Friendly Reminder: Read “The Surrogates” Before This Fall

The Extra Large Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg is not necessarily what Jesus died for, but in another time and place it could have very well been what he died from.

I have studied this seasonal “treat” from every angle, and I cannot fathom why the Hershey people would corrupt chocolate and peanut butter in this way. I say this as someone who for years has had a vocal, passionate, and unreciprocated love for the regular-sized, as-God-intended peanut butter egg, which has just the right heft and shape to perfect the already nearly immaculate peanut butter cup. It’s bigger than the cup, but you can still palm it. It sort of feels like you should be skipping it across a pond. I used to horde these eggs each Easter and fill my freezer with them, breaking them out to celebrate milestones and good report cards like they were champagne for the underaged. People know this about me; this is probably why everyone I have ever met in my life who has entered a Walgreens in the last month has bought one of the Extra Large eggs and thoughtfully surprised me with it. What these well-wishers do not know, unfortunately, is that this unwieldy leviathan has less in common with a peanut butter cup than it does with a cinder block filled with rubber cement.

Take a minute. Click on that link up there. Look at that thing. That thing is the size of a damn Big Mac, a Big Mac filled with that Reese’s clay-consistency peanut butter, sheathed in chocolate as thick as bulletproof glass. It defies you to bite it. Are you supposed to use a knife and fork? I’m at a loss to figure out how you’re meant to eat it, or I was before I scarfed down every last morsel of it, greedily turning it in my wriggling fingers like a raccoon eating out of a dumpster.

It tasted like shame.

Like its older brother Christmas, Easter is one of the candy-and-meat holidays, and this annual opportunity for my mother to choke me to death with ham could not have come at a worse time. I have already spent a lot of time lately feeling like a pasty, misshapen lump of lethargy. This winter has not been good for my exercise regimen or diet, although I have made some pioneering strides in the fields of excuses and additional meal invention. With the coming of spring, I have finally started to get tired of myself again; as I cross the bathroom tile each morning en route to the shower, I glance in the mirror just long enough to make eye contact with myself and say, “Hey, there, meatbag! Remember: don’t you eat that soap! Have fun today ruling Tatooine’s underworld with a reptilian fist.”

But oh, the prospect of that treadmill. The prospect of exercising when there are so many books to read on the couch, and so many DVR’d shows to watch on the couch, and so many delicious pies cockily cooling on windowsills like they own the place. The more I struggle to break my bad winter habits and stop sprinkling bacon bits on my Lucky Charms, the more I think about the wit and insight of Robert Venditti’s The Surrogates.

The Surrogates
is a book that has had a chance or two to come up on this site since its humble beginnings as a miniseries in, oh, let’s say 2005. Since getting my attention is like turning an aircraft carrier, I only recently caught up to the rest of the literati after Stack Week. Immediately after I put the book down– which was not easy to do before that last page– I felt the urge to start campaigning for it. I wanted to cold call people and stick copies of it inside strangers’ screen doors. It’s one of those.

The book is set in 2054 in a world where nearly everyone has given up on going outside in person and interacting with the real world. Instead, people buy highly sophisticated lifelike robots called “surrogates” which they control remotely from the comfort of their own homes via a complex virtual reality interface. In a way, it’s a world in which the anonymity of internet avatars has broken free of the web and has been taken to its logical conclusion. Anyone can look like anything. Gender, race, age, and height are all a matter of choice. Are you the type of person who eats an entire Reese’s Peanut Butter Brick, someone who will eventually leave home via a crane or winch? No matter; your surrogate still always looks like Jon Hamm, and no one ever has to see you as you really are.

Immediately, you can see the appeal to me.

The world of The Surrogates intrigued me, but when I sat down to read it I was taken aback by what a deliberate, thoughtfully written book it is. The author took a basic idea that I had imagined since I was a kid (but had done nothing with, goddammit; don’t you hate when that happens?) and explored with careful consideration what kind of effect this invention would actually have on the world at large.

God help me for writing this where geeks can read it, but in a way the reading experience reminded me of Watchmen. No, I’m not equating this book to the Sacred Text, but I am throwing its name into the hat for those of you who keep asking, “What does my non-comic reading friend who liked Watchmen read next?” Just as Alan Moore pondered exactly what the effect of superheroes like Dr. Manhattan would be on the world, from the cars people drove to the comics they read, so too does The Surrogates put the cause and effect of a fantastical premise under a microscope.

What would happen to equal opportunity hiring if women could just decide to be men at work? What would happen to discrimination if anyone could be any race they wanted? What would happen to tobacco if people could smoke through surrogates? What kind of talent would the police force attract if no physical harm could come to cops? Hell, what would happen to crime? The book is a clever twist on the cop-stalks-serial-killer story you’ve seen in 1400 movies since high school, because the “killer” is really just wrecking empty vehicles, and every “murder” is witnessed by the person who got “murdered.” The homicide detectives have been reduced to glorified insurance adjusters. At the same time, the loss of surrogates can have a disastrous effect on the community. Every three or four pages, you find yourself exclaiming “Of course! Of course they would. Brilliant!”

I’m usually loath to write comic reviews. Partly, this is because I don’t have the huevos grande to consider myself an authority, but it’s also because for every review I have read, I have read thirteen tirades by creators about how people who review comics have no business reviewing comics, and those tirades have had the desired chilling effect on me. The back-and-forth online is like a contest to see whose ego is the most fragile, and I guess I lose; just reading the discussion almost always ends with me shouting “who do you think you are?” at an inanimate monitor, eating three pints of Phish Food and having a lie down. (I am a rutting pig.)

In this case, though, I feel compelled to go ahead and shout from the mountaintops, a mere three years after everyone else. The Surrogates is a great book, by cracky. More importantly, this rave has a sense of urgency attached to it because this fall Bruce Willis is starring in the movie, which is sure to hurl a wrecking ball through the whole thing. The between-chapter text pieces alone have more complexity than celluloid could ever hope to capture. (Sound familiar?) You have to get your hands on this while it can still live in your imagination. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Having cynically muttered “yeah, right; they already got their movie deal” when he saw the “volume I” on this book’s Amazon listing, Jim Mroczkowski was delighted and humbled to learn The Surrogates has a sequel coming out this summer. Read these books and thank him for cluing you in via Twitter or e-mail.

Comments

  1. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I will.  I promise.  

  2. Been thinking about it. Probably get to it closer to the film release.

  3. one of the best damn books ive read in the last few years; it reminded me of the prolific Ray Bradbury "Farenheight 451"

  4. Should read this….but I’ll wait til the film gets released to do a side by side comparison of it.

    Looks beautiful though

  5. It’s been sitting on my shelf for almost a year, untouched. I need to change that. 

  6. Conor told me to read it last year, so I did. He was right, it was really great.

    Fucking hysterical article, though I doubt you’re that disgusting. Even if you are, yer married AND you impregnated the woman, so she’s not going to dump you just for being a slob… Just try not to grow boobs or be an asshole and you’re probably safe.

  7. I read it before Jimski told everyone else to read it therefore making me even cooler than everybody.

  8. @Sonia, you have been sporadically incapacitated by agonizing back problems for much of the winter, and I’ll bet you’ve still gotten more exercise than I have.

    I’m exaggerating a little bit. I’m setting myself up to go to a con with iFanboy one day and have people come up to me all weekend, saying, "You are less repugnant than described."

    Also: while writing this article, I stopped to eat the cat.

  9. So I guess nobody’s reading Mitishelah…

  10. I’m gonna read it a second time! LOVE THIS BOOOOK and am super pumped for the movie. d:D

  11. i no has money

  12. @gwiz – water and food don’t pay for themselves… figure something out!

  13. One thing jimki failed to mention: The Reese’s Egg is also almost calorically identical to a Big Mac.

     250 calories per serving, 5 servings per mini-football of hellish delight.

    I had a friend give me one, I gave it back when my immediate thought was to mush it into a pile and bury my face in it like Tony Montana at his desk.

     

  14. I’m going to re-read it now, thanks for the reminder!

  15. This will indeed be on my next InStock Trades order after having a Facebook friend tell me to check it out. This gives me even more incentive.

  16. this looks really cool and i got the same reeses thing too…mad awesome but mad not healthy

  17. The Surrogates is definitely good reads.  You should pick up the trade before it says "Now a Major Motion Picture starring Bruce Willis."  I always hate that.

  18. You make a really good case for this book and now I want to read it. The only problem with this article is that I don’t think it will ever be cool. Bruce Willis hardly has that power anymore. What a shame.

  19. ^Oh. Well if the movie isn’t going to be cool then that actually increases my chances of giving the book a shot. As it was, I looked at this article and thought, "Well if ‘The Surrogates’ is liked by the people who care about reading something before the movie comes out, just so they actively brag about having that, then there’s no way I would want to read it. Because I don’t want to be like those people."

  20. I can’t vouch for the movie, obviously, but here’s what I know about it:

    -The guy who made Terminator 3: Rise of the Unnecessary Sequels is directing it.

    -If you look at that first image at the top of this page, Bruce Willis is playing the guy on the left. Ving Rhames is playing the guy on the right.

  21. This was on my list of GN’s to buy and I’ll bump it up. I’m a bit disturbed at how much you’ve managed to remind me of me, though…

     

  22. @Jimski, Still gonna pick it up and read it, just felt like being a jerk about Willis. Has he made any decent flicks lately? None come to mind. I’ll ask my Film Study teacher tomorrow. If anyone can think of one, he will.

  23. Just coming back to this article to thank you for recommending this book, Jimski!  Reading your articles and hearing you on the Writers’ podcast convinced me I liked your style, so I bought The Surrogates straight from this page’s Amazon link the day you posted it, and I am so glad I did.  This was top-notch science fiction, so good it reminded me why I love the genre.

  24. @Jimski

    I just wanted to thank you for the recommendation.  I sat on the El and read it in a sitting, with a missed stop on my part.  The whole religion vs. science angle was great, definately made me stop and think about what I would do in that situation.  Just like you I will be surprised in how they will handle that between chapters material because it added so much to the overall story.  Any idea on which character Willis is playing because if he is the lead cop it kinda ruins the whole solving the case on your own part of the story.  I for some reason though of good old Dennis Franz from NYPD Blue during the whole read using some young fit surrogate and then showing how he aged.    Anyone who is debating stop and read this great book!

  25. Sorry just read your post about Bruce playing the lead and am now kind worried about the movie.

  26. I’m glad you liked the book! I would hate to think I wasted somebody’s money.

    I don’t have any information about the movie, but Robert Venditti seems excited by what he has seen. I am going to choose hope over dread until Ebert or someone tells me otherwise.