Book vs. Movie vs. Movie: Total Recall
By Russ Bickerstaff
August 7, 2012
In this corner: the Book. A collection of words that represent ideas when filtered through the lexical systems in a human brain. From clay tablets to bound collections of wood pulp to units of stored data, the book has been around in one format or another for some 3,800 years.
And in this corner: the Movie. A 112-year-old kid born in France to a guy named Lumiere and raised primarily in Hollywood by his uncle Charlie "the Tramp" Chaplin. This young upstart has quickly made a huge impact on society, rapidly becoming the most financially lucrative form of storytelling in the modern world.
Both square off in the ring again as Box Office Prophets presents another round of Book vs. Movie.
In April of 1966, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction published a compelling little piece of sci-fi by author Philip K. Dick. We Can Remember It for You Wholesale featured the twisted, existential funhouse of implanted memories in a brief, highly readable package. The short story was nominated for a Nebula award. Perhaps it was the Nebula award that managed to attract some attention from Hollywood some years later. In the early 1980s, there were rumors that Disney Studios was going to option Total Recall - a script that had been adapted from the story. After languishing for several years, the property was finally picked-up in the late '80s and turned into a big-budget early '90s Arnold Schwarzenegger film directed by Paul Verhoeven. In spite of its many flaws, that film went on to become a sci-fi classic that has now been remade into a second big-budget motion picture. How does the original 1966 story compare with the two movies that have been loosely based on it?
The Short Story
Over the course of the early 1960s, Dick went from being an author of short stories in obscure sci-fi magazines to an author of some acclaim in the genre. His 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle won him a Nebula Award. In addition to regular novels, Dick continued to write short stories. Not having to kick out quite as many as he had early on in his career to make ends meet, his short stories ended up being a bit more novel - a bit less typical of other work in the genre. Not that Dick's work was ever as weak and derivative of much of what was being published at the time, but his short stories in the latter half of the '60s showed a spark of originality that his earlier stuff didn't. We Can Remember It for You Wholesale was one such story.
The premise had a future man named Douglas Quail waking up from dreams of going to Mars. Evidently working as a clerk for a government immigration office, he could never afford the trip, but he'd always wanted to go there, so he went to a place that made a business out of neurologically implanting memories of exotic vacations. They offered Quail the opportunity to remember working as a secret agent on the Martian colonies. Though the memories never actually happened, he would think that they did. And he would be given souvenirs to prove that he'd been there.