Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 22, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that makes "Atlas Shrugged" seem like a light-hearted, romantic romp. Last time Buck was preached at, flirted with Chloe and... yeah, that's about it. What happens this week? Some flirting, some preaching, and Rayford deciding to dial up the prick a bit.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to scripto for what amounts to a capitulation:

OMFG! What's a self proclaimed internet wit supposed to do with this mess? What's the big news - somebody talked and somebody walked? I hope this is the calm before the storm because if I fall asleep reading next weeks episode at work I'm gonna get fired.

Ah, yes. Left Behind is a trial for us all. Okay, actually, that doesn't quite cover it- it's more like a holocaust of boredom and dismay. But, hell, close enough, right? Is this the calm before the storm? Well, in future chapters we're going to see the antichrist really exercise his satanic mojo but, sadly, that's a future chapter. This chapter is somewhat more... um... dull.

And with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag.


Dramatis Personae

In an order determined by my growing sense of ennui....

Rayford Steele: Airline captain. Husband of Irene Steele. Possible former gay porn star. Ditherer. No longer attracted to Hattie. Bad father. Cries a lot. Lying hypocrite. Christian.

Irene Steele: Wife of Rayford Steele. Born-again Christian. Not perfect, just forgiven. Reader of marriage books. Cleans obsessively. Likes egg in her coffee. Bakes really silly cookies. Likes butter churns.

Cameron "Buck" Williams: Reporter. Known for "bucking tradition and authority." Terrible Excellent writer. Spiritually attuned. Electronics wiz. Fast typist. Clumsy on slides. Travels a lot. Graduated from Princeton. Human alarm clock. Expert in Romanian politics. Fast runner. Hot for Chloe.

Hattie Durham: Flight attendant. Toucher. Hottie. Hysterical female type. Girl power devotee. Unhealthily thin. Twenty-seven years old. Blonde. Claims no moral or religious code.

Chris Smith: Airline co-pilot. Worked with Rayford Steele. Father of two. Husband. Killed himself.

Chloe Steele: Daughter of Rayford Steele. Student at Stanford. Religiously unaffiliated. Kinda stupid. Possibly hot for Buck.

Chaim Rosenzweig: Israeli chemist. Kinda freaky. Friend of Buck's.

Steve Plank: Buck's boss at Global Weekly. Not the sharpest tool in the shed. Press secretary for Nicolae Carpathia.

Nicolae Carpathia: Businessman. Romanian Senator. Romanian President. Secretary-General of the United Nations. Antichrist. Favors arms reductions. An inch or two over six feet tall. Broad shouldered. Thick chested. Trim. Athletic. Tanned. Blonde. Blue eyes. Thick eyebrows. Roman nose and jaw. Carries self with a sense of humility and purpose. Wears understated jewelry. Excellent memory.

Raymie Steele: Son of Rayford Steele. Taken in the rapture.

Dirk Burton: English guy Buck knows. Graduated from Princeton. Kinda gullible. Killed himself Murdered. Left handed.

Joshua Todd-Cothran: English finance guy. May have the nickname "duck lips."

Jonathon Stonagal: American ultra-rich dude. Involved in international monetary cabal. Has ties to duck lips.

Marge Potter: Steve Planck's secretary. Matronly.

Lucinda Washington: Fiftyish black woman. Raptured.

Ken Ritz: Pilot. Profiteering on the rapture. Actually quite polite. Fired for being too careful. Believes in aliens.

Juan Ortiz: Global Weekly international events editor.

Jimmy Borland: Global Weekly religion editor.

Barbara Donahue: Global Weekly financial editor.

Nigel Leonard: Employee of the London exchange.

Alan Tompkins: Investigator at Scotland Yard. Friend of Buck. Kind of a chickenshit. Blown up by an evil conspiracy car bomb.

Bruce Barnes: Visitation Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes to be mysterious.

Vernon Billings: Pastor at New Hope Village Church. Likes video tape. Raptured.

Mwangati Ngumo: Secretary-General of the United Nations. President of Botswana. Botswanan national.

Eric Miller: Reporter. Rival of Buck's. Able to climb stairs really fast, but not as fast a runner as Buck. Kinda a douche. Died Murdered by falling being pushed off of the Staten Island ferry. A strong swimmer.

Gerald Fitzhugh: President of the United States. Talks like a moron.

Stanton Bailey: Publisher of the Global Weekly.

Carolyn Miller: Wife of Eric Miller.

Alex Phonecompany: Friend of Buck's. Works at the phone company.


Chapter 22: In which Buck has a sleepless night, Rayford decides to be even more aggressive, Buck and Chloe flirt, and Chloe converts.

Page 393- Line 1-2:
Buck did not sleep well. Partly he was excited about his morning surprise.

Uhhhh... I don't think I'm familiar with that one. Is a "morning surprise" kinda like a "happy ending"? Crude jokes aside, however, he means his arranging to fly back to Chicago in the seat next to Chloe, which he assumes will not appear at all creepy to her. Riiiight.

Page 393- Line 4-9:
If this was true, all that Rayford Steele had postulated- and Buck knew instinctively that if any of it was true, all of it was true- why had it taken Buck a lifetime to come to it? Could he have been searching for this all the time, hardly knowing he was looking? [emphasis added]

Well, my guess is that he had missed it for so long because it's utterly f-ing ludicrous. Aside from that, I just get nervous when someone asserts that they know instinctively that something referred to as a "postulate" is true. Never mind that the term "postulate" is being rather badly abused here. Also never mind that one could hypothetically accept that god is behind the disappearances, without necessarily accepting the remaining theological clusterfuck hook, line and sinker. Honestly, if the authors worked as hard at their writing as they do at making their bizarre theology sound like the only possible interpretation of the bible, we'd be reading a much better book.

Page 393- Line 10-13:
Yet even Captain Steele- an organized, analytical airline pilot- had missed it, and Steele claimed to have had a proponent, a devotee, almost a fanatic living under his own roof.

I know, right? Wouldn't it be better if we let airline pilots run the world? I mean, they're just such organized, analytical people! Gah. Seriously, do the authors really think that we non-believing folks view airline pilots as the pinnacle of intellectual achievement? Again, no offense to air crews- really- but we all have our jobs and job skills. Airline pilots are great at, you know, flying airplanes, I'm vaguely tolerable at sociology, and so forth, but competence in one field does not necessarily indicate competence in another. Anyway, Buck leaps from bed and starts pacing, driven crazy by the sound of a heart beating in the floorboards pondering Rayford's claims and his own witnessing of the divine in Israel.

Page 394- Line 8-11:
And he [Buck] had known beyond a doubt for the first time in his life that unexplainable things out there could not be dissected and evaluated scientifically from a detached Ivy League perspective.

My margin note here reads, "Learning bad! Fire bad! Raaarrrr!" Allow me to expand upon that. The basic issue is that, by definition, Buck is correct: the unexplainable is indeed invulnerable to efforts to explain it using any methodology precisely because it is unexplainable. The "un" prefix is a negation, essentially converting the word into a phrase meaning "that which cannot be explained." As such, yeah, he's right that the unexplainable cannot be explained. At a deeper level, however, Buck is approaching the problem stupidly. You see, the set of things that are explainable, but not yet explained, and the set of things that cannot be explained (i.e. the unexplainable) cannot be distinguished, one from the other, in any way besides by successfully explaining something. At that point we know that our newly explained thing belonged to the set of things that could be explained because we have now made it a thing that we have explained. Up until that point, it might be explainable, or it might not- we can't tell. Given this situation, the only intelligent thing to do is to assume that all things are explainable. Sure, some things probably won't be, but if you just assume that something is unexplainable right from the get-go you're guaranteeing that it won't be explained, rather than that it can't. And yet here we are, alone in the dark with Buck and his Ivy League education, once more confronting the essential failure of a philosophy that starts from the assumption that we cannot understand. Only Buck doesn't realize it. Anyway, Buck continues musing about the near destruction of Israel.

Page 394- Line 28:
What had been the matter with him?

Oh, hell, don't get me started- we do not have that kinda time.

Page 394- Line 28-30:
Everyone in the world, at least those intellectually honest with themselves, had to admit there was a God after that night.

Oh my. Just... oh my. Intellectual honesty is seen as a good thing when it leads to god and as false when it does not (see Page 237- Line 1-10). Lovely.

Page 395- Line 3-4:
To win against the mighty Russians was an upset, of course.

Okay, seriously, tell me that "The Mighty Russians" wouldn't make an awesome name for a band.

Page 395- Line 4-7:
But Israel's history was replete with such legends. Yet to not defend yourself and suffer no casualties? That was beyond all comprehension- apart from the direct intervention of God.

Technically, they did defend themselves, just ineffectively. And in all honesty, I get really uncomfortable when the authors talk about Israel this way. A country that ceased to exist in any form for millennia, whose people were scattered, oppressed, and butchered in vast numbers. A country whose continued existence has been precarious at best and that has survived by combination of luck, strong friends, and ruthlessness? Oh, sure, god really seems to be in that corner all right. If the authors' god were real, we wouldn't be having this conversation but, hey, there you go.

Page 395- Line 12-16:
What did it say about him, what despicable kind of a subhuman creature had he become, that even the stark evidence of the Israel miracle- for it could be called nothing less- had not thawed his spirit's receptiveness to God?

My god, it's like some kind of twisted atheists anonymous meeting:

-"Hi. My name is Drek and I'm... uh... some despicable kind of a subhuman creature."
-"Hi, Drek!"
-"It all started in high school. I was a good kid but I liked to read. It started with science fiction and fantasy but, before long, it was just science. Before I knew it, I was mainlining critical thinking..."

Gah. Still, good to know what the authors think of us, I guess. I'd like to note as well that, based on the phrasing, the authors apparently think that there are subhuman creatures that are not despicable. I'm hoping they mean chipmunks, at the very least. My wife goddamn loves chipmunks.

Page 395- Line 17-20:
Not that many months later came the great disappearance of millions around the world. Dozens had vanished from the plane in which he was a passenger. What more did he need?

Indeed, the unexplained always means god. Just look at thunder and spring!

Page 395- Line 20-21:
It already seemed as if he were living in a science fiction thriller.

Albeit a very, very bad one. And you should keep in mind as I say this that I have read the literary equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space. I know what bad sci-fi is, and this shit? This shit that I'm reading now? This aspires to be bad sci-fi. Anyway, Buck realizes that he wants to meet Bruce Barnes so that he can "...satisfy deep needs," (page 395- line 29) and then stumbles onto a major theological issue.

Page 396- Line 10-17:
Now, if Rayford Steele and all his Bible verses could be believed, it didn't make any difference how good Buck was or where he stood in relation to anybody else. One archaic phrase had struck him and rolled around in his head. There is none righteous, no, not one. Well, he had never considered himself righteous. Could he go the next level and admit his need for God, for forgiveness, for Christ? [emphasis original]

And this is a major, major theological issue that, as usual, will be ignored. As far as the authors are concerned good works are irrelevant, being generous, kind, and decent are irrelevant. All that matters is casting the right spell before you die to get Jesus to come into your blood pumping organ. Everything else is just crap. I frankly have a difficult time imaging a more nihilistic way to approach the world than that but, hey, evangelicals say the same about me a lot of the time, so who am I to throw stones? Anyway, Buck eventually passes out from exhaustion and the narrative jumps back to Rayford, who is busy thinking about Hattie and his recent attempt to convert her.

Page 397- Line 22:
Maybe she was right. Maybe he had been self-serving.

Hmmm... well, let's see. Before you converted you were only interested in her for her luscious body. Now, you're only interested in her for her luscious soul. Sounds like a distinction without a difference to me.

Page 398- Line 4-8:
And his performance during the interview with Cameron Williams! At the time, Rayford had felt good about it, articulate, calm, rational. He knew he was discussing revolutionary, jarring stuff, but he felt God had enabled him to be lucid.

Yes, of course, god enabled Rayford to be lucid. God gave him the words, and the courage, and the boldness to preach (see Page 346- Line 14-22). God showed him the way. Tell me: in this religion based on the concept of free will, exactly when do we play a role? Because while hell sounds pretty crappy, being a meat puppet for god doesn't sound too awesome either. Regardless, Rayford starts thinking about Chloe and how afraid he was that she hadn't yet converted.

Page 399- Line 2-9:
...he [Rayford] believed he would trade his own salvation for hers if that was what it took.

With that commitment, he sensed God speaking to him, impressing upon him that was precisely the burden required for winning people, for leading them to Christ. That was the attitude of Jesus himself, being willing to take on himself the punishment of men and women so they could live.

Ignoring for a moment the utter creepiness and, arguably, blasphemy involved in comparing Rayford of all people to Jesus Christ, I can only observe that this is the kind of attitude that produces abortion clinic bombings. If you're willing to be damned to hell if it lets you do what you perceive as god's work... well... there ain't no police force in the world that can restrain that level of crazy, you know?* Anyway, Rayford leaves his hotel room, says good morning to Chloe, and they head for their flight. And the narrative jumps back to Buck. I should note as well that the next page starts with a note that reads, "Woot! Page 400! Nearly done!" Indeed, we have less than 100 pages left in this shitburger, and I couldn't be more glad. Anyway, we join Buck after he boards his flight and as he comes down the aisle towards Chloe, who currently has her eyes shut.

Page 400- Line 5-8:
He assumed she would turn to glance as he sat next to her, and he couldn't suppress a smile, anticipating her reaction and only slightly worried that she would be less positive than he hoped.

Well, that depends: how positive is he hoping for? "Gee, it's good to see you" or "hummer in the lavatory"?

Page 400- Line 9-12:
He sat and waited, but she did not turn. Was she sleeping? Staring? Meditating? Praying? Was it possible she was crying? Buck hoped not. He already cared for her enough to be bothered when she seemed in pain.

I think this passage says rather a lot about the authors, actually, since it implies that they think it weird that someone would be bothered by the pain of a stranger. Or maybe this is a subtle statement about those who have been left behind? Or maybe they're just crappy writers? Or maybe their penchant for annoying questions is just rubbing off on me? Oh, crap. Whatever, Buck suddenly realizes that he's overcome with the need to sleep and doesn't want to because, you know, he wants to be conscious when Chloe discovers that she's being stalked by a creepy reporter with an airline seat shaped ass who is ten years her senior.

Page 400- Line 20-22:
Buck gestured to get the attendant's attention. "Coke, please," he whispered. The temporary caffeine rush would allow him to stay awake a little longer.

Ah, Left Behind: the exciting story of self-medication! Seriously, though, is the exposition really warranted here?

Page 400- Line 23-26:
When Chloe didn't move even to watch the safety instructions, Buck grew impatient. Still, he didn't want to reveal himself. He wanted to be discovered. And so he waited.

I dunno if Buck is Christ-like yet, but he's certainly already got a godlike degree of passive-aggressiveness. Honestly, this scene is like a synopsis of the book's theology: obsessed immature weirdo waits expectantly for unaware other to notice and worship him, grows impatient, gets pouty, and will certainly grow petty and possibly vindictive if he doesn't receive the proper adoration in the very near future. The resemblance is eerie. Might as well rewrite the paragraph:

When humanity didn't move even to watch the safety instructions, Jehovah grew impatient. Still, he didn't want to reveal himself. He wanted to be discovered. And so he waited.

Yikes. And as long as we're on the subject: "didn't move even to watch the safety instructions..."? What the hell? Do the authors find those so incredibly riveting that the notion that someone wouldn't make a special effort to watch them never even enters their minds?** So, does Chloe ever notice Buck, or does he have to smite someone?

Well, if you want to find out, you'll just have to come back next week because we're done for now. Come back next time when ironically neither the plot nor the plane go much of anywhere. It'll be a blast.

* I should note that I would like to charitably assume that the authors mean that Rayford needs to be Christ-like in his willingness to suffer for others but, given the general tone of this book, I strongly doubt that's what's going on here.

** As a side note: you should always review the safety instructions. One good reason for this is that different aircraft have different constraints depending on whether they come down on land or water. Sometimes wing exits are fine, other times they're not fine. So read the damned information card! Sure, in the event of a crash, we're all probably going to die, but in the unlikely event that some or all of us can get out, I'd really prefer not to buy the farm because you were too goddamn lazy to read a brief card that's mostly in picture form. Just one of those odd quirks brought on by not believing in a capricious supernatural nanny who sometimes watches out for us.



Blogger Mister Troll said...

I'm not quite ready to donate to scripto's unemployment fund yet, but that was definitely not an exciting chapter...

Thursday, June 03, 2010 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger scripto said...

snzzzz...huh...what?...where am I?...Oh God...

Maybe she was right. Maybe he had been self-serving.

Or maybe Rayford served himself every time he thought of her. Hattie's kinda growing on me. I mean as a friend, not as a sex object. She's the only one in this entire clusterfuck that reacts normally. I get the feeling LaHaye is damning Hottie to hell and making the rest of us suffer because he couldn't get any in high school (or college, or the church picnic).

"-"It all started in high school. I was a good kid but I liked to read. It started with science fiction and fantasy ..."

Hey! Me too! Although it was junior high. Evolution had nothing to do with it. If it weren't for Brunner, Farmer, Heinlein, Pratchett and that goddamn Larry Niven I'd be more inclined to accept Left behind as a prophetic work.

When do we get to the Seven Headed/horned Beast and the Whore of Babylon? Or I am thinking of another book?

Friday, June 04, 2010 8:47:00 AM  
Anonymous socygurl said...

I think that happens in Book 3 Scripto. Oh you wish I was joking.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010 4:36:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

"Israel's history was replete with such legends."

Uh, well, yes, most Jewish holidays are "We fought. We won. Let's eat." But that has nothing to do with Israel's history (1948-present technically; if you want to make a case for 1905-, you have to explain a few extra things; but if you want to talk Dayenu or David and Goliath--or even David and Bathsheba, which strangely seems absent from their inventory of legends).

Anyway, real reason for posting after, what, the third straight series of nothing-happens: I have found the REAL sequel to this book here.

"As a guardian angel, Mischa must protect the one man who may be able to bring about lasting peace to the Middle East. As a djinni, Rafe must fulfill the wishes of a terrorist leader. Their duties colliding, Mischa and Rafe become foes, but the heat between them is undeniable."

This should be Hattie and the Antichrist in the next book. If it's not, I'm more than ready to give up now.

Captcha, btw, is "ste[a]mier." Which I hope does not happen as Chloe passes the Buck.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010 7:51:00 PM  

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