Monday, 16 May 2011

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

What would it be like to wake up one day and simply not exist in the world? No doubt, disorienting and scary. You might as well be dead since there are no records of your identity in the government database and everyone that you previously knew in your life has no recollection of ever knowing you. Does the premise sound familiar? It should if you are are familiar with Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" in which this novel builds upon a similar premise but imagine if George Bailey was fond of acid and went through a bad trip. Our hapless protagonist Jason Taverner is a famous TV celebrity who finds himself in this incomprehensible predicament. One minute he is a world-wide phenomenon and the next he is an absolute nobody. Instead of the warm and benevolent Bedford Falls, there is an oppressive dystopian American society recovering from the second Civil War and increased security has been implemented by the pols (police authorities) and nats (National security) to maintain order where proper identification is constantly monitored by various checkpoints. Students of universities have been deemed a threat for their free-thinking rebellious ways and thus, confined to forced labor camps. Jason is now a criminal in the eye of the state for being an illegal alien and must now seek to recover his former identity and figure out just what the hell is going on.

I just know that there is a great novel buried somewhere in this convoluted and baffling work by the always fascinating science fiction master Philip K. Dick but it will require on my part, a much closer-reading. Where Flow my Tears lacks in structural coherence, the novel makes up ten fold in its captivating ideas based on cognitive logic along with social political and philosophical musings of the highest caliber.  For instance, "Grief is 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" (111). Beautiful and insightful prose such as this passage just serves to increase my admiration for Philip K. Dick as a writer but on further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that these particular lines serve a greater purpose within the context of the novel. Death as a metaphor and aspects of loneliness certainly does serve as a pervasive theme; characters who are somnambulists in a tyrannical society struggling for genuine human connections or plagued with the superficiality of celebrity life.

Unfortunately, this novel is severely uneven in its story structure unlike Ubik and Scanner Darkly which flow much more consistently. Dick is also prone to implementing absurd digressions and introducing undeveloped subplots especially considering the dramatic change in focalization during the latter half of the novel. Still, this is certainly worth a read for PKD fans but newcomers should probably avoid this one until they are more familiar with his style.

Read from May 01 to 02, 2011 

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