January 15, 1990 12:00 PM

by Piers Anthony

In the 21st century, a construction worker’s placid existence is haunted by vivid, recurring dreams of secret agent derring-do on Mars. For surcease, he goes to a company that implants recreational memories at a fraction of the cost of real vacations. Their motto: “We can remember it for you wholesale,” which is the title of the Philip K. Dick short story that inspired this book. In the course of the implant procedure, the man discovers that his life on earth is a lie; he is in fact a dashing covert agent on the repressive Mars colony.

Total Recall marks the return of Anthony (author of Adept and Bio of a Space Tyrant series) to pure (that is, more plausible) science fiction after five years of fantasy writing. It’s a clumsy homecoming, written in ham-handed pulp style. The women are all pneumatic nymphos who can’t keep their hands off the swarthy hero. The prose is carved out of something considerably softer: “Lori was Woman-Plus! How had an ordinary Joe like him managed to capture such a creature?”

Anthony’s narrative pace at least picks up as the agent, dispatching deadly assailants every other paragraph, heads back to Mars. Things really jolt along for a while, but then Anthony drops in a confusing plot device about an advanced civilization trying to contact man. By the time these sketchily drawn antlike creatures enter the book, Anthony will have alienated all but the most determined of his readers. (Morrow, $16.95)

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