Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

by Philip K. Dick

Reviewed by Ted Gioia

No need to call in the policeman.  Philip K. Dick has his fingerprints all over
this story.  Here we find the sudden alterations in the texture of reality, the
haunting sense that our most cherished assumptions are fragile illusions,
the harassed protagonist who struggles in the midst of an authoritarian
society.  And, as always, high tech gadgets and mind-altering substances.  

In short, it’s another day at the office for Mr. Dick.

At the outset of
Flow My Tears, the Policeman
, we meet Jason Taverner, a famous
television star whose show is watched by an
avid audience of thirty million viewers.  But
such happy moments of well-being and acclaim
never last long in a Dick novel.  Before the end
of the first chapter, an ex-lover tries to kill
Taverner – by means of a Callisto cuddle sponge,
which digs its fifty feeding tubes into his body.  
And by the second chapter, Taverner has
awakened in a low-down, bug-infested skid-row
hotel room, without any recollection of how he
got there.  When he tries to phone his friends
and colleagues, none of them recognize him any
more.   On October 11, Taverner was a celebrity;  
on October 12 he is a nobody.

If Rod Serling were there, he would walk on-stage at this point uttering
those famous words:  “You have just entered the Twilight Zone.”

The sudden and unexpected turnabout in Taverner’s fortunes causes
many complications.   His birth record has disappeared from the public
database.  All of his identification cards have vanished as well.  In the
police state in which he lives, this is a serious liability.  Taverner needs
identification to make his way through the many police barricades, and to
avoid being sent to a forced labor camp.  He has five thousand dollars on
hand – perhaps enough to survive a few weeks or months and purchase
phony identification, if he can navigate his way through the underground
economy without first getting arrested.

This is the grand Dicksian moment, familiar to readers of his stories, when
the protagonist suddenly discovers that things are not quite what they
seem.  In some of his works, Dick tries to stay true to his sci-fi heritage,
and offer a quasi-technological explanation for this turn of events.  But
Dick’s work were always more fi than sci, and in
Flow My Tears, the
Policeman Said
he prefers to let the scenes and situations stand on their
own merits, without offering explanations or unraveling the underlying

Unfortunately this novel also features many of the characteristic
weaknesses of Dick’s work.  The dialogue is hackneyed, rarely rising
above the conventions of pulp fiction.  And don’t bother looking for clever
metaphors or interesting turns of phrase – you won’t find them.   In short,
you need to enjoy Dick on his own merits too.   Let’s put it this way:  while
other writers of his generation were worried about language, Dick was
concerned with the conceptual underpinnings of narrative.  And while the
authors who experimented with words sometimes leave us cold today –
their avant-garde games not having stood the test of time – Dick’s
conceptual brilliance has not lost any of its luster.   

Perhaps it’s heresy to prefer Dick, for all his faults, to Pynchon.  But then
count me as a heretic – and I don’t think I’m the only one.  Dick’s influence,
while perhaps still falling short of that of the reclusive Cornell alum, seems
constantly on the rise.   We see it in the novels of some of the finest
authors of the younger generation, such as Jonathan Lethem, or in motion
pictures as different from one another as
The Matrix and The Truman
.  Indeed, the whole field of emerging media – new innovations in
video games, the Internet and other cyber-realities – are almost like pages
torn out of his playbook.  

Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said does not rank among Dick’s finest
works, despite standing out as the only one of his novels to be nominated
for both the Hugo and Nebula awards, and its winning the Joseph W.
Campbell Memorial Award.   But even second-tier Dick retains its charm,
and this book will continue to find a ready audience among the master’s
growing number of devotees.  
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

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Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

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The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

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A Clockwork Orange

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Ender's Game

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The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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The Yiddish Policemen's Union

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Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

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Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
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Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

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Some of Your Blood

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Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

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The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

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Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
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Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

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Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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