RWA1: Reading Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”

Please print out a copy of Philip K. Dick’s short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale,” which was published in 1966.  Read the story from start to finish.  Then, briefly write about your response to the story in your Reading Journal.  Afterward, please read the story again, this time taking notes on the story and attending to some of its elements (plot, character, theme, setting, figurative language, narration strategies) more carefully, its historical and authorial context, and its relationship to various issues related to science fiction as a genre and science fiction studies as laid out in the “Introduction” to the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction.  Afterward, please write some more about the story, what you now understand about it, and questions that you have about it.

Finally, please post one paragraph in response to this post BY NOON, MONDAY, FEBRUARY 6, describing what you found most interesting about the story and one to three questions that you have about it.

Though not required, please feel free to post links that you may have consulted in the process of reading the story and why you found them helpful.  What is required is that you read the story carefully, write about it in your reading journal, and think about it in the context of the issues raised in the Introduction to the Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction, and then post some of your thoughts about it.  We will be discussing the story in our next class session.

30 thoughts on “RWA1: Reading Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale”

  1. Douglas Quail dreams of visiting Mars, but his a simple clerk and cant afford it. He contracts a company Rekal, Incorporated to have false memories implanted fulfilling his fantasy. He further adds a twist of adventure, as these memories will make him an undercover agent of Interplan. McClane, the head of Rekal, promises that the memories will be sharper and more vivid than real memories, which blur and fade over time.This how modern technology is able to be more “real” than reality itself, well beyond what normal human interaction gives. What i found interestiong, is that main character going undercover with those memories being unware of what’s real or not.
    1. What becomes of Douglas Quail at the end of the story?

    • Thanks, Jose! This is an excellent synopsis of the story. I’m curious to know more about what you found interesting about the story. Why did you find the main character’s inability to distinguish between real and false memories interesting? Could you write a bit more about this issue and how it relates to other themes in the story? Also, regarding your question about the fate of Douglas Quail, are you interested in finding out what happens to him because that would change your interpretation of the story as a whole or for other reasons?

      All best,

      Prof. Rodgers

  2. The story is about memory manipulation, which can create doubts about what did or didn’t happen in reality. Douglas Quail doesn’t receive any fake memories, but the possibility that he did creates doubts to him and to us as the readers about what really happened. The interesting thing is that the visit from the space guard eventually proves that Quail went to Mars, but Quail’s wife Kirsten gives away that she knows that he had gone to Mars right at the beginning of the story, before Quail has made the decision to get memory implants.

  3. The story was great I loved the mysterious elements like Quail’s internal struggle to validate his own memories and experiences. There are likely various interpretations to the ending of the story but in my interpretation Quail dies. Logically I cant see the Interplan people keeping a threat like him alive after his memories of his excursions on mars failed to stay suppressed. The story is certainly a decent reflection of the time period it was written in. While hover cars and robot drivers were certainly all the rage back in the 60’s the mention of the typewriter leads me to envision the interfaces and technologies of Phillip K. Dick’s future. Much like in the Back to The Future, Aliens, and terminator franchises where the future is based on a 1980’s interpretation of a future one mostly envisions and predicts the future to be not entirely different from the one’s current world while retaining cultural and social marvels of a selective time period.

  4. I really liked this story, it reminded me of the movie “total recall”. Anyways, the story had a very interesting setting, at first I though it took place like in our time until the first letter it mentioned “hovercraft”. I also liked the fact that it was around an average guy whos dream was to visit Mars, but the only problem was the money and the time of the journey. Also the facts that he has a wife that was getting annoyed about him because all Quail would talk about was mars. I also liked ideas of implanting dreams of memories to gain a sense of reality. I also liked the ending, didn’t expect it would end about aliens but it was something I enjoyed. My question is: the Quails wife ever returned? Haha. My second question is Why didn’t the aliens just take him to safety and just destroyed earth… maybe create another? Idk, and my third question is Did quail new about this invasion?- Giovanni Angel Torres

  5. I really enjoyed reading this story by Philip K. Dick, while reading the story we come to understand the meaning behind the title “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale.” When we learn about REKAL INCORPORATED we learn that this place can make Quail obtain memories of the wish he was yearning for, for a low prize compared to what he would have spent on his actual trip. Meaning that he got a good deal for a wholesale. Even with the twist of events the title still holds true, Rekal triggered something in Quail that made him remember of his long lost memories.

    Question: Did Quail ever think that he had already done what he was wishing for?

  6. “We can remember it for you wholesale” By Philip K. Dick has an interesting plot. I enjoyed reading it, I was curious about the title. I like how the tittle ties in with the story, it started to make sense when Quail went to Rekel incorporated to get a flase memory of Mars implanted. I really like the plot twist, a ordinary guy who just wanted to go to mars just wanted to fulfill his dreams, to find out he’s already been. Not only has he went to Mars but he killed a political leader, he’s a assassin.

    Question: Was his wife in on it or did she actually think he was insane?

  7. In Philip K. Dick’s, “We Can Remember You For Wholesale,” we are transported to the future and are shown the life of Douglas Quail. Quail is your ordinary boring clerk, at least that’s what he is made to believe. He is actually your everyday secret agent that managed to kill a high ranking political official on mars. Unfortunately for Quail, his memory is altered by the very company that hired him, the Interplan Police Agency. What I found most interesting about this story is Dick’s vision of the future, and how scary we are coming close to making his vision a reality. In the story our protagonist takes an automated driving taxi. Astonishingly, Google will be rolling out a completely automated car service called Waymo later this year. On top of that, Uber already rolled out an automated taxi service in Pittsburgh in late 2016. Something that Dick probably couldn’t imagine is that the most unrealistic thing that happened while Quail was inside the robot controlled car, is that he asked for a phonebook. Additionally, we might not be able to implant memories for a while, but we can form extraordinary experiences through virtual reality. With virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HV Hive, we are able to experience Quail’s dream of going to Mars in the comfort of our own homes. So far, this short story, written in 1996, seems to be on the right track. Who knows, we might see hover cars, gain the ability to implant memories, and even colonize on other planets during our lifetimes. Maybe our discoveries will force us to tackle the theme of knowledge versus ignorance that Philip K. Dick is trying to convey. It is possible that we might eventually put into question the answers we have sought out over these years, and if we should have answered them at all; like is there life on other planets and what our technological advancements are capable of?

    1. The ending seemed really cheesy. I’m wonder if Philip K. Dick made it as a serious plot twist, or as a comedic ending?

  8. According to “We can remember it for you wholesale” by Philip K. Dick explains a story about Douglas Quail stuck in his existence life between dreams and reality. I love the concept when Quail went to the Rekal Incorporated to get a memories going to mars until he was confused between the fake and the real memories he has when McClane inject the memory chip into Quail’s cerebral cortex. This story has almost the same plot scene in the movie “Total Recall” mixing up the memories who can’t differentiate the difference of their fake personal life. The most interesting scene from the story was when Quail’s wife immediately warn him of breaking their marriage when he specifically asked her a question: “Did I got to mars or not”?

    Question: Did Quail have a connection with the Interplan cop when he said “this has nothing to do with Rekal; it’s between you and us”.

  9. “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick was an intriguing short story for me. The thing that really stuck to me was the fact that REKAL was a company based on selling “memories”. I put memories in quotation marks because these so called “memories” seem real, yet they are fake. The irony about this is that the main character actually had the memories that he wanted REKAL to give him, but he forgot them. The whole memory erasing and manipulation was actually really fun to read about because it made me think about what would happen if so and so did this or that.

    1.) Are we going to watch the movies that were based on this story?

  10. “I might as well put those packets of proof-artifacts away…Including the citation from the UN Secretary General. After all – The real one probably would not be long in coming.” Wow! What a stellar way to end this story and most likely the life of Quail. This story is packed full of interesting Sf culture, from the autonomous driving cars and hologram styled communication devices to people living on mars and under the ocean. However, the most interesting is memory manipulation and how mainstream it’s projected to be in this story. It sounds like you can simply catch a cab to your nearby Rekal center and get a memory implant with almost no questions asked. Although not explored much, the implications of memory manipulation must have some euphoria effect on the society in this story, as you could take a vacation without actually taking one. The downside to memory manipulation was evident, though, as in the case of Quail, who had too many memory manipulation jobs done and ended up with a scrambled memory.

    Question: If Quail was on an assassination mission on mars, why bring back worms and fauna from Mars?

  11. The story of “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” tells a tale of reality and illusion. The simple controversial topic of what really is real around us, and what are the things that exist in exclusively in our minds. The story also focus’ heavy on dreams and man’s desires, which connects to the topic of illusion and reality in that what would you give up in order to achieve your dreams? The main character of Douglas Quail dreams about visiting Mars and his desire of becoming a secret agent. Quail then sacrifices his thoughts of his past and present in order to achieve his dreams. As a result, he must now face the consequences for his willingness to sacrifice for his desires as he cannot tell the difference between reality and illusion. The human mind contains the thoughts and memories of what makes a person who they really are. To think that someone is willing to give up what makes them human in order to get what they desire, shows the true deep message alined in this story. Is there really a sacrifice too grand to give in order to receive one’s true wishes. As for a question I have, is the recall program well known to the public? If they had memories implanted wouldn’t they be able to piece together the memory and organization together?

  12. “We Can Remember it For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick is a very intriguing short story, i actually have seen the movie adaption “Total Recall”, which is indeed one of my favorite science fiction movies. What i find most interesting is the fact that most of the technology within this short story, we either have now or haven’t discovered yet. For example, the self driving cars, and robots, and interfaces. My question is, was Douglas’ mission on mars real life or the implant from Rekall? I would guess that the ending would be left up for interpretation from the readers

  13. The story We Can Remember it for You Wholesale, if I had to guess is what the movie Total Recall is based off of. The story obviously goes off in a different direction. It’s a more interesting direction seeing as he is somewhat lost in his memories. Unlike in the movie where he retains the memories of the clerk and is discovering the spy. Though I have to say I like the movie’s plot more it left a stronger sense of mystery in the ending. The passage also has mystery in the ending because you don’t know if his memories get sorted out. During most of the story the mixture in memories, made him mad and confused. The story teaches a lesson in contentment.

    Which came first the short story or the movie?

  14. it was a really interesting story about Douglas Quail about his dreams of visiting Mars, He contracts Rekal, Incorporated to have false memories implanted fulfilling his fantasy. He further adds a twist of adventure, as these memories will make him an undercover agent of Interplan. This highlights how modern technology is able to be more “real” than reality itself, providing sensory stimuli well beyond what normal human interaction gives. The addition of false memories is less troubling than the uncovering of true memories suppressed for a reason. It becomes difficult to verify what is “real” and what is “false” since what one has to rely on are the altered memories of a damaged man.

  15. This story is an interesting take on a bored and self described as a lowly poorly paid clerk, who ends up being dangerously surprised by his own identity. Douglass Quail desires and dreams of visiting Mars and having an exciting and dangerous adventure. He craves a break from his mundane life so badly that he finds a company, Rekal, that will implant clear memories for him so that he may think that he went. Upon attempting to implant memories it is found out that he has in fact already lived this dream and that it is quite dangerous that he remembers. The comedic twist is that after all the confusion and verification of memory, in order to protect his previous mission and the secret assassination he must implant a new memory, only to find that his base dream, is also already a memory and already happened to him as a young child. I thought this was very cute.
    A few questions I have or had:
    1.What is spurious? Found out it is false or fake.
    2. I am curious if the wife was part of the cover up and this is why she was so angry. Perhaps she did not like her assignment and she knew it was only a matter of time before the real memories came about. Perhaps she was failing her own mission.
    3. The idea of covering and recovering and creating specific memories is an interesting theme. It does seem to be recurring in different types of media, movies and literature. I wonder what the actual science is behind this and how close we are to really understanding how the human brain works in terms of memory. I understand that with brain mapping we know that many parts of the brain are involved in creating and recalling events, places and things. The idea of destroying memory is basically brain damage and happens naturally over time. The specific areas of the brain affected are not always predictable.

  16. Philip K. Dick’s “We can remember it for you wholesale,” was very surprising for me as I read it. It started off with everything being normal and okay, a man named Quail wanting to go to mars and he was willing to pay for a memory of it. That is until he slowly starts realizing and remembering all of his real actually memories that had been erased because he was a secret government agent. And he starts remembering everything because of a company called REKAL which was the company that promised him the memories. What surprised me the most was the fact that they’re so far into the future that they can just program memories and make it seem like you had experiences you never had. Personally I wouldn’t want to try it because I don’t find it safe but I will admit that it’s very interesting idea.

    1- Did no one question his last statement about the aliens?
    2- Was the wife in on it?

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  18. Douglas Quail,protagonist in Philip K. Dick’s “We can Remember it for you Wholesale” is a seemingly ordinary man with extraordinary fantasies. I remember the premise from the film “Total Recall” but I had yet to read the inspiration for the film. I found this to be much more engaging. I found myself feeling as though I was about to miss something important, especially when Quail visited Rekal, so I read that carefully. Everyone experiences escapism, but this was escapism with a twist. The idea that Quail, was in fact, a spy AND his ultimate fantasy of wanting to save the Earth from aliens, aliens who granted Earth Mercy because of his kindness was a twist I was not expecting. I was struck by the line from the therapist in which she believed him arrogant fro his fantasy. Is a man arrogant for wanting to be important? Is a man’s importance arrogance? The fact that he was humanity’s savior was a “ha” from Dick to the audience.
    I have only two questions.
    1.) Was his wife a spy, making sure he never defaulted from the implanted memories?
    2.) How did an agency with such advanced tech not know that Quail had such significant memories buried?

  19. The short-lived adventures of Douglas Quail are a jovial examination of what Earth may resemble in the millennia to come. I was elated to have Phillip H. Dick add to the catalog of sci-fi I have read before it (such as Ghost in the Shell or Gundam.) Somewhere in the far future, Quail rises from a slumber in Chicago with a, what seems to be, life-long ambition of visiting Mars in a reality where such a feat is possible. Unfortunately, his profession does not allow him such a luxury, yet thanks to modern advances of technology, Quail plans to have the experience of taking a trip on Mars implanted as memories. Dick, the author also scatters other sci-fi elements in the story. From automobiles that are reminiscent of the Jetsons, to the robots that drive them, and finally the access to telepathy through technology. The only character that has any development is the constantly conflicted Douglas Quail. The initially perceived clerk realizes that through a journey to and from his psyche that he is a government agent that also happens to be Earth’s savior. From beginning to end Quail’s quest is symbolic of a terrible psychotic trip. The idea of forging a memory is unsettling to me, but I figure explaining the internet to cavemen has a similar effect. The most entertaining thing about this short story is that on a quest to add memories, Quail comes across his old self. A reality that he, himself wanted to allude. The only disappointing part of this story were the female characters. While is Kirsten was leaving her husband, the Rekal clerk was searching for a way in. After the first operation, Quail ponders whether Kirsten knew about his real self. I was honestly hoping she had more of a part to play when Quail confronted her with these questions. But with the trajectory of their marriage, their split made sense. In addition to the climax, while Quail is finding answers, Interplan cops raid his house and reveal that the protagonist has been telepathically bugged. This can only add to the psychotic experience. The ominous presence of the government is what the theme circles around. Considering that this was published in the 60s, it is feasible that the omnipresent government Quail deals with is representative to Dick’s own government. In conclusion, I also appreciated the ending since it not only tied up any loose ends a reader would have but it gave Quail a healthy and intriguing amount of development from beginning to end.

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  22. Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” tells the story of Douglas Quail, a man tired of his humdrum
    life. Compelled by a fervent desire to visit Mars, he desperately seeks the aid of Rekal, Incorporated, a company that
    fabricates memories, but unbeknownst to them, he is not what he seems. Quail is a decommissioned Interplan assassin
    and his superiors would keep it that way. “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” serves as a great introductory piece
    to the sf genre, successfully including common elements such as advanced technology and interplanetary travel. It’s an
    entertaining, straightforward story about espionage and memory without the need for depth.

  23. Philip K. Dick’s
    We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

    The story is set into the far future and is good story with a good twist, I like it. In the beginning we see that Quail is in a dream where he visualizes himself to be on the planet Mars. This leads to a question, don’t we ourselves, all have a reality in our dreams that is to an extent possible, in the lines of utter science fiction or sf. As the character, has this dream, he knows that it is not real, we later see why. Quail is referred to as “little salaried”. He also seen as not realistic and not down to earth. One thing I like about this story is that it foreshadows that he literally has been off to earth in one of the first pages, the question is, why? The ending is surprising. We can see that he has been to mars before and also that he is a secret agent and had an important mission there. Ironic I think, for he wanted to go to mars the whole time, but he had already been there without knowing. This also questions? What of what we all remember is really true or authentic? Or is anything really real? Is everything a sophist reality?(Descartes ideology). I also like how this story has a lot of mirroring with a movie I like called, Total Recall(1990), it is renowned for having Arnold Shwarzenegger as its protagonist.

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