Date finished: June 29th 2016
If there’s one thing Philip K. Dick does well (actually there are many), it’s titles. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale, The Man in the High Castle. They’re often long-winded, but they have a wonderful, memorable, poetry to them.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, is yet another of Dick’s wacky-titled, sci-fi novels, and considered to be among his best works (there’s about ten that qualify for that status, which is justified given Dick’s incredible output). The story follows Jason Taverner, one of the most popular TV presenters in the world, watched by 30 million viewers a night, and a Six – an experimental, higher order of human.
But after a harrowing incident with an ex-lover, Taverner awakes to find that he doesn’t exist. His agent, his long-term partner and the people of the world don’t know or recognise him. Taverner’s wealth, fame and security have disappeared, and he now wanders without identity in a police state all too fond of random checks and identity cards. Can Taverner get his life back?
It might sound like a formulaic idea along the same lines as many a bad ’80s comedy, but Dick doesn’t disappoint when it comes to keeping his readers on their toes, and he ultimately manages to put his metafictional mark on a tried-and-tested concept. The twist is an intriguing one that the reader was unlikely to see coming, although the ending is somewhat anti-climactic. Nonetheless, Flow My Tears… delivers a lot before this to redeem it, with sections of crackling prose and thrilling mindfuckery.
Dick’s not perfect, but he’s always one step ahead of his reader, and the fact that his work remains so relevant half a century later is testament to his longevity and foresight as an author. Flow My Tears… is a thought-provoking thriller that meditates on our fears of loneliness and obscurity in an innovative way, and that alone is worth the price of admission.