Friday, August 3, 2012

Short Story Review: “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale”

A short story by Philip K. Dick - Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux on Patreon.

We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is a science fiction short story written by the late author Philip K. Dick and first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (April 1966 issue). The story has been republished several times in book collections, most recently in Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick (2002), which is where I read it (although I first read this story in another book collection back in the 1990s).

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” was loosely adapted into the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Total Recall, which was directed by Paul Verhoeven. That film is the subject of a 2012 remake starring Colin Farrell and directed by Len Wiseman.

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” takes place sometime in an indeterminate future in which humans have traveled to Mars and colonized the planet. The story hints or suggests that some of the rest of the solar system has also been visited by humans and perhaps colonized.

The story focuses on Douglas Quail, a nobody clerk and salaried employee. Quail yearns to travel to Mars the way other men might yearn to bed a pageant queen. His wife, a harpy-type named Kirsten, is not interested in traveling to Mars, but does agree that her wimpy husband needs adventure. Quail knows that he cannot afford a trip to Mars, which is expensive, not to mention that few people are even allowed to visit the planet.

Quail visits Rekal Incorporated, a company that offers “extra-factual memory implants.” These memories, which are implanted into the customer’s brain, are more real than real memories because implanted memories don’t fade away. Quail’s extra-factual memory package includes an adventure on Mars in which he is an agent for the Interplan Police Agency. However, something goes wrong during the memory implant, when Rekal discovers that there is more to Quail’s memories than they or even he realized.

I’ve found Philip K. Dick to be one of the most imaginative science fiction authors (and one of the most imaginative authors, in general) that I have ever encountered. I think his best work is found in his novels, but in his short stories, Dick presented seemingly countless inventive scenarios.

“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” presents a familiar theme in Dick’s work: how the human mind struggles with shifting realities. Usually, a lead character will find himself trying to discern which is the real reality or which is his reality. Another familiar theme is man vs. bureaucracy or man vs. man (individual or organized) that act in opposition to the protagonist. In this story, Quail’s desires and yearnings to both visit Mars and to have a more fulfilling life runs up against the reality of a disapproving wife, his finances, Rekal, and Interplan.

I don’t want to spoil this story for anyone who has not yet read it or who have read it and don’t remember the details. However, I must say that the scenes in which the Rekal operatives find themselves confronted by the secrets Quail’s memories hold make this story worth reading. It is classic Philip K. Dick – the little guy fighting and even striking back at the forces gathered against him.


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