We Can Remember It For You Wholesale

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This is the fifth and last volume of the collected short stories by Philip K. Dick, published in the UK by Harper Collins’ Science Fiction Fantasy collection. Kind of a little short-story bible, really. K. Dick has influenced practically every science-fiction writer in one way or another for the past forty years or so. His contribution to science-fiction is beyond reckoning : he set standards, and is foremost in the minds of anyone with even a remote interest in the genre. It is surely akin to an archeological journey into science-fiction to publish exhaustively his collected short-stories, and possibly even more so to read them. Indeed this fifth volume alone contains twenty-five stories written between 1963 and 1981 and covering a broad range of science-fiction concerns, from time-travel to extra-terrestrials, from religion to computers and more.
The breadth of K. Dick’s imagination is all there, if unequal. Some merely imaginative, some truly moving, reaching deep down, some ordinary, some funny, some tragic. All have mankind as their core, its being, its nature, its strengths and its failures. Some of these stories are masterpieces of the genre : Precious Artifact (1964), Faith of Our Fathers (1966), the title story We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (1965) which was made into the movie Total Recall, are but examples. Others might make a different selection. There a little for everybody in Philip K. Dick.
The stories are arranged chronologically, which provides interesting insight into K. Dick’s evolution over the years. Used as one is to read K. Dick novels in various SF anthologies in themed arrangements and among other writers, reading the stories chronologically does cast a different light on the consensual character of K. Dick’s aura as the mother of all science-fiction writers. Not least perturbing is the main-stream right wing kind of militancy he seems to surrender to towards the end of his life. Stories like The Pre-Persons (1973) and Strange Memories of Death (1980) and others, reek so much of religious established petit-bourgeois concerns and reaction that one suddenly wonders if one hasn’t picked up the wrong book by mistake. These are non-works, without inspiration, having no bearing beyond their intended meaning.
As with all great works of literature, and of art generally, intended meaning is not really the issue. The quality resides in conjuring up thoughts, images, emotions and desires. K. Dick can do all that, almost all the time.

Vincent Henderson