‘Fuck off,’ Ruth Rae said, and smoked on.”
S.D Ha, ha. Even so, the humour is a bit ironic at the same time with some hard truths.
N.B Flow my Tears, the Policeman Said is probably my favourite book title ever! It sounds so poetic, but it is also pretty powerful as it makes you ask what is happening in the situation? I really can’t think of any other title that has captured my imagination like that. It just feels pretty magical to me, even leading me to find out where the phrase, Flow, my tears originates.
S.D Yes, I agree. When you and I were first discussing which book to dual review, my brain was filled with sparks of wonder from the title, and I knew there’s no telling how PKD would spin this tale.
N.B The opening to the book is magnificent and I’m not surprised that PKD’s work has been so successful on the big screen. Thinking about those first couple of chapters is quite impressive, it’s just words on a page but my mind is transported to another world and it’s like I’m sat in the cinema, it’s visually brilliant but holds some kind of nervous anxiety that would leave a viewer glued to their seat.
I think once Jason Taverner finds himself in this new environment the story becomes something different, more of a character study but I found that just as entertaining, in a far deeper way.
“The terrible power, he thought, of illogic. Of the archetypes. Operating out of the drear depths of the collective unconscious which joined him and her – and everyone else – together. In a knot which never could be undone, as long as they lived. No wonder, he thought, some people, many people, long for death.”
I think it’s pretty difficult to try and explain this story in a review like this because each character has so much depth to them. After finishing the book, I realised that most of the characters are unbalanced and after a few weeks of thinking about it, that is a perfect representation of life itself. Jason Taverner is the protagonist of this story and is quite a bastard, mind the French! Even as a six, he comes across as selfish and spoilt, but he then shows some understanding of life and compassion. You get the feeling that PKD has met some of these characters in real life. Okay, they have been changed to suit the book, but while I was learning about Kathy Nelson, I know someone similar to her and she then became the character, bizarre and eye-opening at the same time.
“I am using her, he thought. As Kathy used me. As McNulty used Kathy. McNulty. Isn’t there a microtrans on me somewhere? Rapidly, Jason Taverner grabbed up his clothing, swiftly carried it to the bathroom.”
Four characters bring the story to life for me and represent some of its hidden meanings. Jason Taverner is a six and his only real problem is getting his wealth and power back. My theory is that he can survive in the world because he is only focused on what he wants, an easy life with the simplest of pleasures, women and fame. I think the sixes are just modified to not care and get caught up in the complexities of life.
Next are the twins, Felix and Alys Buckman. Their character development is far more complicated than any other in the story and it really hits home the severity of this state. Felix and Alys are very intelligent and understand history and art, and ultimately want to live a life of meaning and purpose. Ultimately, I think it’s impossible for them both and at some point, the search for that purpose sent them both crazy.
And finally, Mary Ann Dominic. A woman who isn’t looking for any gratification or reward. I love how her pottery work keeps her sane, amongst this dystopian madness. Simple but effective meaning to her life.
S.D Very interesting. Characterization isn’t something I normally analyse, but it’s great to hear your thoughts on these aspects, Neon.
N.B I have read this story before, or at least attempted to read it many years ago and remember very little about it. It’s not about the quality of the book, but my feeble attempts at soaking up the material. Since I started this site, I feel like I’m starting to fall deeper into the pages that I read. Maybe I’m becoming a bit more mature and these words mean more to me now, or I’m just waking up to the sheer genius of Philip K. Dick’s work. Whatever the reason, I am happy to be in the place I am now. I have to say, the reason for the shift in Jason Tavener’s life is a little confusing and a bit out of my realms of possibility. However, this is science-fiction and anything is possible and my restrictions shouldn’t spoil that, I should embrace it.
Amongst the great imagery is a story of hope and despair, and I felt that with these characters. I feel like we have barely scratched the surface of this story, however, this will be with me forever and I will never stop learning, discussing and reading about it in the future. I have been Jason Taverner in the past, I feel like we are all Felix and Alys Buckman to a certain point and are looking for some clarity in our own crazy world, and today I feel like Mary Ann Dominic. This site is my pottery wheel, it’s not perfect and I make some unbelievable monstrosities along the way, but once in a while, I might create something beautiful and something people can admire. More importantly, it gives me enjoyment, clarity and a sense of achievement, and that’s what I am taking away from this book. ★★★★★ Five Stars out of Five.
S.D I can imagine that this story isn’t for everyone and while reading it made me uncomfortable at times, it’s that very uncomfortability that I seek to explore themes and stories where it makes me question everything around me and not always take it at face value. And, with that being said, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said definitely fits the bill of uncomfortability in a way that could get you up shouting for justice. I give this story ★★★★☆ Four Stars out of Five.
N.B Terrorist attacks, a three-day working week introduced and a fall out between class systems. People living by candlelight and fuel in high demand as the country falls into darkness.
Something struck me as I looked back at the year, 1974. Honestly, I just wanted to take a look at the technology used in England at this time, so I could try and understand PKD’s vision of the future. However, this year sounds like a dystopian landscape already.
Maybe that is the point of this book! Maybe, I should be waking up to the reality of today, but as humans, we somewhat accept our lot in life and move on regardless. I know that sounds pretty simple, but one idea can go a long way.
If anyone is interested in the history of the UK in the 70’s, I found this really enjoyable radio program from BBC Radio 4, The Three Day Week.
N.B I plan on learning more about the writer himself and was told about a book called Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin. I really can’t wait to get that started, and thanks to the Philip K. Dick Fans Rejoice (reddit.com) group for the recommendation. How about you Shane, will you keep going on your Philip K. Dick journey?
S.D Oh, for sure. After first discovering the source material for one of my favourite films ( mentioned below ), I am a PKD fanatic. I’ve been catching up on PKD’s film adaptations available on Amazon Prime ( namely Radio Free Albemuth, which I liked and will be continuing to watch The Man in the High Castle ), here and there and will continue seeking out PKD’s source literature as time permits. First in line and one I have already started is A Scanner Darkly ( one of my favourite films ) book, which should make for easy reading since I am so familiar with the movie. So, you can look out for my review on that sometime in the future along with my snail-paced writing ventures, haha.
It’s been a pleasure doing this dual review with you, Neon Beach. Thank you for having me on!
N.B The pleasure was all mine, thank you for helping me with this. The whole experience has been flawless and energising. Hopefully, we can do it again one day.
So there you go, Flow My Tears is complete, and that was enjoyable. I guess we missed out the epilogue, but if you have read this, you already know what happened to these wonderful characters afterwards, and if you haven’t, then you should be reading it; right now! What are your thoughts on this amazing story? Please let me know in the comments below. Thank you for visiting, and if you enjoyed it, please check out my Philip K. Dick vault below.