Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said Essay - Critical Essays

Philip K. Dick


Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said is one of Dick’s major achievements in a large and impressive body of fiction. Dick finished a first draft of this unusual novel in 1970, but it was completed in a period that marked the beginning of one of the most disturbed periods of his troubled life. It remained unpublished until early in 1974. The novel was praised highly by both critics and peers, and it earned both Nebula and Hugo Award nominations as best science fiction of the year. It did not win either of these awards, losing both to Ursula Le Guins The Dispossessed (1974), but it won the 1975 John W. Campbell Memorial Award as best science-fiction novel of the year.

The dark, dystopian world depicted in the novel (certainly common in science fiction), combined with the rampant use of reality-shifting drugs by many of its inhabitants (characteristic of Dick’s fiction), makes this novel similar to Dick’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965). In this earlier novel, set in a future world in which drug use is commonplace, individuals who ingest a drug known as Chew-Z are transported into a world controlled by Palmer Eldritch, a sinister figure corresponding to the Gnostic demiurge, a lesser deity who has the ability to create worlds but who fails at the imitation. Alys Buckman is a similar figure in Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, except that by ingesting KR-3, she alone has the power to draw individuals into her spurious fantasy world, even if others have taken no drugs.

The underlying similarity between the novels, that of individuals trapped within the irreal world of some mysterious agent or agency, is common in Dick’s fiction. Dick first developed this dramatic device in Eye in the Sky (1957), attempting to use a plot device created by Fredric Brown in What Mad Universe (1949). In Eye in the Sky, however, Dick experimented with several, competing universes, rather than the one fantasy universe Brown had used. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said finds Dick again using the plot device of several people trapped in the fantasy universe of one individual, but the philosophical and religious implications generated by such a plot remain entirely Dick’s own.