“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is a science fiction short story by the American author Philip K. Dick. It first appeared in the April 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and has since been collected into many anthologies. The story was the inspiration for the movie Total Recall (1990) and its remake (2012).
Douglas Quail, an ordinary government clerk with an unexciting life, suffers from a strong compulsion to visit Mars. It has been a life-long ambition, yet the trip is quite impossible on a clerk’s salary. His unsympathetic wife chides him for being a dreamer and complains that he is getting more fanatical every day. Still unable to let go of his obsession, Quail makes an appointment at Rekal, Incorporated.
Rekal (pronounced recall) is a company offering extra-factual memory implantation services. Based on his fantasies, Quail would receive recall of a two-week trip to Mars as an undercover agent for Interplan. In addition, he would be supplied with a ticket stub, postcards, and other items to support the false memory. Quail is skeptical at first, but they assure him that it would be a real trip in his mind. The implanted memory would be more convincing than an authentic one fraught with vagueness and distortions, and he would not remember visiting Rekal. Quail makes the decision to try the procedure. As he gets ready, however, he cannot shake the strange sense of foreboding that something would go wrong.
“We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” is a classic science fiction short story and a good example of what makes Philip K. Dick a popular author in the genre. There are elements of action thriller in many of his stories, and it is easy to see the potential movie makers saw in this particular story. As with many of his short stories, however, it is the premise that fascinates even more than the plot.
In a world where memory alteration is a routine procedure, what would “reality” mean? Which would matter to you more; objective reality (what actually happened) or subjective reality (what you believe happened)? Would you bother taking a real vacation, risking bad weather or getting sick, when you can be assured of (the memory of) a perfect one? Social implications of such technology are enormous.
Gracie A. 11 June 2014