Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said was first published in 1974 and is the fifth PKD novel that I have read. Once again, it’s difficult to rate a PKD novel – I want to give it either two or four stars: so I am giving it three. This novel was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1974, a Hugo in 1975, and it won the John W. Campbell award in 1975. Although it was published in 1974, I think that PKD wrote it in 1970. Regardless, this is one of PKD’s later works. Based on the five books that I have now read, I think that I prefer PKD’s earlier material.
Like all PKD novels, there is not a lot of background or information on the setting. It’s the future and the main character is a “six.” A six is a category of genetically-bred, advanced human. Why or how is not really relevant to the story and I feel like PKD, as an author, was leaving this option open for himself. If the other aspects of the novel did not work out so well, he could always find a way to work in the “six” aspect. Anyway, the main character is Jason Taverner and he is a famous talk-show/variety show host.
Taverner leaves the studio one night alongside his sometimes-squeeze and fellow “six,” Heather Hart. As they banter about how old they feel, what the mass public is like, and where they should go, Taverner gets a phone call from a demanding former lover. Taverner detours his vehicle to visit the girl. They argue and the girl attacks Taverner using some sort of poisonous, parasitic life-form.
The next day, Taverner gains consciousness and finds himself in a seedy hotel in a dreary, low-income part of town. Through some trial and error he discovers, to his horror, that nobody knows who he is, he has disappeared from the TV listings as a celebrity, and his preliminary attempt to obtain any official identification fails.
I am typically against giving away spoilers or surprises and in PKD novels it seems like one really never knows what will happen next. So, I do not want to tell much more of the storyline itself. The first thing I would like to complain about, however, is that Jason Taverner is not a loveable character. I really do not know if PKD does this on purpose or not, but I rarely (never?) find his characters to be even likeable. Taverner is pompous, abrupt, and he treats women poorly. Frankly, I have begun to suspect that PKD himself was some degree of a misogynist.
But then, I consider the women that Taverner associates with and I do wonder if maybe they are just not very nice people at all. Heather Hart is probably the best of the bunch and there are a bunch in the novel. First there is Kathy Nelson – totally insane and unchaste and often creepy. This is one of the first people that meets the newly-forgotten Jason Taverner. Then he runs off to Ruth Rae’s apartment. Ruth Rae is an “old friend” and lover that he knew might remember him. Rae lives in a Vegas apartment and she has been married over fifty times. They spend the night and day having sex and getting high. Rae reminisces about the past, which irritates Taverner. Taverner at several points is verbally cruel to her, and eventually his presence there allows the police to raid the building and gets them both arrested and dragged to LA.
There are two other women that Taverner meets and uses and is mean toward. One of these woman is Alys Buckman, the hypersexual and drug-addicted sister of the Police General Felix Buckman. Felix is monitoring Taverner’s case with the police department. Felix is another character that I really do not like at all. After Taverner is hauled in to the precinct and released, Alys finds him and brings him to her house.
Now, if you cannot tell from what I have already written here, I’ll say it explicitly: this novel is the most “adult” of the novels that I have read by PKD. When I say adult, I do not mean that it’s porn or that there are graphic descriptions. I am just saying that there are drugs galore, everyone seems hypersexual, and no one in the novel is a particularly good person. These are not nice people and they do some not-nice things. Hence, I cannot recommend this book to everyone. Or, actually, the audience is more limited than usual. I do not think that there are many books that everyone can read. But this one is the most limited of all the PKD books I have read.
The ending of the book was good and bad. I am impressed that there was one – an epilogue, in fact, where PKD bothers to write a page or two about how it all turns out. I often feel the ending of PKD novels are not really his best writing. I think he likes to leave a lot of questions and make the reader feel creeped out. However, this one has an ending and an epilogue – except I dislike the ending. The whole novel was explained away quickly through the mouth of the coroner to the police general. And I am not sure that the explanation is not a quick cop-out ending by PKD.
The first half of the book spun its wheels a lot and did not really go anywhere. I kept waiting for the action and thrill of UBIK or Eye in the Sky, but got none of that. I was waiting for something, instead the book spun its wheels with the main character moving from girl to girl to girl. The second half was shocking at points (the relationship between Felix and Alys), but I do think PKD has done and could do better. So, there are no likeable characters, there are some icky and shocking elements in the story, and the beginning is slow while the ending is a letdown. Overall, I cannot give this more than three stars. Maybe it’s actually 2.5……
Finally, in 1978 PKD supposedly wrote this article/speech titled “How To Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later.” It’s actually quite lengthy. At points it is witty and insightful, at other times, I swear I want to call bullshit! on PKD. Is PKD lying? Is he crazy? I think that’s sort of the point of what he was doing: making us ask those questions. However, after reading this novel, I recommend readers to look at that essay because it really has a lot of explanation about PKD’s novel topics. And some good quotes:
I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem.
The basic tool for the manipulation of reality is the manipulation of words. If you can control the meaning of words, you can control the people who must use the words. George Orwell made this clear in his novel 1984. But another way to control the minds of people is to control their perceptions.
In the writing of Flow My Tears, back in 1970, there was one unusual event which I realized at the time was not ordinary, was not a part of the regular writing process. I had a dream one night, an especially vivid dream. And when I awoke I found myself under the compulsion—the absolute necessity—of getting the dream into the text of the novel precisely as I had dreamed it. In getting the dream exactly right, I had to do eleven drafts of the final part of the manuscript, until I was satisfied.