Before Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” (1966), Raymond F. Jones wrote the far lesser known “The Memory of Mars” (1961)–his own paranoid thriller about a vacation to Mars that might not have happened exactly as remembered. This is a plot-driven story. There are multiple twists and delusional layers that unfold at lightning speed–some more satisfying than others. You might want to read the story in the December 1961 issue of Amazing Stories, ed. Cele Goldsmith first.
“The Memory of Mars” has all the pieces of a paranoid masterpiece. A journalist named Mel Hastings, trained to be objective, waits for his wife Alice to be released from surgery. As he waits anxiously for news knowing that something has gone wrong, he recalls his wife’s persistent claim that they had gone on a vacation to Mars the first year of their marriage. The simmering terror of his own phobia of space and recurrent nightmares of being chased across the black void suggest there’s more than he remembers. Mel’s called into the surgery room with disturbing news. His wife is dead and something is terribly wrong with her viscera. Vigil Finlay’s top-notch interior art (above) hints at the terror that unfolds as Alice’s inhuman interior is laid bare….
In a state of manic sadness, Mel sets out to discover what happened to his wife. And in a drawer of her ephemera, he discovers a picture album of “Alice at Red sands. Alice at the Phobos oasis. Alice at the Darnella ruins” (27). Had they been to Mars? Or is there another layer to the madness?
Three elements drew me into the story. Other than the last quarter, it’s a tightly wound nightmare that had me itching to find out what happens next. Jones’ treatment of psychiatry bucks a lot of trends of the day where it’s presented as a sinister evil. Instead, “psycho-recovery” utilizing “a cage of terminals […] fitted to his head and a thousand small electrodes adjusted to contact with his skull” reveals secrets Mel has repressed (29). Also, Jones’ suggests that individual billionaires might be responsible for commercial space travel (we, unfortunately, are living in the era of Musk and Bezos).
Like PKD’s “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” the ending is a bit too trite. The “I can’t wait to find out what happens next” plot pivots into exposition on a time-worn theme that doesn’t quite work. It’s hard to imagine Alice’s body was the first to yield its secrets. As a rigorously plotted thriller, this almost feels like the real source material for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall (1990). I don’t mean to push the PKD comparisons too far. These are different stories. Some plot points are similar but they are told in their own distinctive manner.
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