Total Drek

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Left Behind: Chapter 2, Part 1

Welcome back, boys and girls, for another thrilling episode of Left Behind, the book that will convince you that if there is a god, he hates the English language. Last time, you will recall, we got to the actual rapture and learned that women get all scared and stuff under pressure. What will happen this time? Who knows? Read and find out.

As usual, I want to recognize my favorite comment to the last episode. This time I have to choose the observation left by my Former Hypothetical Roommate, who commented:

Dude, you totally should have seen the movie, rather than try to get through the book.

I mean the movie is awful, but as I recall, it was at least faster paced than the book.

Indeed, it would have been faster but- judging from the previews- they compensate for less length by adding additional pain. Congratulations, FHR, and for the rest of you- hang in there and bring the funny. Specifically, bring it to the comments section.

While the FHR did win this week's best comment, I would like to offer a belated runner-up prize to krulayar whose comment to Chapter 1, Part 1 implores us to turn to Allah. Because the appropriate response to an atheist commenting at length on the horrid writing of a work of Evangelical Christian fiction is to post a link to a shitty youtube video praising a slightly different flavor of god. Bravo.

Anyway, as always, page and line numbers are in bold, quotations from the book are in block quotes, and my commentary is in plain text. And you can see the whole series using the handy provided tag. Enjoy!


Dramatis Personae

In no particular order, because it's fun to watch you squirm...

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type.


Chapter Two: In which we discover the full extent of the problem, learn that the authors are startlingly ignorant, and are bored to tears by terrible dialogue.

Page 21- Line Who cares:

To set the scene: we begin the chapter focusing on Buck, who is waking up. He discovers that the old lady in the seat in front of him is alarmed because she believes that her husband is running around (ironically enough) buck naked on a jetliner. We, of course, know that Jesus raptured him away in the nude (the old guy I mean. I have no idea how Jesus dresses while rapturing people. Perhaps he has a special rapture-robe?), but Buck is quite oblivious.

Page 21- Line 7-9:
Buck had helped the old man put his herringbone wool jacket and felt hat in the overhead bin when they boarded.

I hate to say it, but this book is so exciting that my reaction at this point was: "What idiot puts a hat in an overhead?" Yes, folks: I'm more interested in people's stowage choices than in the "plot."

Page 22- Line 10-12:
He [Buck] climbed over the sleeping executive on the aisle, who had far exceeded his limit of free drinks...

Shit, seriously? Do they give free alcohol in First Class or something? Damn. On another note: poor drunks! No heaven for you!

Page 23- Line 7-8:
"I'm looking for-" [Buck started]

"Everybody is looking for someone," she [Hattie] said,"

This is the first instance of something you should get used to: we're constantly told in passing about how many people are missing. I find this intriguing. Clearly, the authors want to create this sense that everyone is evangelical and you don't want to be left behind out. But in the event of the rapture would all that many people actually be missing? I'm a little doubtful. In the context of this particular plane it seems only a little bit iffy since the U.S. does actually have a lot of evangelicals and the flight departed from the United States. When the authors talk about other countries, though, it gets a little silly. How many evangelicals do you think are in Qatar, for example? Never mind. The other thing that's funny is that I frankly think the authors vastly over-estimate the percentage of self-proclaimed born again Christians who would meet with god's approval. Just read the old testament: that dude is hard to please.

Page 23- Line 22-29:
As he [Buck] hurried back to his seat, his mind searched its memory banks for anything he had ever read, seen, or heard of any technology that could remove people from their clothes and make them disappear from a decidedly secure environment. Whoever did this, were they on the plane? Would they make demands? Would another wave of disappearances be next? Would he become a victim? Where would he find himself?

Would he ever stop asking questions? Will the Batman escape from the Penguin? Why am I reading this shit? Okay, seriously, Buck is actually having a fairly sensible reaction here. Well, sort of. The most parsimonious conclusion is that he, Buck, has lost his mind. The second most parsimonious conclusion is that he, Buck, is in some kind of simulated reality. You know, wired into a computer or something. Think Descartes in the Matrix here, people. The third most parsimonious conclusion is that someone has a technology that can do what appears to have happened (i.e. teleport naked people). God is a distant fourth in the hierarchy. I base those conclusions on the fact that we (a) know insanity and delusions happen, (b) are already able to input and extract information directly to and from the brain, and (c) teleporting naked people is only slightly less crazy than (d) believing an invisible friend stole people. So, basically, we can order the possible options according to how closely they agree with existing knowledge of the world. And actually, out of kindness to the authors I omitted the very most likely explanation which is simply that Buck is dreaming the whole damn thing. You might point out that this can't be the case since Rayford is having the same experiences. True enough, but Buck has no way of knowing that and, likewise, neither does Rayford. They could both be stuck in some personal nightmare world rather than experiencing something real. And don't tell me they could just pinch themselves to see if they're dreaming- that doesn't work. In any case, I don't bother extensively with the dreaming possibility mostly just to be nice to the authors. Nevertheless, give up on a serious discussion of the various options for explaining this situation as the authors have no interest in epistemology. In an ironic twist, the guys who want us to believe in all sorts of undetectable uber-critters (e.g. angels, demons) seem to have a childishly uncomplicated faith in the accuracy of the senses.

Page 24- Line 19-22:

Rayford is explaining over the intercom that he's trying to figure out what's going on but that their location makes it hard to communicate with the ground without long delays. He then adds, "Even in this satellite age, we're in a pretty remote area." I'm not sure what to make of this, actually. On the one hand, sure, I can believe that the average 747 doesn't have a SatCom. I can even believe that this was even more the case when the book was written. On the other hand, I actually have an amateur radio license (Yes, really. Why are you surprised? Don't you remember the saga of the IceBox?) and a rig capable of talking across the Atlantic is not that hard to acquire. I think it likely that with the HF antenna setup on a 747 it would be possible to contact someone on the ground at any point during an Atlantic crossing but I can't say for sure. HF radio has an effectively intercontinental range, but a lot depends on the state of the ionosphere. I suspect the authors never bothered to check on these issues since they seem singularly uninterested in the works of mankind except to condemn them as evil, but given that I can't determine the plane's communications capabilities for certain I'm not going to worry about it. I will observe that, even if they're wrong on this detail, their claims about how much chaos the rapture produced would more or less mean that even if they did have a useable radio there wouldn't be anyone to talk to. Bummer.

Page 26- Line Morose Sigh:

And we're back with Rayford, who is trying to get a West-bound Concorde to give him some news. Specifically, he's making the attempt as though he's never used a goddamn radio before in his life...

Page 26- Line 8:
"What's happening, Concorde?" [Rayford asked]

And this is another example of the authors not knowing, or caring, how things actually work. See, during this conversation with the Concorde the characters randomly use words like "over" in some communications and not others. I know it's supposed to be atmospheric and shit, but the random usage is just distracting. Second, one would not refer to the Concorde as "Concorde." See, there are these things called "call-signs," as in, "U.S Air one-niner" or "Continental four-one" that are used to identify aircraft the same way that radio stations have call letters and amateur radio operators have assigned call signs. You don't just say, "Hey, Bob!" because over the radio a lot of the time voices get distorted and you can't tell who you're talking to. So, basically, this conversation drives me nuts because the authors don't seem to know, or care, anything about the scenario they've constructed. They're just adding a sprinkling of "radio jargon" as learned from watching television. Thankfully, the Concorde has a genius theory about the disappearances to make all this worthwhile:

Page 26- Line 18-19:
"First thing I [Concorde] thought of was spontaneous combustion, but there would have been smoke, residue."

See folks? Logic. Don't get your hopes up for better attempts to understand what happened- the authors assume we're all stupid children. Get used to it. In fact, when we eventually do encounter the secular explanation for the disappearances, it's so mind-bogglingly stupid that you'll feel patronized without even having to read the book. Good times.

Page 27- Line 3-8:
"So this was a spontaneous thing?" [asked Rayford]
"Everywhere at once, just a little under an hour ago." [answered the Concorde]
"I was hoping it was something on this plane. Some gas, some malfunction." [Rayford replied]
"That it was selective you mean, over?"
Rayford caught the sarcasm.
"I see what you mean, Concorde. Gotta admit this is somewhere we've never been before."

Okay, I think I must be dense because the above exchange completely baffles me. The guy in the concorde is reacting as though Rayford is some kinda dumbass for hoping the effect was limited just to his own plane. Why? I mean, Rayford gets it, obviously the authors get it, but I'm lost. Why the hell is that bad or in any way crazier than any of the other wacky shit being thrown around in this book? Wouldn't it be a good thing to hope that misfortune isn't spread any more widely than it absolutely has to be?

Page 27- Line 20-24:
"You know what some people are saying, over?" [asked the Concorde]
"Roger," Rayford said, "Better it's people gone to heaven than some world power doing this with fancy rays."

Fancy rays? What is this- a Tom Swift serial?

Page 28- Line 21-22:
When the Pan Continental 747 was finally within satellite communications range of the United States...

So... on Earth, then?

Page 29- Line Something-or-other:

There's some general exposition going on here to the effect that chaos reigns around the globe because so many people just up and disappeared. Rayford pipes panicked radio broadcasts into the cabin (Darned liberal media! No heaven for you!) and is ordered by ground control into a holding pattern. Much like the narrative.

Page 29- Line 24-28:
One report said that so many cabbies had disappeared from the cab corral at O'Hare that volunteers were being brought in to move the cars that had been left running with the former drivers' clothes still on the seats.

You know, given how often cabbies are immigrants, and given that we're talking Chicago, I would have expected most of the cabbies to be Catholics or Muslims rather than Born-Again Christians. But, hey, I'm not the guy writing the book so don't mind me...

Page 30- Line 16-18:
The in-flight phone embedded in the back of the seat in front of Buck Williams was not assembled with external modular connections the way most phones were.

I think they mean "modem connections" not "modular" because I've never heard anyone use that term in conversation. Technically, though, it's correct and he could be referring to either a modem hookup or an ethernet hookup. Later passages make it sound like they're thinking about a modem, so that's what I'll assume. Oh, yeah, and we're back with Buck now. Lucky us. You're gonna love what happens next.

Page 31- Line 9-11:
He removed from his computer bag a tiny tool kit he had never expected to use, and went to work on the phone.

Yes, you read that right: He's f-ing MacGyver all of a sudden. Cameron "Buck" "MacGyver" Williams. The most useful useless sod you'll ever meet.

Page 31- Line 15-17:
These phone lines always have the same color wires, he decided, so he opened his computer and cut the wire leading to the female connector.

If you're anything like me, the above made you facepalm fairly violently. The reason, for those people who haven't just slapped themselves in the face, has to do with what the authors are claiming. What Buck is described as doing is opening his laptop computer and cutting/stripping the wires leading to the socket for his modem. Specifically, the female socket for an RJ-11 connection, not to be confused with the RJ-45 used in most ethernet cables. This would be perfectly fine, though impressive, were it not for two words: printed circuits. See, most computers- even when this book was written- are made using printed circuit boards. This makes them faster and cheapter to build but, coincidentally, means that there are almost no wires inside whatsoever. In all likelihood Buck's modem is either an on-board modem, meaning it's built into the mainboard and therefore has no wires, or it's an add-on PCMCIA card which... well... has no wires. So, for all intents and purposes, Buck is accomplishing something that's physically impossible. The authors may as well have written, "Buck got out his toolkit and set to work hot-wiring the tomato," and would have made as much sense. As a second, and less critical point: there are many different color and pattern codes used for wires. It's more than a little iffy to assume that any two devices use the same system.

And with that, gentle readers, we come to the end of another episode of Left Behind. Join us next time for the second half of Chapter Two and watch Buck be rude to a woman who is only trying to do her job.

I'll be at the ASAs (in fact, I only just barely had time this morning to post this before I leave) so blogging tomorrow and into next week will be spotty. But have no fear, I will return!



Blogger JLT said...

(c) teleporting naked people

They were clearly abducted by aliens.

Thursday, August 06, 2009 10:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I need to ask a question that’s been bothering me since chapter 1. How big do these guys think a 747 is? I mean, it’s a big plane. I’m guessing it can hold between 400 and 500 people. But where the hell are you going to hide on a plane, any plane, even a big one? It’s not like you can’t look down the aisle and go “nope, not there.” “Wonder if he’s in the can on the lower level?” “Nope not there either.” The authors are acting like folks are looking for those who are missing and that it’s taking a while. I’m just saying you are going to run out of options pretty fast. I’m not saying that the situation wouldn’t be chaotic. I’m just saying you would figure out that the folks who are missing are no longer on the plane pretty quickly.

Thursday, August 06, 2009 3:39:00 PM  
Blogger Drek said...

JLT: Oh, obviously. I just didn't want to state the obvious and embarrass the authors.

Anonymous: As is typical, I don't think the authors have really thought about the characteristics of the plane. Frankly, the planes they've mentioned thus far (a Boeing 747 and a Concorde) are two of the most recognizable aircraft in the world for people who aren't otherwise interested in aviation. So, I suspect they just grabbed plane names based on what came to mind first. You're right that they'd exhaust the possibilities pretty quickly and, in defense of the authors, they seem to be implying that everyone realizes the people are just gone fairly rapidly. I think it seems like it takes longer for the characters to reach this conclusion both because the narrative moves along at a nearly geologic tempo and because the characters are just so darned stupid.

Friday, August 07, 2009 7:05:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

"Everybody is looking for someone," she [Hattie] said,"

You know, if Hottie gets any hornier this could turn into a better read or a great movie. There's plenty of dudes left on that plane.

Friday, August 07, 2009 8:37:00 AM  
Blogger Rybear said...

How come Rayford never entertains the idea that he is dead?

I mean, being stuck on a sausage-fest of a 747 and fighting over one woman for all eternity sounds like hell to me.

Saturday, August 08, 2009 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read all these books, (don't ask me how). As the series progresses they just get worse (yes it's possible).
The authors use God in a similiar way to the Hellmouth in Buffy. Seems improbable? God did it!

Friday, August 14, 2009 5:53:00 PM  

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