Review: Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

“Reality denied comes back to haunt.”
~Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Plot summary

“Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said grapples with many of the themes Philip K. Dick is best known for – identity, altered reality, drug use, and dystopia – in a rollicking chase story that earned the novel the John W. Campbell Award and nominations for the Hugo and Nebula.

Book cover for Dick's novel. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
Book cover for Dick’s novel. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
Jason Taverner – world-famous talk show host – wakes up one day to find that no one knows who he is – including the vast databases of the totalitarian government. And in a society where lack of identification is a crime, Taverner has no choice but to go on the run with a host of shady characters, including crooked cops and dealers of alien drugs. But do they know more than they are letting on? And just how can a person’s identity be erased overnight?” More on Goodreads

The bird is gone, and in what meadow does it now sing?” ~Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

For author information, check out the reviews on Radio Free Albemuth and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Key concepts
  • Totalitarian society
  • Genetically improved humans
  • Making sense of a strict world

Oh dear, this is the third book review on Philip K. Dick. What we can deduct from this is that I seem to like his books or at least like to review his novels. After reading Radio Free Albemuth, this novel seemed like a natural next step in the process of reading Dick.

Photo: Der_Typ_von_Nebenan (Public Domain)
Photo: Der_Typ_von_Nebenan (Public Domain)
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is my favorite among the Philip K. Dick novels. The characters are decent and in full understanding of their surroundings, which is to say a lot about the Dickian creatures. Also, the main characters are not living at the edge of the society but are successful members of the elite and the well off.

I still think that Dick is one of the black sheep of science fiction, and I admire him for the vast imagination he created in his novels and the psychological dimensions he managed to study. Concepts, such as ‘precog‘, have come to be associated with Dick.

The other day I was thinking that sure Dick was f****d up in a way, but so was the Beat Generation in a different manner. I recently finished reading Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs (a review is coming up later on). I love the style and the rhythm of the Beatniks, but the content is at times really messed up, also in a good sense. They sure had “interesting” sexual fantasies, unconventional relationships and what not 🙂 And this is not meant to sound patronizing or judgmental, quite the opposite actually. I am thinking out loud potential candidates for the category “odd elements in 20th century literature”.

So, all in all, the main character in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said fights against the system where one cannot lose one’s identity. The level of absurdity is rather low in the novel, the totalitarian aspects are not overtly underlined which makes them more dangerous.

One should read Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said in conjunction with Radio Free Albemuth. Categorically, they could be linked to the same dimension – interpretations of a totalitarian United States.

Dystopia. Photo: Jonny Hughes (CC BY 2.0)
Dystopia. Photo: Jonny Hughes (CC BY 2.0)
The backstory reveals a frightening world that embodies the anxieties that would inform Dick’s growing sense of paranoia over the years: the notion of a surveillance society that monitors its citizens’ every move while keeping it docile and compliant through vapid entertainment, material reward, and drugs drugs drugs. The most disturbing facet of this novel’s future is its renewal of eugenics, exemplified by a political movement to ‘breed out’ the black population in America. Dick is responding here in a very forthright way to the racial turmoil, by no means settled in 1974 (…), that rocked America to its foundations in the 60’s.

Politics aside, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is, in the end, a deeply humanist novel, which questions the roles life requires us to play, and the way in which those roles may in fact inhibit rather than enhance our growth and our ability to connect to each other meaningfully. (…) Dick’s characters’ tears flow for what they have lost. They remind us to hold fast to what we have.” (Wagner 2009)

Next up for me with Philip K. Dick
  • The World Jones Made (1956)
  • The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  • The Penultimate Truth (1964)
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965)
  • The Crack in Space (1966)
  • A Little Something For Us Tempunauts (1974)
  • Rautavaara’s Case (1980) -> Fact behind the name: Tapio Rautavaara (1915-1979) was a Finnish athlete, singer and actor
  • The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike (1984)
  • A World of Talent and Other Stories (2012, title story originally published in 1954)

Book cover for Dick's novel. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
Book cover for Dick’s novel. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
More information
– John DeNardo: REVIEW: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, published in the SF Signal on 18 March 2005, link retrieved on 6 March 2017
– Quiet Earth: Every Philip K. Dick Movie Ranked from Best to Worst, published in on 2 March 2011, link retrieved on 12 March 2017
– Thomas M. Wagner: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick, published in SF Reviews in 2009, link retrieved on 6 March 2017

“Grief causes you to leave yourself. You step outside your narrow little pelt. And you can’t feel grief unless you’ve had love before it – grief is the final outcome of love, because it’s love lost. […] It’s the cycle of love completed: to love, to lose, to feel grief, to leave, and then to love again. Grief is the awareness that you will have to be alone, and there is nothing beyond that because being alone is the ultimate final destiny of each individual living creature. That’s what death is, the great loneliness.”
~Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s