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Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
Philip K. Dick
Gollancz paperback £6.99

review by Mike Philbin

On 4th June 1989, the Chinese government brutally quashed a march for reform, by upwards of 100,000 protestors, in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. Students, workers and intellectuals alike were mown down in cold blood by the Chinese army, killing anywhere between 700 and 7,000 citizens depending on which news media you subscribed to. The day after the massacre, one lone protestor halted the procession of a line of tanks through Tiananmen Square. He became known as 'Tank Man'. There have been many attempts to identify Tank Man but to date, nearly 20 years on; we're still no closer to really knowing who that man was.

This is Jason Taverner - not the activist who stopped the tanks in a far-away world but the un-person Tank Man became. The citizen who no longer is... The de-identified. The ID-stripped. That's Jason Taverner. He wakes up one day and he no longer exists. He has nothing. He never was. Flow My Tears... future is a crazy (and once may have seemed plausible) world where students are shunned into underground encampments, never to be allowed out in public, and there are forced labour camps where 'dissidents' can be interred for simple 'crimes' like taking pity on the students, sneaking food to them, among other petty crimes. Is this the contemporary society (Tank Man? The Net?) seen through the eye of a future needle of divination? A PKD vision of societal holocaust where we are nothing but numbers in the great number-crunching machine?

"I can't live two hours without my ID" pre-empts the ID-card age and the need to be totally identifiable (by the authorities) at all times. How could Philip K. Dick have possibly understood the future of government control? Well, he didn't.

He extrapolated, as he always did in all his novels. Many of his linear extrapolations were nothing more than out-moded fantasy and had no basis in logic or science. They were just the now of Nixon and Cold War paranoia projected forward into some arbitrary (drug fuelled) vision of the future.

"The mescaline had furiously begun to affect him; the room grew lit up with colours, and the perspective factor altered so that the ceiling seemed a million miles high." - Testimony only a true drug pro could relate.

"The phone grid..." here we see PKD pulling a Nostradamus on the Internet and the unilateral use of said nuke-proof network for just one thing - porn.

"Quibbles zooming and bleating in the skies outside the dirty glass of his window" reminds one of that dirty apartment where Tom Cruise wakes up in Spielberg's film Minority Report.

The imbecilic title of the song that made Jason Taverner (the singer) famous - nowhere nuthin' fuck up - has that PKD-patented irony and pathos all through it like 'Blackpool' through a stick of rock.

Adopting the mantle of the sort of theorist PKD most likely detested, I'd be tempted to suggest that Jason Taverner and his co-six Heather Hart are the same person. They are both Philip K. Dick the famous celebrity (in his case, writer) who both loves and hates his fans at the same time. Like Dick, Jason Taverner is obsessed with his (ageing) figure and his (withering) female conquests. His onset of total self-hatred is only months round the corner.

When he allows Jason Taverner to philosophise on the subject of his singing career, "There are experts. You can listen to them, to their theories. They always have theories. They write long articles and discuss your stuff back to the first record you cut 19 years ago. They compare recordings you don't even remember having cut" Dick's actually talking about book critics and story reviewers and biographers of his own work. The copyright of Flow My Tears... happens to be 1974, 19 years since the publication of his first book in 1955. Coincidence?

Taverner is a six, a genetically defined mutation of the human genome, "they're ordinaries, and they're morons" this is the classic Nexus-6, more human than human, ethos. Or is it just Dick's hatred of the people all around him - we know that Dick wasn't one for conventions and pressing the flesh like so many mediocre writers do in lieu of any real talent. And in a similar vein: "a six... will always prevail... that's how they genetically defined us" is Taverner's conclusion. They - who are they? It's the all-encompassing mistrust and paranoia and anonymity of a state that makes and regulates, an archaic realm of cold, hard policies and inhuman national security.

It's sorta like that 1995 Sandra Bullock film The Net where computer software engineer Angela Bennett has her driver's licence, her credit cards, her bank accounts, her identity deleted (one wonders if the PKD estate got a point or two on the gross of that movie) but, as usual, Flow My Tears... is about something a lot more personal than the standard Hollywood three-act narrative; it's about the simple consequence of too many conquests.

Actually, now that it's been said, maybe it should be reiterated, this is one of PKD's most relationship-troubled books. He's literally got dancing skeletons coming out of every closet. There's co-six Heather Hart, the talentless Marilyn Mason, there's the forger, there are old flames Ruth Rae and Monica Buff, there's the police chief's sister Alys Buckman, there's potter Mary-Ann Dominic.

Philip K. Dick didn't write sci-fi, he wrote books about the human condition. In Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said he illustrates that with the total loss of self, the complications of sleeping around and the effects of mind-bending drug KR-3, a drug so powerful it can spatially incarcerate friends and loved ones in your trip, good or bad.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

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