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Philip K. Dick ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ (Total Recall) Review

Written by: Matt Molgaard

Douglas Quail has clung to the idea of traveling to Mars for about as long as he can remember. But that kind of travel taps the bank in a major way, and sometimes the next best thing is the only viable option. Such is the case for Quail, which you probably already know if you’ve ever seen Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 adaptation of this tale, titled Total Recall. In the future REKAL, INCORPORATED offers false memory transplants that lead customers to believe that they have indeed ventured far beyond their actual means, which Quail – against the advice of his wife – takes full advantage of.

But, all good things come with a price tag beyond their monetary emblem, and Quail is about to learn (to a degree) that the hard way. Unlike Verhoeven’s film, which is cluttered with a load of extra plot details (a necessity in stretching this tale to feature length run time in my opinion), this story is really rather simplistic. The 1990 feature film (and I suspect the forthcoming Len Wiseman reboot, which runs a full 118 minutes) is riddled with minor mysteries, strange monsters and action inducing conflicts. This story however, doesn’t offer any of these supplements, and the truth is, it doesn’t require any of those bells and whistles. The tale essentially unfolds in a single days time, over the course of two separate trips to REKAL, with virtually zero detailed memories of Quail’s experiences on Mars.

While the picture itself becomes a bit murky at times, Dick’s narrative offers a crystal clear account of Doug’s strange expedition, even while omitting the deep details of his stay on Mars. The clarity of this source material is a welcomed change from the motion picture: the same story, minus all the conjecture and outlandish inclusions works far more effectively for me personally. By the time the film reaches fever pitch there’s a level of confusion as to how involved Quail (or Quaid as the character is known in the film) really is in this mystery, but Philip’s tale eliminates the abashment of the motion picture, which results in an extremely rewarding and undimmed conclusion.

I’m certain plenty of you are wondering why I’d cover this specific story, considering it’s a tale deeply rooted in science fiction lore. I’ll tell you why: first off, it’s extremely relevant given the fact that Wiseman’s retooling hits theaters one week from tomorrow, but furthermore, the level of paranoia crammed into this brief little story is at times rather frightening. Quail’s life is one massive spindle of confusion and his slow unraveling of facts strikes in rather haunting fashion.

If you’re hoping for three breasted women and various alien lifeforms traipsing around this one, you’ll be extremely disappointed. That said, if you’re compelled by well conceived character studies and easily definable story layers, We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is an absolute treasure. While the dialect certainly differs from the majority of fiction you’ll find today, this one still carries a remarkably contemporary feel to it. It’s eerie at times, frantic at others, and rewarding from page one. In fact, the story is so far superior to what we’ve seen on film, my interest in the forthcoming Total Recall remake is suddenly quite diminished.

This is a terrific short story, no two ways about it. To avoid seeking this one out (you can read this one free online courtesy of numerous different websites) teeters on the brink of criminal.

If you want to know what Total Recall is really all about – invest the half hour required to read this amazing tale!

Rating: 4/5

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

32 Comments on Philip K. Dick ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ (Total Recall) Review

  1. No three-breasted women? Well poop.


    All kidding aside, you’ve inspired me to research it. Thank you! I had no idea these movies take root in a short story from 1966…


  2. Philip almost lived to see “Blade Runner”, the film based on “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”

    After that came Screamers, Minority Report, Paycheck, A Scanner Darkly, The Adjustment Bureau, and now a new Total Recall.

    Hoillywood is owned by a man who passed on three decades ago. And when I visited his grave last year, I was the only one in the cemetery. Philip would appreciate the irony.


  3. Matt Molgaard // August 1, 2012 at 10:48 pm // Reply

    It’s really crazy to think on the influence he’s had and yet… so few have ANY idea of who he was today. Wild.


  4. Philip K. Dick is definitely a majorly under-rated writer, and it’s disappointing how few people are familiar with his work. I haven’t read this particular story yet (although I’d like to read it before I see the film), but I did recently read “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”, as well as “Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said” and “A Scanner Darkly”. I’m hoping to pick up a copy of one of his short-story collections soon, as I’m also very interested in the story they based “Minority Report” on. I like what you said about the frightening level of paranoia/anxiety that P.K.D. conveys in his writing, and I agree. It’s one of my favorite characteristics of his fiction, it makes it so intense and differentiates it from a lot of other stuff out there.


    • Do you know what narrative devices were used? (ie. intradiegesis, extradiegesis, prolepsis, analepsis, dual consciousness) and how

      any help would be wonderful.


  5. This is one of my all time favourite short stories. I never liked the old movie and don’t plan to watch the new one. Its hard not to wreck a short story when you make it into a full length movie…


    • Matt Molgaard // August 2, 2012 at 1:53 am // Reply

      I agree, especially a story this short. It was definitely not a tale meant to be transferred to a full length. Although, i think it would have made an AWESOME episode of Serling’s original Twilight Zone.


  6. I just finished reading the short online. It is incredible. Thanks for the heads up.


    • Matt Molgaard // August 2, 2012 at 2:24 am // Reply

      For sure! The site will be picking up in activity, so I’m sure I can find some more gems that some may have not been fortunate enough to read as of yet!


  7. Reblogged this on strutdogg.


  8. thedarkness // August 2, 2012 at 7:09 am // Reply

    A hilariously arrogant and conceited ending, i remember reading it years ago when I was ploughing through all of Dick’s stuff and being blown away!


    • Matt Molgaard // August 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm // Reply

      definitely a bit on the pretentious side, but I thought it was “quiet” enough to really work quite well. PKD = genius, in my opinion.


  9. i have found and printed a freebie…shall tell you what i think once ive found time to read it………


  10. Definitely will take your advice and get to reading this. I’m already a big Philip K Dick fan but haven’t read many of his shorts – hadn’t heard there was a Total Recall remake tho! I usually avoid fluffy remakes so will find out more about this one. But the book is always better than the film. 🙂


    • PS The most interesting work by PKD I ever read was the handful of pages at the beginning of one of his collections that pass as a brief biography. Some kind of life he had!


  11. Great read. I always felt that, besides Blade Runner” Philip K. Dick’s work has been grolssly misused. And even the upcoming version of “Total Recall” feels unerwhelming.


  12. Read it (and wrote about it) a couple of weeks ago – they reprinted it in the Zoetrope All-Story magazine to coincide with the movie. It’s great. I feel like I need to go on a PKD binge… maybe I’ll go with Androids and electric sheep next…


  13. When I saw they were having another run at making a film of it, I gave a good think to the best approach to dramatising this story. Big budget feature film clearly isn’t it, but I think it could be a reasonably good stage play (you could, after all, manage on a single set if the pre-Rekal bits aren’t presented), or a cracking good moderately-budgeted art film. “Moon” springs to mind as something in a similar vein that worked out quite well….


  14. At my library, I found a novel called “Total Recall” by Piers Anthony, and on the cover it clearly says it is “Inspired by the works of Philip K. Dick and Ronald Shusett, Dan O’Bannon…” That novel reads like the real basis for the movie version, which lists the latter two authors in the credits for “screen story” and screenplay. One might think it is a novelization of the movie, but it appears to have been published first and does not mention the movie at all. It’s weird! I’ll have to ask someone at the PKD Festival in San Francisco coming in September. I’m going back and reading more PKDick short stories now, where the best mind-trippy stuff is which might not work in longer form, novel or movie.


  15. i enjoyed the story and it reminded me of another story ….id like to recommend a story called chimera by arthur koestler for you to read….it was published in a collection called kaliedescope….i have googled but cannot find a link…..if you find a link please refer me…..i do however have a hard copy somewhere and if i can find it ill post it……………


  16. Matt Molgaard // August 3, 2012 at 4:23 pm // Reply

    I’m definitely going to look into that! After some searching right now, I’m not seeing anything either however… any idea about how old the story is?


    • the book kalaidescope was released early 70s i believe ,,but speak under correction…….it is a collection of essays and stories from two of koestlers other books entitled drinkers of infinity and the heel of achilles……well worth the read.


  17. Reblogged this on 42 Webs.


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