We Can Remember It For You Wholesale Summary

Philip K. Dick

We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

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We Can Remember It For You Wholesale Summary

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We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” is a short story written by American science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The story, published in the April 1966 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, takes place in the distant future when mankind has a number of new inventions, including hover cars driven by robots, intergalactic travel, and false memory implants. Douglas Quail, a seemingly ordinary government bureaucrat, is bored with his mundane life and dreams of traveling to Mars. When he tries to purchase a memory implant of a trip to Mars, however, he discovers a disturbing past that had been wiped from his consciousness. The story is one of Dick’s most renowned short stories and is the basis for the 1990 and 2012 film adaptations entitled Total Recall.

The story takes place in Chicago far in the future. Douglas Quail is a government employee who works a boring desk job at the West Coast Emigration Bureau. At the beginning of the story, he wakes up from a dream about Mars, where he had always longed to go. Quail’s wife, Kirsten, is dismissive of his desire to travel to Mars and instead tries to persuade him to take her on vacation to an aquatic resort at the bottom of the ocean. Quail tells her he is going to work, but instead stops at a business called Rekal, Incorporated, where he has an appointment. He walks into the building, greeting the receptionist, Shirley, who tells him that Mr. McClane is waiting for him in Room D. Quail sits down with McClane, who explains that he will be put to sleep while technicians implant a false memory of a recent trip to Mars into his brain. To make the memory more real, they will also give him packets of “proof-artifacts,” including a ticket stub, passport, souvenirs, and photographs taken on his supposed journey. When he wakes up, he will genuinely believe that he traveled to Mars recently and have no memory of his visit to Rekal, Incorporated.

Quail expresses some doubts, but McClane convinces him that the procedure is worth the price and promises to give him a full refund if he remembers anything about Rekal, Incorporated, after receiving the implant. Quail concedes and pays the fee. He adds during the conversation with McClane that he would like to have gone to Mars, not merely on vacation, but as a secret agent working for the Interplan Police Agency. McClane agrees, and Quail is taken to the operating room and put under sedation. Lowe, the technician working on Quail, buzzes McClane, explaining that there is a problem. After putting Quail to sleep and questioning him about his memories so he could determine where best to insert the false memory, Lowe discovers that Quail had actually gone on a month-long trip to Mars as a secret agent for Interplan. Apparently, Quail has no conscious recollection of this event because his memory has been erased, but is able to remember it under sedation.

McClane and Lowe believe Quail’s memory had likely been wiped clean at a government-military lab, and that the procedure had successfully removed his memory of the trip but left him with a persistent yearning to visit Mars. Not wanting to tinker with Quail’s damaged memory any further, McClane decides to send him home with half his fee refunded. When Quail regains consciousness in the hover cab back to his apartment, he finds the envelope containing the refund in his pocket and immediately remembers his visit to Rekal, Incorporated. He orders the robot driver to take him back to the company at once, where he confronts McClane for botching the implant and demands the other half of his money back. McClane agrees and gives him a check, but warns him to ignore any partial memories of Mars that he might still have.

Quail returns home in a huff and is preparing to write a letter of complaint to the Better Business Bureau when he discovers a box of Martian fauna in his desk. Kirsten asks him what he is doing home in the middle of the day. When he questions her about whether he had really gone to Mars, she believes he is having a psychotic break and decides to leave him. After Kirsten leaves, two armed men break into Quail’s apartment and point their guns at him. They identify themselves as Interplan police agents, explaining that they can read Quail’s thoughts through a telepathic chip in his brain and they know about his visit to Rekal, Incorporated. They explain that Interplan had trained Quail as a professional assassin for five years and then sent him on a month-long mission to Mars to assassinate a political opponent of Earth’s government. After the mission, Quail was brought back to Earth and his memory wiped clean. Now that he is beginning to remember his past, however, the agents have no choice but to kill him. Before the agents can shoot Quail, however, he uses his assassin skills to elude them.

Having escaped from his apartment, Quail sits on a park bench, communicating with the Interplan agents through his telepathic chip. He agrees to turn himself in at Interplan headquarters if they promise not to kill him and instead erase his memory and replace it with an exciting false memory that will keep him from becoming bored and thinking about Mars again. The agents conduct psychological tests on Quail to determine what kind of memory would excite him the most. They decide to implant a memory of an encounter with alien invaders when Quail was nine years old. Instead of fighting the aliens, Quail won them over with kindness and made them agree to a covenant that they will not attack Earth as long as he is alive. This false memory makes Quail feel important because he is the only thing preventing an alien invasion.

An Interplan agent takes Quail back to Rekal, Incorporated, to have the false memory implanted. McClane plans to give him packets containing a magic healing rod supposedly given to him by the aliens, and a letter from the UN Secretary-General thanking him for saving the planet. During the procedure, however, the technicians buzz McClane into the operating room again and tell him that something is wrong. Quail, who is under heavy sedation, reveals that he actually encountered aliens in his childhood and that they gave him the weapon that he later used to assassinate the man on Mars. Realizing that this false memory is also real, McClane and the Interplan agent have no choice but to spare Quail’s life, knowing that aliens would attack the Earth if he died.

The main themes of the story are memory, dreams, consciousness, reality versus fantasy, governmental authority, the pitfalls of technology, humor, and irony. The story portrays a society in which governmental and corporate ethics have been outpaced by technological innovation and warns against the dangers of using technology to interfere in natural processes, such as human memory. Although Interplan succeeded in erasing Quail’s memory of specific events and details, the procedure failed to remove his emotional attachment to Mars, eventually causing his past to be unearthed again. The author conveys the idea that the human mind is a mystery too large to be harnessed by the powers of technology.