We Can Remember It for You Wholesale
"We Can Remember It for You Wholesale" is a short story by American writer 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 was adapted into the 1990 film Total Recall with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the story's protagonist. That film was remade in 2012 with Colin Farrell as the protagonist. It also inspired Buichi Terasawa's manga Space Adventure Cobra.
Douglas Quail works a menial office job in the "not too distant future." His biggest dream has always been to visit Mars, but is constantly dissuaded by his wife, who is annoyed by this fantasy. Quail eventually discovers Rekal Incorporated, a company specializing in memory implants and supporting artifacts, and decides to get some to satisfy his dream. Quail also fantasized about being a government agent and pays extra to have this added. To the shock of the Rekal technicians, Quail's memories reveal that he really is a secret agent who has been to Mars. Suddenly undergoing a personality change, Quail berates the technicians for blowing his cover.
The Rekal representative, McClane, refunds half of Quail's money and sends him home. Quail decides that his new memories are fake and that the staff just simply botched their job, and manages to get a full refund. He returns home still believing the memories are fake, but discovers a box of fauna smuggled from Mars in his desk. He confronts his wife about whether or not he has actually been to Mars, and she angrily leaves him. Two armed men suddenly enter and reveal that Quail has a telepathic transmitter in his head that allows them to read his thoughts. They then have a conversation that is both verbal and mental which leads to Quail suddenly remembering why he had his memories erased: Quail wasn't just a secret agent, he was an assassin who fought through several bodyguards on Mars and killed a political opponent for Earth's government.
With his memories returned, the armed men appeal to Quail to surrender, but Quail, with his abilities awakened as well, fights them, but flees, threatening to kill them should they follow. Wondering what to do, Quail's former commanders suddenly speak to him through the telepathic transmitter. Quail suggests going through another mind-wipe, but his commanders state that he will just get bored with his life and go to Rekal again or try to go to Mars. Quail comes up with another idea, to remove his current memory of being an assassin and implant a new and amazing memory of something exciting. His commanders agree, feeling that it is their obligation to help their former assassin.
Quail turns himself in and is placed with a psychiatrist to figure out what his own personal desires are: When he was young, Quail always envisioned that as a child he came across minuscule aliens that were going to launch a full invasion of Earth with their superior technology. However, Quail was so kind and accepting to the aliens that they decided to hold off on their invasion as long as he was alive. While finding the fantasy narcissistic, his commanders agree to plant the memories at Rekal. To everyone's shock, those memories turn out to be real as well. The aliens had suppressed Quail's memories of them, and given him a weapon that he had used while an assassin. McClane realizes that Quail will probably get a real citation from the UN, instead of the fake that Rekal was to have provided.
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, travels to Mars on a dangerous mission, but the initial memory implant scene foreshadows much of what he achieves while there, causing the viewer to question whether events in the story are real or are all in Quaid's purchased memory.
"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:
- Nebula Award Stories Number Two (1967)
- World's Best Science Fiction: 1967 (1967)
- The Preserving Machine (1969)
- Alpha 5 (1974)
- 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 Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction (2010)
- published by Ace Books, edited by Donald A. Wollheim and Terry Carr, #A-10
- The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick, Vol 2: We Can Remember It for You Wholesale. ISBN 0-8065-1209-1.