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, under sedation, Quail somehow regains erased memories of who he really is. 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 thinks that the operation was a failure because his memories are blurry, and he remembers his trip to the office to get the procedure done. One of the aspects of the procedure was to forget the procedure was ever done so the memories feel more natural. 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.
Characters and Corporations
Douglas Quail is the main character of the story. He desires to travel to Mars only to realize he already has. He is really a trained assassin that is hired by Interplan.
Kirsten Quail is Douglas’s wife. She is annoyed by Douglas’s constant bantering about wanting to go to Mars. She is very harsh towards him and eventually decides to leave him.
Mr. McClane is the head doctor at Rekal Incorporated. He is good at his job as he has completed many implants.
Rekal Incorporated is an organization that takes part in brain surgery. Their jobs is to implant the patient's desired memories in their head and convince the patient that the implants are real memories.
Interplan is a government association similar to the FBI. They intervene in intergalactic activity yet keep most of their operations a secret from the public. They are the ones responsible for erasing Douglas’s memories of going to Mars.
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.
Even though these three text are not solely based on memory as the foundation of constructing the self, they all depict a man struggling to remember his past life as he realizes his current memories are mere illusions implanted in his 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)
- "Total Recall (2012) Full Cast & Crew". IMDb.com. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
- Fernández-Menicucci, Amaya (2014-12-17). "Memories of Future Masculine Identities: A Comparison of Philip K. Dick's "We Can Remember it for you Wholesale", the 1990 Film Total Recall and its 2012 Remake". Between. 4 (8). doi:10.13125/2039-6597/1325. ISSN 2039-6597.
- 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.