WE CAN REMEMBER IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE a short story by Philip K Dick (1966)

philip-dickWhat’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.

So goes the song anyway.

Real life can be more complicated.

Sometimes we embellish rather than eliminate a bad memory and sometimes we add some details to something good we’ve experienced.

The mind can play tricks too. There are those deja vu moments or things we’re sure we have or haven’t done which turn out to be false.

From the moment we are born our brain cells are slowly dying so if we reach the end of our lives with all our mental faculties intact, we should count ourselves fortunate.

Inside the head of Phillip K. Dick  must have been a weird place to be.

It’s fair to say that he didn’t see the world as the rest of us do. His writings are full of ‘what ifs’ – the essence of speculative fiction, or sci-fi if you prefer the more wide-ranging genre.

In his story ‘We Can Remember It For You Wholesale’ (which became the movie Total Recall), he thinks ‘what if it were possible to add fake memories and take out unwanted ones’?

From this starting point, he imagines a scenario whereby a man named Douglas Quail wants to spice up his humdrum life by taking a trip to Mars. Quail knows he could never afford such an adventure even if the opportunity arose so he decides to take the cheaper option of employing REKAL Incorporated to implant an ‘extra-factual memory’; in other words he would think he’s travelled to this planet even though he never left Earth.

The simple tale of wish fulfilment becomes a complex tale in which a false memories gets confused with real ones and it turns out that Quail is not the man he seems to be and not even the man he thinks he is.

One twist follows another so by the end what is real and what is imagined is jumbled to the point is that the only recourse is the read the story over to see if it makes more sense second time around. It’s the fictional equivalent of an Escher visual puzzle.