(Not as catchy as Oh, John Ringo, No, I know, but it’s heartfelt.)
I’ve been reading Neal Stephenson books for a long time now. Diamond Age is one of my favorite books, hands down. I have two hardcopies, the audiobook, and the ebook. I’ve read most of his fiction (I skipped The Big U), and really enjoyed it.
I finally started his latest novel last night, Reamde. Chugging along happily, giggling at the pokes at “ironic” hipsters, enjoying the building up of the though experiment that’s the core of the book. The couple of paragraphs about how the main character spent a decade playing video games, put on a lot of weight, then learned to play while walking on a treadmill and lost it all again made me wince, but I gritted my teeth, shrugged, and moved on.
Then I came to this passage:
Just how dirty and squalid that trailer had been, and just how much Devin had weighed, had been greatly exaggerated since then by Devin’s detractors in the T’Rain fan community. It was true that his reluctance to travel had much to do with the fact that he did not fit comfortably into an airline seat, but that was true of a lot of people. It was not true, as far as Richard could tell, that he had grown too obese to fit through the doorway of his trailer. Later, when the money started coming in, Devin moved into an Airstream so that he could be towed around the country with no interruption in his writing schedule—not because he was physically unable to leave it. Richard had seen the Airstream. Its doorway was of normal width and its sanitary facilities no larger than those of any other such vehicle, yet Devin had used both of them, if not routinely, then, well … when he had to.
It was all kind of irrelevant now. Richard had shared with Devin the trick of working (or at least playing) while walking on a treadmill, and Devin had taken it rather too far. Obesity had not been a problem with him for a long time. On the contrary. The nickname Skeletor was at least four years old. There was a web page where you could track his heart rate, and the number of miles he’d logged that day, in real time. He graciously credited Richard with saving his life by telling him about the treadmill thing, and Richard ungraciously wondered whether that had been such a good idea.
Holy fuck. No. Just no.
Now, for the record, I live in the same area as Mr. Stephenson. I’ve seen him at readings, been introduced once in passing, have friends who hang out with him. He is a classic ectomorph, very tall — well over six feet — and very thin. He’s into martial arts, especially unusual ones, like Renaissance-style swordplay and Bartitsu, a Victorian martial art that employs canes and parasols as weapons. Staying thin for him requires literally no work at all, and, frankly, wouldn’t even if he wasn’t as active as he is. He might get a bit of a pot belly, but that would be it. He could never be actually fat. He enjoys massive thin privilege. He has no idea of what it means to be fat, and no idea of how major weight loss works, or, more precisely, doesn’t. His idea of what it takes is “just start exercising.” Except, of course, that what he’s actually showing is an exercise addiction, something that is not healthy, either. Here is a man who spends a couple of years at a time researching cryptography, or the history of calculus and the Baroque era, or ecoteur’s methods, or monetary systems, just because he can and he feels like it. But he can’t be bothered to spend one fucking day researching the actual science of weight loss, eating disorders, compulsive exercising, and their effects on the body.
And for extra hatefulness, he throws in ugly stereotypes such as fat people being poor trailer-trash, being slovenly, being so fat they can’t get through doors, not using “sanitary facilities” often, and the idea that losing large amounts of weight is automatically life-saving (ignoring that the metabolic problems that kind of weight loss causes can be quite dangerous in and of itself, that exercising that much puts a serious strain on heart, lungs, muscles, and joints, and, oh, btw, that being fat doesn’t actually shorten your life span, no matter how often that lie is told). And then he throws in the disgusting body-shaming epithet “Skeletor,” demonstrating once again the Catch-22 that a fatty is reviled for being fat, and then can be reviled again for weight loss or attempts at it.
I am just completely disgusted. I’ve put up with a bunch of eye-roll-inducing stuff from his books because I enjoy so much about them, but I am really not sure I can keep reading this fucking book.