Warning: Spoilers abound. If you haven’t read The Book of Atrus, I suggest you do so before proceeding. You can buy all three novels here.
Myst: The Book of Atrus was published in 1995, well into the heyday of the original Myst but still two years before the release of Riven. It appears to set two basic goals for itself: to expand the backstory of the original game and set the stage for the new one. The book is credited to Rand and Robyn Miller, Myst’s foremost creators, with coauthor credit to David Wingrove, an SF writer previously known for Chung Kuo, a sprawling epic about a future in which Imperial China rules the world. (In true diehard-fan fashion, I attempted to read the first of these volumes, with no success.) As a work of literature, the novel is probably slightly better than your average science fiction novel, at least stylistically. As a part of the Myst canon, this novel (and the other two) form a sort of backstory-bible, one which became so integral to the series that the games eventually came to depend on it.
I recently learned of the Bechdel Test, a three-part test used on works of fiction to determine how well its female characters are developed and integrated. It was devised by none less than Alison Bechdel, author of the remarkable graphic memoir Fun Home (which you should read if you haven’t yet). There’s already an entire website devoted to evaluating movies with the test, but of course my immediate concern was how well my own works would fair under scrutiny.
The test is as follows: A work must have (1) two or more female characters (2) who talk to each other (3) about something besides a man. Sounds simple enough! Let’s see how I fare.
Sunrise. (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! There are a few examples, mostly from Issue 4, but some from other issues as well. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try harder, as I do notice that these examples are few and far between.
Realm (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Back to the drawing board for Realm. Luckily, I haven’t plotted out the entire book yet so there’s still plenty of time to revise.
Zirconius. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. This is not an entirely fair application of the test though, as the Zarks are basically genderless. Still, they are referred to with male pronouns so I suppose this still counts as a violation.
Let’s look at some recent short stories (not available online, unfortunately).
“Imagine the Violin.” (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Only one female character, and she’s going insane. Sigh.
“Constance.” (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! A story about two women who talk to each other, and only briefly about a man! As clear a pass as anyone could want.
“Real Space Experience.” (1) Yes. (2) No. Verdict: Fail. Quite a few female characters, but they never speak to each other. Granted, there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue in the story, but it’s still a violation.
Let’s look at a few other things.
Barnacle Bert in “Hands Up, Jellyfish!” Oh, no. You can’t be serious. Ah well, here goes: (1) No. Verdict: Fail. But– but–two of the jellyfish are female, and they’re talking! I think! No, wait, if they are talking they’re probably talking about Bert. Argh. Well, at least the anglerfish is female.
The Violinist. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Having a female protagonist is not enough to pass the test.
Remnants. Some of you may recall this novel from a few years ago, which was available online for a while. Let’s see how it fares: (1) Yes. (2) Yes. (3) Yes. Verdict: Pass! Finally. Flawed as this book may be, my brief foray into it just now yielded three Bechdel-Test-worthy conversations. Yena, the female protagonist, talks to Mrs. Tamila (a grouchy customer), Rimel (an utter imbecile), and Morica (the villain). All loathsome characters, unfortunately.
Just to round out the number to an even ten, we’ll look at “Lander,” my astronaut story that probably a few of you have seen. (1) No. Verdict: Fail. Sigh.
So, to summarize:
Works examined: 10
Works passing Bechdel Test: 3