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Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz, 249 pages

Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick was born in Chicago in 1928. While attending UC at Berkeley, he dropped out rather than take ROTC training. He went on to write some 36 novels and 5 short story collections. He won the 1962 Hugo for The Man in the High Castle and the 1974 John W. Campbell Award for Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He died of heart failure caused by a stroke in 1982.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Zap Gun
SF Site Review: The Simulacra
SF Site Review: Lies, Inc.
SF Site Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch
SF Site Review: Time Out Of Joint
SF Site Review: The Game-Players of Titan
SF Site Review: Minority Report
SF Site Review: Now Wait For Last Year
SF Site Review: Dr. Bloodmoney
SF Site Review: Beyond Lies the Wub and The Father-Thing
SF Site Review: Second Variety
SF Site Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Martian Time-Slip and A Scanner Darkly
SF Site Reading List: Philip K. Dick

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said was published in 1974, the same year Philip K. Dick had his famous "revelation" that led to his extremely different later works such as VALIS. Presumably this book was completed before that revelation -- thus it stands as perhaps the last of what might be considered his "middle period." (If we call the early period the apprentice work in short fiction and the flood of uneven novels mostly for Ace, and start the "middle period" maybe with his Hugo winner, The Man in the High Castle (1962).) It seems to me quite characteristic of that body of work, though to my mind it ranks below the peak of his oeuvre.

The plot and setting are something of a mess, though I think this is partly by design. Jason Taverner is a successful pop singer (more in the Frank Sinatra mode than in any plausible 70s mode), and also the host of a very successful TV variety show. He lives in the US in 1988, in a future where almost all black people have either been killed or sterilized. There are flying cars, but otherwise the milieu is somewhat seedy and not too different from our real 1974. He believes himself to be a "six," one of a group of genetically enhanced individuals.

Then one day Jason Taverner is erased from existence. His records do not appear anywhere in the government's exhaustive databases. As such, he is vulnerable for arrest and assignment to a forced labor camp. His agent has never heard of him, and neither has his sometime mistress and costar and fellow "six", Heather Hart. He stumbles through a couple of difficult days, mostly marked by encounters with differently needy women: Kathy Nelson, who forges papers for him; Ruth Rae, another former mistress who doesn't remember him but is happy to take him in again; Mary Anne Dominic, a talented potter who helps him out of another fix; and perhaps most importantly Alys Buckman, the drug-addict sister of Police General Felix Buckman, with whom she carries on an incestuous relationship. Taverner is constantly under purview of the police, especially Buckman (the title "policeman")... confusingly arrested and released repeatedly, even as his identity is eventually restored.

As I said, the plot doesn't really make much sense. And the setting is absurd if one attempts to see it as a plausible 1988: certainly it makes no sense today, but it was also impossible from the point of view of 1974. One almost wonders if the original notion for the novel was conceived in the 50s. (Especially given that Taverner is much more an early 50s pop star than a 70s or 80s pop star.) But I actually think that Dick had no interest whatsoever in displaying a plausible future. He just wanted a vehicle for his wild speculations. Which turn out to be rather interesting: Taverner's situation, his loss of identity is given a philosophically intriguing explanation. And the main characters -- Taverner and Buckman -- are well depicted though neither is very sympathetic.

The novel is well worth reading, for reasons that are hard to explain. For all that it's an implausible mess, it is weirdly intriguing. Dick's ideas are always absorbing. That said, the ideas here are not as thought-provoking as in his best novels, the characters not as interesting, the plot not terribly strong. And of course Dick was never anything special as a stylist. In all ways, I must rank this novel as Dick at less than his best. But still somehow he held my interest.

Copyright © 2007 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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