“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” was originally published in Fantasy and Science Fiction in April 1966. It can now be found in The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick. Volume 2. We Can Remember It For You Wholesale on pp. 35–52. This story was originally submitted to Dick’s agent in 1965. During the original publication of the short stories, a real effort was made at chronology using the dates stories were delivered to the agent as a rough estimate of composition. This story should have been in volume 5. This is not the only change made, both in naming of the volumes (which is not a big deal) and in the organization of stories. “Second Variety” was moved from volume 2 to volume 3, putting it out of order. This was done to sell volumes, by connecting volumes to popular stories or stories that have been filmed. I guess they could not find anything else in volume 2 as the cover story, which is strange since “Second Variety” was the cover story for volume 2 originally, and the cover story for volume 5 is a story no one really remembers, and certainly has not been filmed. I do not know why these changes were made. Promotion is fine enough, but the goal of chronology has been undermined. And now recently, Subterranean Press has reissued them adding two stories that were not in the original collection. Kind of them to do that, but they are in limited editions. Most of us will be stuck with the Citadel versions. I will also note that Subterranean Press fixed the corruption I was just complaining about.
Douglas Quail wakes up and thinks about his plans to visit Mars. His work will not allow him to take the expensive trip. His wife thinks he was dreaming of a girl. He corrects her, telling her he was dreaming of “the god of war.” She recommends he takes a trip to see the bottom of the oceans, instead of Mars.
Quail had a meeting at REKAL, Incorporated to discuss using their service. McClane informs Quail that they can implant memories of his trip to Mars. They will be better than really going there and they can also provide tangible evidence confirming that the trip took place. In every meaningful way he would have been to Mars. Quail decides to go ahead with the implanted memories.
McClane is working on preparing the technicans for the job and the material objects that will provide the authentication for the memories. All in all it is a standard and easy case. The technicians report a problem. Apparently the recall process undermined Quail’s cover. He was an Interplan agent who worked on Mars. These memories were suppressed and this is why he so desperately wanted to visit Mars. They do not know what will happen if they try to plant a false memory of Mars over a real one. McClane decides to return half of the fee to Quail and see how it goes.
Quail returns to Earth after one month on Mars. Talking to his wife he knows it must have been a simulated trip, so he returns to REKAL, Incorporated. He asks for the return of all of his fee. The receptionist admits that he was there asking about taking a simulated trip, but that itself. He remembers it all, however. Eventually meeting McClane, Quail complains formally. McClane agrees to return the rest of his fee. He warns Quail not to talk to anyone about his trip. Talking with his wife, he realizes that there are two competing memories in his mind about Mars, but he does not know how to differentiate the real one from the implanted one. He demands to know if he has ever really been to Mars. She leaves him and Interplan police arrest Quail. They explain their dilemma. If they erase his memory of Mars, he will simply be overcome with a desire to go to Mars again, and that will lead to another visit to REKAL. They inform him that he must be killed. Quail manages to escape making use of his forgotten abilities.
Later, at a park, Quail is contacted through a device in his head. They are his Interplan superiors. He manages to convince them to let him live if they successfully implant memories that will fulfill his most expansive daydream, something that can suppress his authentic memories of Mars.
After meeting with psychiartits, Interplan decides that tbe memory they need to implant into Quail’s mind involves him saving the Earth from an alien invasion through an expression of mercy. As long as Quail is alive, the aliens will not invade Earth. This will make him the most important person on Earth, fulfilling his ultimate wises. While it is an arrogant child’s fantasy, it will work. Quail returns to McClane and REKAL and prepares to have this new memory implanted, where it is realize that this really happened to Quail and his mere existence really is stopping an alien invasion.
“We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” has been set to film twice under the film name Total Recall. I only saw one of these, but as I recall, it focused on the ambiguity about Quail’s real past as a secret agent. Nothing about how his childhood act of empathy has led some aliens to believe that humanity has a reason for existing. This is the moral heart of the story. His career as an Interplan agent, engaging in assassinations is actually meaningless compared to that one act of kindness. One wonders if Dick was making a case for a more moral foreign policy. It was written when the United States was in the depths of the Vietnam War. Some benevolent goes a whole later farther than all that literally forgettable violence that Quail engaged in.
However, I am tempted to find a second moral theme to the state based on the tension between the world we live in and the world we dream to live in. Quail, on Earth, is a “miserable little salaries employee.” (35) His life has no meaning. He is indifferent and even hostile to his work. What he does really does not matter. What matters is his dream of something different. In his deepest fantasy he is someone who matters, the complete opposite of his life on Earth. That fact that he really does matter is less significant than the fact that he wants to be conscious of his significance. We create many myths that we are important, or that our job matters, or that the world needs us, but as David Graeber reminds us, for many of us our jobs really are “bullshit jobs.” The world does not need us. Quail is desiring a life of significance. The solution to this dilemma is not to all try to become the most important person on Earth, but to create an economy and a society where each of our talents are valued.
Audiobook version of the story.