We Can Remember It for You Wholesale
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"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" is a short story by Philip K. Dick first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in April 1966. It features a melding of reality, false memory, and real memory. The story has been the subject of two film adaptations, 1990's Total Recall, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the story's protagonist; and 2012's same-titled with Colin Farrell in a similar role.
Douglas Quail, a simple and ordinary clerk, wishes to visit Mars. Unable to afford it, he visits a company, REKAL (pronounced "recall") Incorporated, which promises to implant an "extra-factual memory" of a trip to Mars as a secret agent. The procedure involves administration of narkidrine, a sedative and truth drug, which causes Quail to remember and reveal that he actually did go to Mars as a secret government agent. His conscious memories of the trip have been erased, but his initial desire to sign up for the trip cannot be removed. The REKAL staff quickly get Quail out of their office without implanting anything, but his real memories are now returning slowly. At home, he finds physical evidence to support his trip but also remembers that he attended REKAL. This conflict causes him to angrily return for a refund, which he is given.
When two police officers show up to kill him, Quail discovers that his former handlers have been reading his thoughts by means of an implanted device that was used to communicate with him during his mission on Mars. As more memories return, he realizes that he was an assassin for the government, but also remembers how to disarm the cops and escape. Since he can be tracked by the device, this cannot last for long. He thus makes a deal for the memory of his Mars mission to be replaced by a false memory of his deepest fantasy as analyzed by psychiatrists, in order to prevent any further desires to visit REKAL. He is sent back to REKAL for the procedure, but under the narkidrine, he reveals that the memories they are about to implant are real – that aliens visited him when he was nine and were so touched by his kindness and compassion that they decided to postpone their invasion until his death. By simply remaining alive, he is the most important person on Earth, and the government is now unable to kill him.
The plot was loosely adapted into the 1990 film Total Recall, directed by Paul Verhoeven and starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the film, the hero, renamed Quaid, actually travels to Mars, but the initial memory implant scene foreshadows much of what he achieves while there, thus causing the viewer to doubt whether or not everything that happened after the Rekall scene actually happens or is all in Quaid's purchased memory. (But with a great number of scenes that take place outside of Quaid's perspective, the movie cannot be all an implanted memory.)
Another adaptation, also titled Total Recall, was directed by Len Wiseman and released on August 3, 2012. The film features Colin Farrell as the hero, also named Quaid, and largely follows along the lines of the first film. It includes numerous references and nods to the 1990 film, but removes the Mars element. Instead, the action in this film takes place on Earth, between the UFB (located in Great Britain) and the Colony (located in Australia). Much of the remaining 1990 plot is retained in a similar format.
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" was first published in the April 1966 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It has since been republished in the following collections:
- The Preserving Machine (1969)
- The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick: Volume V (1987)
- The Little Black Box (1990)
- We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (1990)
- The Philip K. Dick Reader (1997)
- Minority Report (2002)
- Selected Stories of Philip K. Dick (2002)
- The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. ISBN 0-8065-1209-1.