So I just the other day polished off REAMDE, the new thriller by Neal Stephenson. Stephenson’s on my short list of writers whose grocery lists I would pay to read, so I was expecting to like it, and like it I certainly did.

There were one or two reviews of REAMDE that said, basically, yes it’s entertaining, but we’ve become used to some profundity out of Stephenson, and this book doesn’t deliver on that. Doesn’t tell us anything about mankind and science and philosophy, or anything like that. And I guess it doesn’t. My uninformed take on that is that Stephenson never set out to write books that would be Good For Us, but that he writes about stuff that he finds interesting, and if that turns out to be Deep, then that’s great, and if it doesn’t, then that’s great. To me, REAMDE didn’t seem qualitatively different from Stephenson’s other books.

One thing that did bug me a bit. I don’t want to make too much of it, but it did catch my attention. It’s about the female characters.

I’m going to try to state this in such a way that it doesn’t spoil anything. See, REAMDE is an adventure story that features a bunch of characters, say ten of them give or take, bouncing all over the world in pursuit of various goals. Of these main characters, some, less than half, are women. And at the end of the story there aren’t any women characters left who aren’t paired up romantically with one of the men characters.

There are probably a lot of other stories out there that do the same thing. The Breakfast Club, for instance. I did the same thing in Sliced Bread 2, more or less. Didn’t plan it that way; it just sort of happened. Was I thinking, subconsciously, that female characters are only in a story to be love interests for male characters? Or that falling in love is a necessary part of a woman character’s story in a way that it isn’t for a man character? Or that if you have a cool female character (like Stephenson’s!) then it’s kind of a waste not to have her end up in a romance that’s interesting for the writer to write about and satisfying for the reader to read about… but that that’s not true of a cool male character? No idea. But apparently this is an easy pattern to fall into. I wouldn’t even want to speculate on what Stephenson was thinking; for all I know he very specifically wanted his characters to end up the way they did, and had definite reasons in his mind for it, in which case I’d be making a small deal out of nothing.

Anyway. Doesn’t make a story bad to be like that. Just asymmetric. I’m aware of it now, and anything I write, I’ll make sure to remind myself that it’s quite permissible for a female character, be she never so awesome, to remain solo at the end of a story.

Go read REAMDE; it’s awesome.

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