Tuesday, December 9, 2008

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

It has been my intention to read a PK Dick novel for three or four years now, but we already know that my ever-increasing list of things to read is self-defeating. I chose this Dick novel at random, mostly for the ring of its long and poignant title, and found it to be a perfectly serviceable sci-fi dystopian novel; famous television host and crooner Jason Taverner finds himself suddenly non-existent according not only to extensive government records (all of his ID cards have disappeared, and when he’s picked up by the cops, they find no Jason Taverner records on file), but also to the world—once a household name with hundreds of thousands of adoring fans, no one—not even previous friends, colleagues, lovers—recognizes him by face or name; he is completely alone. A slightly imbalanced young waif, who falsifies IDs and then finks to the police about it for a living, comes to his aid, though he’s not certain all the while whether she’s for him or against him; the entire world seems to be a conspiracy, and for a moment, he wonders whether he’s been living in a drugged dream, fantasizing his entire life while knocked out in a flophouse, and only now coming out of his life-long high.

The policeman, whose story comes out in tandem with Taverner’s, lives with his psychotic, drug-addled sister-cum-lover, who briefly seduces Taverner and gives him the drugs that make him wonder whether he’s been drugged all along, but her own dose of drugs kill her, and he sees her withered skeleton on the bathroom floor and flees. Now, the world has shifted again, his files have reappeared, his songs are on the jukebox. He again exists, but has been recognized at the scene of the woman’s death, and is now targeted by the police as her murderer. His lover, who previously seemed not to know him, now knows him but wants nothing to do with him, wants to turn herself and him both into the authorities. The epilogue kindly resolves all, freeing Taverner after trial, and describing a future in which the police apparatus breaks down, the students are freed from hiding and forced labor camps, and multiple-space-inclusion drugs are no longer experimented with. Dick does not disclose whether cars still fly or whether the phone-grid sex network still prematurely ages people, or whether Sixes (the elite group of engineered humans of which Taverner is one) are ever surpassed by Sevens. But there is enough resolution that he loses some of the gains he made, for sci-fi’s ultimate goal is not to satisfy, but to shatter, to disturb, to shake; happy endings don’t make lessons learned.

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