Total Recall was a 1990 movie directed by Paul Verhoeven and based on a short story by Phillip K. Dick called “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale“. The short story follows a man named Douglas Quail who learns that he’s had two past lives not through reincarnation but due to altered memories.

The movie that followed changed Quail’s last name to Quaid and was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger. (A remake came out in 2012 but I haven’t seen it.) The screenplay by Donald Shusette, Dan O’Bannon, and Gary Goldman (with Jon Povill taking O’Bannon’s place for the full story) was adapted into a book by Avon Books with Piers Anthony as the writer. Most adaptations are based on earlier scripts, so lines are changed and scenes are added or removed. Sometimes scenes are added to fill out the book. A novel has different needs and skills from a movie. (There were also other adaptations; a comic by DC Comics and a few video games. I own the comic and the Interplay-produced NES game.) One thing Anthony did was expand on the origins of the alien machine at the heart of the story.

I’ve already reviewed the chapters one at a time as part of my other site’s “Chapter By Chapter” series. This is a round-up review and a decision of the book’s future in my collection.

Total RecallTotal Recall adaptation

Avon Books (June, 1990 (first printing)

AUTHOR: Piers Anthony

With minor changes, either from the script or Anthony’s changes, the book still follows the story of the movie. Douglas Quaid is a construction worker who has dreams of Mars and a woman who isn’t his sexy wife, Lori. Seeing an ad for a company called Rekall that promises to sell false memories (complete with everything you need to fool yourself and others into thinking you actually experienced those events…provided nobody wonders why you weren’t gone for all that time) Doug figures this will be a substitute for the trip to Mars Lori refuses to go on. And that’s where things go wrong, as Douglas Quaid learns of a whole other life, a man named Douglas Quaid Hauser, and political intrigue involving Cohaagen, the man who runs the Martian colony like a dictator and how Doug is the key to saving Mars. Although as I’ll get to, Anthony throws in the entire human race at no charge.

The novel has time to expand on the characters. That isn’t quite to our benefit in the early chapters as we see Quaid is a minor perv. I really don’t need to hear about Doug’s “sexy time” with Lori, or how a dress that makes a woman look naked from certain angles turns him on. (Who would make a dress like that anyway and what office would let their secretary wear it on the job?) We do get more of the false memories implanted in his mind so you kind of feel for the guy as he learns everything he knew about his life was a lie. But then we get the history of other characters, like Melina the dream girl or a minor character that gets a full backstory before dieing.

And that gets into one of Anthony’s changes, or at least a possible change from an earlier draft of the script, and one that’s a bit controversial according to Wikipedia. I don’t know what the original screenwriters planned, but Verhoeven had planned for the end of the movie to be ambiguous, letting the viewer decide whether or not Quaid had dreamt the whole thing up at Rekall when the process went wrong. The adaptation, however, seems to be convinced that the events we see did actually happen, that these people existed as did the aliens who made the machine.

Spoilers for a major reveal exclusive to the novel

Anthony brings us the ant-like No’ui, a race that is part of a group of aliens who bring their culture and technology throughout the universe, supposedly as the universe slowly destroys itself from the center out. If you pass the test, in this case humans coming to Mars and activating the machine that terraforms the planet, you get to join them and become “traders”. Try to misuse the technology and it explodes in a supernova. In fact, there’s foreshadowing in news stories as scientists report a huge series of supernovae (I believe that is the plural, rather than “supernovas”) erupting around the solar system, later theorized to be other alien races failing the test.

Anthony goes into detail of the No’ui society as Quaid, then Hauser, stumbles upon one of their chambers where another implant shows him the literal-minded culture of the aliens as well as the universe eroding. This actually is sort of in line (although different circumstances) with Dick’s short story, as Quail did in fact meet aliens and that meeting saves his life as an adult. Again, Doug is the only man who can save the world or doom it. Lucky for us Hauser had fallen for Melina, at least in the novel as what side Hauser was on was also left to the viewer, and joined the good guys, ensuring that Cohaagen wouldn’t blow us all up like the other races.

OKAY! Spoilers over!

I’m not sure how Anthony would have created the same ambiguous ending but it might not be impossible. Still, that doesn’t bother me as much as I’m one of those who votes for “it actually happened”, which makes Cohaagen’s plan convoluted and silly. The additions to the novelization only fill that hole partway. However, as you’ll see if you read my chapter by chapter review linked to in the intro to this article, the addition of the No’ui feels unnecessary. Sure it’s interesting that the creators of the alien machine get some backstory and I do like what he did with them, but there are moments when it serves no purpose or seems to even alter the way we look at Doug’s actions in either persona, Hauser or Quaid, with the traders and the big kaboom and stuff. I like the idea but I wouldn’t have missed it had it not been there.

That leads to the “Clutter Report” question of whether or not I’d read this again. And honestly I’m not sure that I would. At some point I may review the movie itself and having the book on hand when I discuss it would be nice because it would make for interesting information if I do it as a video. Beyond that, though, I’ve never been drawn to bring the movie into my video library. I do like the story, but not enough that I’d want to watch it over and over again, and I feel the same way about the novel and the comic. I like the story but I’m not drawn to repeated viewings or readings. (I have other problems with the video game.)

So maybe I’ll keep it around to see if I’ll ever do the review of the movie but otherwise and after that I don’t think I’ll be holding on to the novel. It’s a good read and if someone asked me about it I’d say give it a read but as for me personally I’m not seeing myself wanting to really read it again.

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