We Can Remember It For You Wholesale is a short story written by legendary science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. It is the story of a man whose memories and mind are repeatedly garbled by a combination of governments and private corporations.
The protagonist of the story is Douglas Quail, who seems at first glance to be just an ordinary salaried employee living out his ordinary life, escaping from the plainness of it all by fantasizing about visiting Mars. The fantasies grow stronger and stronger until one day he visits a company called the Rekal Corporation, where they offer to implant false memories into minds in order to add the belief to Douglas's mind that he had in fact taken a trip to Mars.
Unfortunately, just before the memory replacement is about to begin, Douglas's subdued mind begins to recall that he actually had been sent to Mars by an international police force called Interplan to assassinate the leader of an underground rebellion movement on Mars. Naturally, Rekal is freaked out by this revelation, so they merely wake Douglas up and send him on his way without implanting the memory. Unfortunately, this experience causes the original memory to slowly unseed itself and the tale turns into a story of how a man deals with two conflicting sets of memories.
This story deals with a number of interesting issues, mostly dealing with how an individual would respond to multiple conflicting memories. Would the person descend into confusion, or would the person try to integrate the memories into some sort of mutant worldview? A lot of ethical and psychological issues result from the ability to put into someone's mind the ability to remember things that did not happen, and these issues are the ones that the story revolves around.
How would the government use such memory replacement abilities? This story seems to indicate that the government would use the ability to clear the memory of the special operatives that they employ once they've outlived their usefulness. But what happens to these people after they are discarded, especially if their memory comes back?
Even more interesting is how companies would deal with this responsibility. Companies who have the ability to do such things; what sort of ethical responsibilities do they have? The ability to alter memories adds the opportunity for many sorts of graft and unethical use of human minds; would corporations exploit this, and how?
This story even touches on how exactly the immediate family of someone with multiple memories deals with the situation. This is similar to the film Memento in terms of how someone can deal with memories that aren't necessarily true, and those that conflict.
Phillip K. Dick is a legendary science fiction writer; among his most well-known works are The Man in the High Castle, considered to be the best alternate history novel ever written, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the novel upon which the film Blade Runner was based.
This story provided the (very) loose basis for the action/science fiction film Total Recall. The reinvention of this psychological tale into an action story takes this tale from the very good to the mediocre, but even a great number of details were altered as well. For instance, in the film, the main character was named Douglas Quaid. It also eliminates many of the more interesting questions the story raises, simply by replacing them with explosions.