Fair warning here: I spend a lot of this post casually dropping bits of details about the plot of Reamde. I say this not just because of spoilers, but because you aren’t going to believe that all of these things could possibly happen in the same novel. Well, believe me. They do.
According to Deadline Chris and Paul Weitz are all ready to write and produce Neal Stephenson‘s Reamde as a television show for Fox, and you should care because of the novel’s triad of major female characters.
I’ll be the first to point out that when Neal Stephenson, a writer whose every new book I will read without hesitation, has female characters in secondary roles, they tend to all be cut from the same cloth. They’re usually something of a cipher to the male main character, but in that he finds them to be more socially adept than him and in that way impressive and mysterious. Being wiser, more mature, and (because of those qualities, specifically, rather than physical beauty or social position) someone who the main character must earn the respect (and love) of by making a psychological or maturity breakthrough is by no means the worst trope associated with female characters, but it’s still something of a cliché. When they are the central characters of his stories, however, they are pretty consistently just as capable, resourceful, smart, and in some cases broken as his male heroes. Reamde, a novel that features not so much separate plot threads as a series of plot rivers that split, merge, encounter new rivers and then eventually form the huge swamp that makes up the climax of the entire book, has almost no secondary characters. Which, in the situation I’ve outlined above, means that Reamde’s three most prominent women, Zula Forthrast, Qian Yuxia, and Olivia Halifax-Lin are all characters I would love to see in a long running television series.
Zula is an Eritrean refuge adopted at an early age into the extended Forthrast clan of the midwestern United States, who spends most of the book being the world’s most resourceful twice-kidnapped expert on geology, programming, and the modern MMORPG. Qian Yuxia is tourist guide who has never left her native Xiamen, but is probably the most determined member of her three to four person plot group who wind up having to quietly get from China to America without the advantage of any passports. Olivia Halifax-Lin is a mixed-race Chinese/British citizen and MI6 operative who finds the sole mission she has been groomed for her entire career (keeping tabs on a very dangerous Welsh-born converted-Islamic jihadist of African descent) literally blown up by Russian gangsters, whereupon she gains the knowledge (lacking any proof) of an imminent terrorist attack on American soil and sets out to singlehandedly get American authorities to pay attention it without the approval of her superiors.
Have I mentioned yet that the novel’s plot is jumpstarted by a virus, created by Chinese gold farmers, that targets the players of an MMORPG founded by Zula’s adoptive uncle, and that at the end of it everybody winds up in a high-ordinance shootout at the cabin home of Zula’s isolationist, anti-government distant relatives? Also bad guy gets eaten by a cougar.
Is there a lot of potential for the Weitzes to muck an adaptation of Reamde up? Certainly. But I’ll be interested to see it progress. After all, there’s a chance they might not, and I’ll get to watch Zula Forthrast in live action.