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 Post subject: Total Recall - short story version
PostPosted: January 20th, 2011, 7:25 pm 
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Total Recall, the well-known movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is based upon a short story by Philip K. Dick, and the story is called "We can remember it for you wholesale". It appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in April 1966.
It does sound kinda cumbersome, it surely wouldn't have looked good on a movie poster, and it wouldn't have worked as a movie since there are grave differences between the short story and the movie.

The hero's original name is Douglas Quail, as opposed to Doug Quaid in the movie.
It begins pretty much in the same way: Quail is unhappy with his life as a low employee and dreams of travelling to Mars, which his wife objects to. The story does not reveal the kind of work he does, but it mentions that he lives in a cheap apartment in a run-down area, while in the movie he lives in a high-tech apartment but does hard physical labor. Secretly he makes an appointment with Rekal Inc. to have memories of a trip implanted in his head, a story in which he carries out a mission as an agent of an organization called Interplan, possibly law enforcement. But when the technicians start the implanting process it turns out that Quail has really done the trip, that he killed a powerful party leader on Mars in spite of a dozen body guards.
The intimidated Rekal people put him in a taxi and send him home, but upon awakening he returns immediately and wants his money back.
Then he goes home and talks to his wife. She tells him that he was crazy and delusional and that she'd leave him if he didn't pull himself together. But he is sure of his new-won memories, and so she leaves. No need to kill her or anything.

The cops are already in his apartment, and his wife must have known that. In contrast to what movie fans might expect no bloodbath ensues. They tell him that there was a telepathic emitter in his head so they could read his mind (no word about it telling them where he is) and that they had to kill him because he knew too much. They argue a bit and the unarmed Quail knocks out one of the officers, takes his gun, threatening the other, then running off.

Instead of wearing a towel, being instructed by his older alter-ego, and saving the day on Mars like Quaid, Quail goes on a walk and discovers that the emitter works like a radio set, that he can talk to the guy on the other end of the line. He makes a deal with them, and it is the most undramatic deal one can imagine, a mortal sin of adventure-storytelling: He gives himself up under the condition that he gets a new false memory, a little more exciting than the last one, because it seems that he got restless because his first false life was so boring.

Spoiler
So they meet back at Rekal and a psychologist produces a childhood fantasy out his Quail's head: That, as a kid, Quail had stumbled upon an invasion fleet of a technologically superior alien race that looks like hamsters. Instead of acting hostile, he's all friendly and nice to them, so they promise not to invade Earth as long as he lives.
And to close the circle, as the technicians prepare to implant the memory, it turns out that it is all true and that Quail killed the Mars topdog with the help of a weapon that the hamsters gave him...


With that sort of ending the story comes across somewhat comedic. There's no trip to Mars, no Hauser, no mutant resistance, no athletic dark-haired woman, no Turbinium, no four-fingered aliens. Most prominent, though, is the apparent lack of lethal violence.

Dick must have had that comedic ending in mind when in wrote it, because... what hero gives himself up, entrusting his life to people who have already tried to kill him - and the opponent keeps his word? That's not the way it usually works.

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