Living Vicariously: Robert Venditti Talks Surrogates - Part 2

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In Part 2 of Broken Frontier’s conversation with Surrogates’ author Robert Venditti, he talks about the difference between the movie and the comic.

Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: I understand that one of the elements in the book is that they can actually experience things through these surrogates, but only the things that they want to experience. They can cut off any pain or discomfort, but they can experience thrills, pleasures…

That’s actually the way it is in the movie. The book is not that way. That was something I was going to possibly do… I don’t want to give away too much. You know, I have it envisioned as a trilogy of books, and I have some thoughts on doing things like that, that I already had noted out for future stories, but in the current stories with the surrogates, you can feel pain and those types of things.

And you know, pain isn’t without its purpose; as far as the human body goes, when you put your hand on the stove, you feel pain, that’s your body telling you get your hand off the stove, so you don’t damage yourself. So that way, feeling pain to a surrogate would be equally beneficial, because you could be standing there with your hand on the stove, and your surrogate could be on fire, and you wouldn’t know it. You know, like a Tom & Jerry cartoon… “I smell something burning, what is that? Oh, that’s my hand…”

BF:  In the book, then, can the pain be lethal to the user?

No. In the book, the user does not die from something happening to their surrogate. And that’s sort of one of the questions I have one of the characters ask another character at one point; he says to him “Pain doesn’t hurt when you know no damage is done.”

And I wonder about that as well. Is the reason why pain is so painful because we know that we just broke our arm? If we knew that our arm was not really breaking, would the pain really hurt that bad? You know what I mean? So that’s sort of something I was playing with as well.

BF: That seems like a pretty radical departure; I mean, it kind of changes the whole dynamic from the book to the movie, right?

It does… I don’t know how radical of a departure it is, because like I say, these are all things that I thought of and noted out myself, and was planning to get to in my own time at some point. I mean, they didn’t know that when they wrote their movie; they came to their conclusions pretty independently themselves, which is why I say they’re maybe not so radical, because they seem to be implied already in the story. But it’s definitely a change from the book.

BF: I would think that would completely alter the whole way the surrogates interact out there, if they can feel pain. A lot of people think that pain is the entire motivation for our behavior, either the avoidance of it, or the attempt to erase it in some way. It would seem like the surrogates would act completely differently if they were free from pain… if you see what I mean?

Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. And like I say, I don’t go into it too much in the book, but I do try to broach that concept of “Would pain really be the same if you knew you weren’t hurting yourself?” But in the movie they made some of those changes, and they were necessary to the story they wanted to tell in the movie, and that was fine.

I guess the way I look at it is, the scenes and the subtext of the book and the movie are the same, they kept Greer and Margaret’s marriage the same, the toll that surrogate technology is having on their whole life; those are all the most important factors of the book.

When they wrote the movie, I tried to stay out of their way and let them do what they wanted to do, and they introduced some additional plotlines and things like that, where pain causes death, so users dying through the surrogates becomes an integral part. I wanted them to have the freedom to do that; I didn’t want to be sitting on their shoulder, telling them what they had to do the whole time.

BF: Was it hard for you to “let go” in that sense, to say “I did my book, now they’re going to do their movie”?

Not really. I just sort of looked at it from the beginning from this aspect of, “I’ve told the story the way I want to tell it, and I tried to be respectful of the fact that the director, and the screenwriters, and actors, and all these people, are creative in their own right and if they’re inspired by something that I had a hand in, and bring their own creativity to it, then I’m just going to take that as a compliment and get out of their way and let them do it.

Like I say, whatever they were to do with the movie, it’s not going to change the fact that my book is already out there and it exists, so I was fine with them doing what they wanted to do. I was really honestly at peace with it from the beginning.

BF: You mentioned some of the inspirations, in terms of what you were reading, that led you to write this story; what about Isaac Asimov, or Philip K. Dick, with stories like “I, Robot”, or “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Did you read any of that?

I’ve read maybe ten sci-fi novels in my whole life; a lot of them were for that class I took. I have read “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” because I was a big fan of Blade Runner, and so I read that at some point. I’ve never read anything by Asimov; I don’t know, you could probably start throwing sci-fi names at me and I wouldn’t even know who the people were.

It was just sort of an idea that I had that necessarily had to be sci-fi because it dealt with a technology that didn’t exist yet, but my exposure in pop culture and reading and things like that, was much more from the crime/detective story side of things which is obviously a very heavy part of The Surrogates as well.

To be continued...

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