Total Recall by Philip K. Dick

‘Inspired by’ is a tricky turn of phrase. It can be so difficult to measure the level of inspiration garnered from one medium to another. Some may lead to a faithful adaptation, respectful to its source material, while some may end up so far removed from the original, one has to wonder why the makers even acknowledged it.

Previously released in 1987, this Philip K. Dick collection, ‘Total Recall’, complete with Colin Farrell looking serious on the cover, contains the ‘inspiration’ for the new film. Beyond the fact that both lead characters have memory issues, there is little resemblance between the two finished products. The 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger adaptation gets a free pass because it was so ridiculous and didn’t take itself too seriously.

However, none of this is Philip K. Dick’s fault, he didn’t ask for his thought-provoking short stories to be bastardised and then re-released in a timely fashion.

The collection’s centrepiece ‘We can remember it for you wholesale’, focuses on Douglas Quail and his struggle to find his missing memories. An excellent journey into memory and perception, with a nice twist ending. It makes for a very different story to the film adaptations and hopefully readers won’t be reduced to playing ‘spot the difference’ between the two as it’s an amazingly engaging story with beautiful pacing.

Other notable stories in the collection include ‘Not By Its Cover’ deals with the fur of a Martian creature which creates a preserving truth aura around everything it touches. It’s not a long story but it’s perfectly paced with a satisfying conclusion.

‘Rautavaara’s Case’ deals with some big issues including enforced life-support and the right to die which are still relevant today. ‘The Exit Door Leads In’ is perfect for those who suspect that every encounter in life is some form of test while ‘The War With The Fnools’ is a comedy invasion tale that takes a sinister turn when the would-be invaders discover that human vices such as drinking alcohol and smoking increase their size.

I may have been overly-critical about the timing and sentiment of ‘Total Recall’ but the fact remains that this collection takes some of the best of Dick and represents them in a handy format. At the very least it may inspire more people to read Dick which is never a bad thing. Just don’t expect any three-breasted women though.

Aidan Fortune

September 2012


(pub: Gollancz. 395 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-10029-9)

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Once called a "fountain of useless pop culture knowledge", Aidan is an unashamed geek, grateful that he is allowed share his opinions on a global scale. A journalist by trade, Aidan is a massive fan of comics and recently set up a comics group in Brighton in order to engage more with like-minded people. His home is subject to a constant battle of vintage paraphernalia and science fiction & fantasy toys.

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