Philip K. Dick and the Nebulous Identity
Philip K. Dick is an author who doesn’t need any introduction to science-fiction fans, having written some of the most iconic works in the genre including Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and A Scanner Darkly, always known for taking his stories into unusual and often-surrealistic territory while exploring the inner recesses of the human mind. There are many themes that come up throughout his stories time and time again, with that of human identity being one of them. We are often led to wonder what really defines us as who we are and how much importance the perception of others holds in that regard. In one of his more recent novels, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, he dives into that philosophical pit once again as he takes us into the life of an internationally-popular television host in a totalitarian society.
The man’s name is Jason Taverner, and his life is about to take a turn for the absurdly-horrifying. One day, he wakes up to find that he, arguably one of the most well-known people on the planet, is no longer recognized by anyone at all. All of a sudden, it’s as if he’s been erased from everyone’s memories. What’s worse, he finds that any records of his existence have disappeared from the governmental databases, and unfortunately for Jason, being unidentified is a very serious crime. And so, while trying to figure out what it is that happened to him, he goes on the run from the law and along the way makes some interesting acquaintances in the form of strange characters who have their own reasons for staying off the radar.
An Alien World of Drugs and Liars
As we’ve grown accustomed to with Philip K. Dick, the world we’re presented with is a pretty far cry from being homely and sanitized. While the areas which run in perfect synchronicity with the regime’s demands are doing rather well, we get to see more of the society’s underbelly as we follow our protagonist and his shady crew. As it happens, most of them don’t have a reason as noble as Jason’s to stay on the run, with dirty cops and drug peddlers being amongst the ragtag group of misfits. While very few of them actually inspire any sympathy, most of them manage to be interesting enough to retain your attention for measured periods of time. While you won’t necessarily wonder what fate befalls them by the end of it, you will remember your time with them as being entertaining if nothing else.
While the ideas for the setting in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said that Dick uses aren’t exactly new or absolutely original, he still finds a way to make it a place of his own that feels particular to his style of writing and storytelling. There is a healthy divide between the iron fist of the totalitarian regime and the dissidence of the many who have fallen down through the cracks. We are treated to some curious details here and there, overall helping to cement the cement the world as a living entity in its own right. The drugs also play an important part in defining the world, or more precisely, we see how they help the characters come to terms with their own situations and affect them in general. Just to be clear, Philip K. Dick doesn’t outright condemn or condone drug use, but explores it as a main motif of the universe he’s built.
An Identity Erased Overnight
The main character’s plight is one that we’ve already seen in hard science-fiction stories, but nevertheless I would argue that Dick only uses the basic premise of it and develops his own unique threads out of it. He also captures quite well the shock, terror and panic that Taverner goes through as he realizes that he’s been effectively erased from existence in every way but the physical one. We quickly understand the implications of his situation and form a bond with him early on, one that lasts throughout the story as we watch him desperately navigate a labyrinth where anyone could turn out to be his enemy. Even when amongst his own, the feeling of omnipresent danger never passes.
As you might have expected, much of the philosophical discourse is dedicated to the issue of identity, one that the author has come back to multiple times over the years. He presents many interesting ideas, but you’ll be glad to know that these segments don’t slow down the action one iota. As a matter of fact, I’d say that the book is a pretty short and condensed read with a whole lot of events taking place in a surprisingly sparse amount of pages. As you might imagine, it has one of those twist endings that the author is adored for and whatever it will make you feel, I guarantee you won’t remain indifferent.
The Final Verdict
With everything being said and done, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is yet another solid addition to the science-fiction genre by Philip K. Dick, being enthralling, fast-paced, surprising in some places and thought-provoking in others. While I wouldn’t say it’s the author’s best work, it certainly embodies all the qualities he’s come to be known as a legend for, and I strongly recommend this novel to science-fiction lovers.