This post contains spoilers through “Day 2″ of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde. Feel free to spoil beyond that, but please label comments as such. For next week, lets read “Day 3″ and “Day 4.”
One of the things that I like best about this book, which, though I think so far is definitely not Stephenson’s best or most audacious, and in fact, really feels like a parody of Tom Clancy or Robert Ludlum (which is a really fun, useful thing to do, but not what I’d expected), I’m enjoying in a propulsive kind of way, is how it handles relationships between the genders. It’s not so much that they’re realistic, or even aggressively subversive. But I really appreciate — even though it may be as much a fantasy for me as the Frat Pack movies are for men — that the main object of a great deal of chivalry is a nerdy Eritrean refugee who knows more about video games that her ex-boyfriend and builds realistic Eritrean deserts in a fictional world.
First, there’s Sokolov’s entrance, which I’ll get back to in a minute and from his perspective:
Over Zula, he made a bit of a fuss, because he was that kind of guy. It didn’t matter why he was here, what sort of business he had come to transact. Women just had to be treated in an altogether different way from men; the presence of a single woman in the room changed everything. He kissed her hand. He apologized for the trouble. He exclaimed over her beauty. He insisted that she make herself comfortable. He inquired, several times, whether the temperature in the room was not too chilly for a “beautiful African” and whether he might send one of his minions out to fetch her some hot coffee. All of this with meaningful glances at Peter, whose manners came off quite poorly by comparison.
This is all sort of funny and horrible and slightly off as well as being charming, because Sokolov is in the midst of an operation that is murdering someone Zula’s been working with, calling her a “beautiful African” is kind of creepy and reductionist, and part of this chivalry ends up being a ploy to drug Zula and put her on a private jet bound for China. But at the same time, there’s something genuine to it, something that’s not exclusive to Sokolov. We already know that Richard has gone to extreme lengths to keep Zula protected. Peter’s gotten them into this horrible mess because he wants to hang on Zula. Sokolov brings her flowers along with the coffee, which is totally unnecessary. And then, they’re joined by a hunky but vulnerable Hungarian who, when he meets Zula, who goes in for a handshake, “bent forward and kissed it, not in an arch way, but as if hand kissing were a wholly routine procedure for him.”