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Customer Review

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What maketh the man, 20 Dec. 2009
This review is from: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
Philip K Dick was an unusual science fiction writer in that, while he tended to write in (usually dystopian) alternative universes, the "space opera" aspect - the act of universe creation (which so obsessed Tolkien, for example) isn't what interests him. If Star Wars was the ultimate piece of fantasy escapism, with a ludicrous morality play veneer thrown in for an emotional punch at the end, then Dick's works tend to exist at the other end of the spectrum: the world is described incidentally, the ingenious devices and drugs means of locomoting and teasing out the existential questions they pose the characters. There is always little bit of scientific hocus pocus thrown in, but never for the sake of it: it is always a means to crystallising Dick's theme.

So Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? isn't, really, a futuristic gumshoe PI noir about killing replicants (though it functions pretty well on that level) but an examination of what really makes us human: what *is* empathy, and what consequences would there be for the way we relate to each other if we could achieve it artificially? And here, in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, Dick ruminates on identity: what am *I*, if not a collection of relationships, impulses and memories in other people's minds? - and reality - what, when it comes to it, is the world itself, if not a collection of relations, impulses and memories in *my* brain?

What if we really could alter brains to change these things - how would that alter the way we see ourselves and the world? How, given the limitations of the above view, do we know we cannot? These are big themes, not the sort of thing that science fiction, in the main, handles awfully well. But because Philip Dick is so concerned with his characters, all of whom feel real, human, fallible and contrary - that is, they react in ways we can relate to - it is easy to forget this is a science fiction book at all (it is a matter of record that Philip K Dick despaired of his pigeonholing as a writer of pulp fiction).

Flow My Tears is characteristic of Philip Dick in other respects (not the least its idiosyncratic title!). As in Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Scanner Darkly, narcotics - Dick's equivalent of the red and blue pills from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - play a significant role, and his paranoia, by 1974 well documented and approaching the psychotic, is well on display. Dick tended to portray his futures as governed by dystopian states not out of political disposition or dramatic impetus but, I suspect, because he believed that's where the world was inevitably headed.

Flow my tears isn't a perfect novel - the motivations of secondary characters aren't always easy to divine and it's difficult to know which of Jason Taverner and Felix Buckman is meant to be the "emotional axis" of the book - it feels as though it should be Taverner, but Buckman is drawn as a far more complex and carefully worked out character. Ultimately I would not put it in the same category as The Man in the High Castle or Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, but it's certainly readable and entertaining and linear in a way that later novels weren't.

Olly Buxton
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