What are you up to? Reading a Dick novel. A what! "Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said" Dude, is this your coming out? my what!!
In a highly reductionist view, this novel is Borne Identity on drugs and in reverse, with Dick’s own domestic Jason.
Jason Taverner is a ‘six’, a genetically superior elite human, both in looks and skills. He is wealthy, extremely successful as a TV musical personality and well popular among ladies. Though written a bit insolent with narcissist tendencies, Taverner is a reasonably decent man, maybe as much as Bester’s Foyle. After being attacked by a parasitic life form, Jason finds himself in a warped reality where every evidence of his existence has been erased, from minds of people and public archives.
The plot that follows is very surreal and dream like, there are no constants or focal points as far as the narrative is concerned. Its like being in a half lucid dream, where you are conscious about things you need to do, but are paralyzed to do so. Story’s varying premises with broken shards of reality don’t entail any rational conclusion as well. The dystopian society is more or less an NPC filled open world where neither the writer nor the protagonist is interested in fleshing out any of the characters, or the central narrative. And if you are someone who insists on stories making logical sense or involving conclusive tropes, this might be a bit off putting, even with the expected messiness of a PKD novel.
Speaking of Dicksian weirdness, the usual suspects were there in open – authoritarian state, radicalized students, genetic superiority, patronizing men, futuristic society, pornography, mind altering drugs, yadda yadda yadda. There was this one specific aspect of the Welfare/Authoritarian state that disturbed me. Going from a well known celebrity to nobody, our protagonist finds it almost impossible to do the very basic things like traveling, eating, shopping etc without being picked by police for his lack of identity. And I found his struggles through the underground economy to avoid labour camp prophetic towards current refugee crisis and rising nationalistic sentiments. Another disturbing element was the random act of kindness by the end of the book, like some sort of apology against novel’s racial selectivity. It is nagging me more than novel’s incongruous epilogue since that unprecedented ‘act’ forms most of book’s title.
[Spoilers in below para]
Well, later contemplations frustrated me even more. The alien creature Taverner got attacked with, at the start of the novel, the one incident that triggered the warped realities in first place was neglected into oblivion ever since, with zero revisit even by epilogue. Maybe the attack was the hidden twist, a ‘bardo’ between the incident reality and the one in which Taverner finds himself lost. And a ‘Jacob‘s Ladder’ reading was intended of novel’s open interpretation. It will actually elucidate the rationale behind story’s lack cursory or even deus ex machina explanation for Taverner’s survival, if one considers the madness that followed as an uncollapsed limbo.
Whatever the case is, ratiocination wasn’t Dick’s primary objective here and it is better to sit back and enjoy the book on its own illogical terms. I am more inclined to parody it as the Android cried me a river though.
These words from early pages of the book perfectly summarizes my feelings, towards this book and PKD in general.
“The terrible power, he thought, of illogic. Of the archetypes. Operating out of the dear depths of the collective unconscious which joined him and her- and everyone else – together.”