For my first 5 Star Review from my bookskelf, I’ve chosen “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. This is my all-time favorite short story and has been for over thirty years. I picked this as my inaugural review for that reason. And because there is an interesting backstory from when I first read it all those years ago.
I’ve always been a voracious reader, but more so when I was younger, devouring as many as five to seven books a week. Being on tour with the theatre company I belonged to, I had lots of time to read while we traveled. Of course, this sometimes resulted in my reading similar books and/or anthologies around the same time. That, in turn, led me to combine two or more stories into one, forget who wrote something, or some other odd twist my brain dreamed up.
I met Philip K. Dick back in 1972 and we remained friends until his death in 1982. One day, in 1981, we sat in his condo chit-chatting away as we often did, when the subject of short stories came up. I was quite thrilled to tell him about my favorite story that I’d read somewhere, but didn’t remember the title or the author’s name. I only remembered that I loved it.
So, I proceeded to describe this story about a man who wanted to go on a trip to Mars, but couldn’t afford it. Instead the man goes to have a false memory implanted about an imaginary trip to Mars as a spy. But during the memory procedure, a complication arises.
Now, as I blithely described this story to Phil, his face got darker and darker and his frown deeper and deeper. Choosing to ignore the frowns, I sat beaming when I finished.
“Who did you say wrote that story?” he grumbled at me.
Well, I stuttered a bit because I had no clue, but finally I took a stab at a name I thought was on the book that I thought the story was in. Yep, I was doing a lot of thinking. All wrong, of course.
He glowered at me some more and left the room. A minute later he returned and tossed a book to me, telling me to look at “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale.” I barely glanced at the cover, only noting it was a collection of his stories and dutifully turned to the Table of Contents, found the page for the story and began skimming.
I looked up in sheer delight, as he stood, arms folded, still glaring at me. “Oh, but you wrote this!” My surprise was at war with my confusion as to why I thought someone else had written it.
Needless to say, he wasn’t pleased with me not remembering that he was the author of my favorite short story. I, however, was thrilled because it was my favorite story. I told him he should be happy, too, because I hadn’t realized he’d written it and therefore my opinion was a completely unbiased and honest one. He grumbled some more, but I think he was secretly pleased that it really was my favorite story. Of course, he never admitted that to me.
So, what is it about this story that it remains my favorite to this day? First of all, the story itself captured me. The twists and turns and unexpected gems that I don’t want to give away enthralled me when I first read it. Even knowing what those twists are on subsequent re-reads, they still delight me.
I love the character of Douglas Quail, an Everyman who dreams of being more, and whose depths and layers reveal the man beneath. Phil draws the supporting characters in broad strokes that might be a bit stereotypical, but it also serves to let us know exactly who they are, without using a lot of words on them. In this case, the stereotypes work.
And I simply adore Phil’s writing in this story. It’s elegant and crisp, drawing the reader in and painting vivid pictures that call his voice to my mind all these years later.
Having been published originally in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in April, 1966, the technology is dated. However, that doesn’t bother me. Perhaps it’s nostalgia, and I freely admit there’s a lot of that in this review. However, even dated technology gives this story a mid-twentieth-century sci fi feel that is appealing. And it makes me wish they would do a movie based on the story. Oh, not the Total Recall ones that borrow small bits and miss the whole point of the original work. But an honest-to-goodness film that would capture all the nuances of my favorite story.
You can purchase this story at Amazon in the collection, The Philip K. Dick Reader.