What is it that I love so much about tales of a dystopian future? They are always so bleak and very often totalitarian, and yet I can’t ever get enough. I’ve got an even stronger fondness for those stories and novels that were not only written in the past, but also take place in what is now the past. 1984, for example, was written in 1949 by George Orwell (the pseudonym of British journalist Eric Arthur Blair). It’s no wonder, then, that I picked up Philip K. Dick‘s novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.
Like 1984 before it, Flow My Tears is the story of a then-future; at the time of its initial publication in 1974, the novel was written about events taking place in 1988. As a reader, I think this makes the book even more interesting — what would I have thought of it, had I read it then? Would I have found the story more compelling, or less?
Jason Taverner is a highly popular singer and talk show host… until one day he is not. He literally wakes up one morning as an unknown — only he has any idea as to who he is. He’s without any sort of ID; neither his girlfriend nor his legions of fans have any recollection of him at all; and according to the police, Jason doesn’t exist, not even in their vast network of databases. In a world where papers are required to move about freely, Jason quickly apprehended for using forgeries and his troubles worsen as the reader is introduced to the Buckman siblings, Felix and Alys. Felix, a police general, has a tenuous relationship with his more hedonistically-inclined sister, who turns out to be the key to Jason’s misfortune.
It’s difficult to say whether or not Flow My Tears is an easy read. In once sense, it is easy; Dick’s writing is very accessible to the reader, and his imagination is astonishing. In another sense, keeping track of who is who and their relation to others tends to be tricky, and I thought piecing together exactly what had happened to Jason was on the confusing side. Still, in the novel’s slim pages, Dick addresses some intriguing topics — he speaks about celebrity and identity, of course, as well as dissent and the concept of authority, racism, sexuality and gender, genetic modification, and the side-effects and consequences of drug use. While some subjects are only hinted at, I still find it astonishing, the amount of information Dick is able to cram into a little more than two hundred pages. I could only dream of being so creative.