Thursday, February 14, 2013

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick

On Tuesday, October 11, 1988, The Jason 
Tavenror Show ran  thirty seconds short.
Opening to
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said
by Philip K. Dick
I wonder if Philip K. Dick was really as clever as his fan think he was.  Devotees praise his novels as groundbreaking work that play on the notion that reality is permeable, that there is, in the final analysis, no way for us to determine whether or not the lives we live are real.  This notion was thoroughly worked through in the recent Matrix series of movies, but Philip K. Dick had gotten there several decades before in a large body of work including Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

A few chapters into Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, the main character, Jason Tavernor a celebrated pop-star and host of his own hit television show, suffers a break in his reality.  While he continues to live, he lives in a world where he has never existed.  Everyone he once knew is still alive in this world and still exactly as they always were.  The world itself is exactly the same as it was before, but no one can remember him.  He has the opposite of amnesia, instead of forgetting the world, the world has forgotten him, the celebrity's nightmare.

This is a very familiar trope for fans of Philip K. Dick, a fan base which can count me as a member. It's often the case in a Philip K. Dick novel that the main character will experience at least a moment when he suspects that he is not living in the real world, or at least not in the world he is meant to be living in. This is often what happens in the climactic closing chapters of a Philip K. Dick novel.  When it works, this device works quite well.  

It works quite well in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.  

The rest of this review will contain spoilers, because I really want to talk about the end of the book. Be Warned!

Jason Tavernor's situation turns out to be caused by a powerful, new hallucinogenic drug, one that can move a person from their own reality, into another adjacent reality.  If you take a large enough dose, it can also take along those near you or those you may be obsessed with.  Jason  Tavernor is effectively trapped in some one else's drug induced reality.  

During the course of the novel, Tavernor, who does not know what has happened to him, tracks down the woman who took the drug which trapped him by trying to find anyone who knows who he is.  Once he finds her, he is drawn into her circle, he even takes Peyote with her producing a hallucination within a hallucination. This idea strikes me as pretty good on Philip K. Dick's part.  What is an alternate reality within an alternate reality?  Doesn't it suggest that the reality we started from was also a hallucination?  Tavernor himself wonders this.

In the novels conclusion, the powerful people who run the police force decide Tavernor is the ideal fall-guy to take the blame for the death of the woman who took the illegal drug.  The book ends with a description of how Tavernor, and just about everyone else, comes to a bad end.  Then there is an epilogue, a few pages, in which we learn that shortly after the novel ended everyone experienced a dramatic turn of events and basically got their original life back, some of them even much better lives.  

Which is the real ending?  Is one of them an alternate reality?  Did someone find the drug again and drag everyone into a better future?  

That's a very clever ending.

Though I didn't think so at first.  I thought, what's this?  Did some editor force Philip K. Dick to stick a happy ending on to what has been a dystopian future up to the book's final pages.  The first ending makes much more sense.  

Frankly, I'd found more than the usual number of clunking passages in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. While Philip K. Dick can be very interesting when he's playing with ideas, and he does know a certain subset of American culture and the people found there very well, he can come up with some very clunky dialogue.  There's also the issue of craftsmen.  For many years Philip K. Dick made a living as a jewelry designer which probably explains why there are so many craftspeople in his novels.  In Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said the hero simply runs into a woman who makes pottery for a living.  The novel sort of stops for a while so we can learn about her pottery, how she makes it, how it's very good but she's too introverted to go public enough to become the huge success she should be.  

All of which left me wondering if Philip K. Dick was really as good as his fans think he was.  I don't have an answer.  I'm still a fan.  I'll still keep reading his books, even re-reading some of them.  But I just wonder.

1 comment:

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I won't speak for other Dick fans, just myself, but I agree that his novels are often a mess. Great ideas sometimes develop into weak ones, or fizzle into cliche, or just sort of wander off into the ether. And other times (Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream, etc.) the good idea that begins the novel gets better.

I assume Dick's haste and the pulpy constraints of the form are the cause of the problems. But I don't really know.

I had no idea he had been a jewelry designer.