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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Left Behind: Chapter 25, Part 1

Welcome back one and all to our regular feature on Left Behind, the book that uses more to say less than should be possible with a merely human language. Last time Buck flew back to New York and converted on the floor of a men's room. What happens this week? A murder, a nonsensical plot twist and, you know, other random shit.

As always we have a comment of the week. This week that "honor" goes to Ken for finally doing something useful with a stupid word:

Nicolae waited till everyone was seated, then rose with pseudodignity.

pseudodignity? I think they toured with Modern English in the early 1990s.

Zing! Nods also to scripto for nicely summing up Buck and Chloe's "relationship," and to Sorcia for an amusing image. That said, I tend to assume that they'd be captured and chained to the back of a truck as sexual objects fairly quickly. Thanks for the plethora of awesome comments last week, folks, and keep at it, because we're almost done!

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 highly trained pigeons...

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. Christian.

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. Christian.

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 25: In which the book ends, so who the hell cares what else happens?

Page 449- Line 1-4:
Nicolae Carpathia stepped out from his place at the table and went to each person individually. He greeted each by name, asking him to stand, shaking his hand, and kissing him on both cheeks.

In case you'd forgotten, we pick back up in Carpathia's evil antichrist meeting. What's so evil about it? Not a friggin clue, but Buck is totally weirded out by it. Then again, Buck is routinely weirded out by random household objects, so whatever. Falling back on marginally less snark, however, I wonder how long the above scene required given Carpathia's penchant for repeating everything in five or seven different languages? I don't care how charming he is, by about the fifth time he thanks someone for coming in English, French, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, and Esperanto, I think I'd be checking my watch.

Page 449- Line 6-13:
"Mr. Todd-Cothran," he [Carpathia] said, "you shall be introduced as the ambassador of the Great States of Britain, which now include much of Western and Eastern Europe. I welcome you to the team and confer upon you all the rights and privileges that go with your new station. May you display to me and to those in your charge the consistency and wisdom that have brought you to this position."

I quoted that for two reasons: first, to give you a sense of the authors' terrible grasp of formal speech and, second, so that this would make a bit more sense:

Page 449-450- Line 449: 15-16, 450: 1-3:
Todd-Cothran appeared shocked, as did several others, when Nicolae repeated the same sentiment, including precisely the same title- ambassador of the Great States of Britatin- to the British financier next to him.

Ho-kay, that's a little odd. Todd-Cothran and, apparently, everyone else writes this off as a simple mistake. Buck isn't so sure, but then again there are a lot of things Buck isn't sure about, including why his collar smells faintly of bathroom floor. Rest assured, the reason for Carpathia's "error" will become apparent shortly and, given that he's the bloody antichrist, you can rest assured it's sinister. Or, rather, that would be the case if this book weren't utterly terrible- in Left Behind the best you can count on is dull and only vaguely important. Moving on, I absolutely love that the authors feel compelled to repeat that "Great States of Britain" bullshit title twice within less than a page. We got it the first time, guys- you didn't need to sling it at us again just to make sure it stuck.

Page 450- Line 8-11:
All around the four-sided table configuration Carpathia went, one by one, saying exactly the same words to every ambassador, but customizing the litany to include the appropriate name and title.

"All around the four-sided table configuration Carpathia went"? Good goddamn, that is just spectacularly awful writing. How can someone who claims to speak English, much less someone who claims to be a writer, tolerate leaving something that horrendous in a published work that bears their name? Just... gah! Leaving that aside, however, Carpathia continues his little meander around the room, reaches Buck, and then waits expectantly for Buck to stand before shaking his hand and addressing him.

Page 450- Line 22-28:
"Mr. Williams," he [Carpathia] said, "I welcome you to the team and confer upon you all the rights and privileges that go with your station..."

What was this? It was not what Buck expected, but it was so affirming, so flattering. He was not part of any team, and no rights and privileges should be conferred upon him!

Leaving Buck's self-righteous, albeit somewhat addled, incomprehension aside, I'm guessing that this is supposed to represent the antichrist casting some sort of magic spell that has the unique distinction of being even dumber than the one the authors think will bind god to our cause. Buck tries to hint subtly that Carpathia is mistaken by shaking his head, but Carpathia bulls through and finishes the schtick.

Page 451- Line 6-15:
Buck wanted to stand taller, to thank his mentor, his leader, the bestower of this honor. But no! It wasn't right! He didn't work for Carpathia. He was an independent journalist, not a supporter, not a follower, and certainly not an employee. His spirit resisted the temptation to say, "Thank you, sir," as everyone else had. He sensed and read the evil of the man and it was all he could to do keep from pointing at him and calling him the Antichrist. He could almost hear himself screaming it at Carpathia. [emphasis added]

First I just want to note that the underlined bit is not an error on my part- that's how it reads in the book. Second, though, apparently the previous bit was a magic spell and heroic Buck has managed to resist- no doubt through the magical protection of his patronus faith. I guess the urinal cake aftershave was worth it after all? Carpathia suggests that Buck is just tongue-tied and kisses him before moving on, giving Buck some time to reflect.

Page 451- Line 23-25:
As Carpathia moved on, Buck realized what he had endured. Had he not belonged to God he would have been swept into the web of this man of deceit.

Or, put differently: all of us who don't believe in the authors' god are likely pawns of the devil. I'm glad we cleared that up.

Page 452- Line 1-6:
Had he [Buck] come in unprepared, had he not been prayed for by Bruce and Chloe and probably Captain Steele, who knows whether he would have made his decision and his commitment to Christ in time to have the power to resist the lure of acceptance and power?

Technically, Buck, you only resisted the lure of saying "Thank you" politely in an awkward social situation, but who wants to be picky? I'm honestly struck by how much like voodoo or, frankly, magic from Dungeons and Dragons all this is. I just wonder how much mana Bruce and the gang had to expel to give Buck a plus five to resist enchantment and illusion? Also, as long as we're on the subject of Bruce and the gang, why does Buck insist on referring to Rayford- even in the privacy of his own thoughts- as "Captain Steele"?

Page 452- Line 12-15:
"Ms. Durham," he [Carpathia] said, taking both her hands in his, "you shall be introduced as my personal assistant, having turned your back on a stellar career in the aviation industry."

A stellar career in the...? What the hell is it with these guys and the airlines? Did Tim LaHaye always want to be a flight attendant or something? For crying out loud, she serves pretzels and sells duty free crap at 30,000 feet! Fortunately, Buck immediately senses the implications of this change for his relationship with Hattie.

Page 452- Line 23:
Was she still reachable? Would he have access?

Guess his crush on Chloe wasn't quite enough to keep him from trying to bang Hattie, eh? I jest, he's actually wondering if this will make it impossible for him to convert her, which really only means that, like Rayford, he's gone from wanting to bang her body to wanting to lay pipe in her soul. Ick. Now, at this point things get marginally interesting, because Carpathia does this whole "I confer upon you" bit with Jonathan Stonagal, who takes offense because he's supposed to be the big international financier/power-broker in the room. Carpathia acknowledges that he's just fucking with Stonagal. He then asks the random security guard, who is actually given the name of "Scott M. Otterness,"* to come on over to the table. Carpathia then tells Otterness to haul out his pistol so Carpathia can- without looking- describe it and its load. Otterness then gives Carpathia the gun and wanders back over to the random corner where he was standing. Carpathia then asks Stonagal to get up and move over to stand to Carpathia's right.

Page 454- Line Despair:

Now, before we continue, I need to mention that my margin note here reads, "And here we go with the Darth Vader moment." That's a fairly accurate description of what's about to happen- the authors are going to try to show off how supernaturally evil Carpathia is with a scene that is not dissimilar to how Vader force chokes an Imperial commander in the conference room of the Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope. You know, right before Grand Moff Tarkin tells him to knock it the fuck off.** And the funny thing is, even if the scene had succeeded (it doesn't), it's still a failure.*** See, they're trying to write a story about the antichrist and they keep emphasizing that the way to heaven isn't through good works, but by casting the right magic spell. Good writers would have used this to make a theological point and, rather than making the antichrist self-consciously evil, would have actually given him good intentions. In effect, they would have written the antichrist as a well-meaning, but godless and therefore misguided character. They could then have charted the eventual corruption of his vision as he inevitably fell into pride and sin. It would have effectively been a tragic tale, but one that would have imbued the books with a considerable degree of narrative power. After all, most of us are not self-consciously evil, but we can all be corrupted by absolute power and fall into evil slowly and seductively. Additionally, by giving the antichrist motivations and some realism the authors could have justified his eventual eternal torment, a justification that is lacking in their current "destined for evil" approach. But, sadly, this was not to be. So intent on their bizarre reading of scripture that they are blind to the human condition, the authors settle for an antichrist who resembles nothing so much as the villain from a Dudley Do-Right cartoon, cackling and twirling his mustache as he ties the damsel to the train tracks, and never evoking even a shred of sympathy or real understanding from the audience. This book is at every level- theologically, narratively, and even empathetically- an utter failure and this last mistake simply provides the final underscore to that failure.

Page 456- Line 9-20:
"And now I am going to ask you to kneel, Jonathan," Carpathia said, his smile and his light tone having disappeared. To Buck it seemed as if everyone in the room sucked in a breath and held it.

"That I will not do," Stonagal said.

"Yes, you will," Carpathia said quietly. "Do it now."

"No, sir, I will not," Stonagal said. "Have you lost your mind? I will not be humiliated. If you think you have risen to a position over me, you are mistaken."

Carpathia raised the .38, cocked it, and stuck the barrel into Stonagal's right ear. The older man at first jerked away, but Carpathia said, "Move again and you are dead."

Ah. Right. So, this appears to be a rather pointless little exercise in needless evil. Carpathia has been made emperor of the world. He's going to be the sole military force on the planet. He's going to hand-pick his own ruling council. But can he wait a few months to quietly take out his over-bearing mentor? Nope, he has to do it in the middle of a public meeting. As I said above, this is clearly intended by the authors to convince us of how evil Carpathia is. Unfortunately, leaving aside the waste of a good narrative opportunity, it doesn't come across as evil so much as random.

Page 456- Line 28-30:
"My dear," Carpathia said, leaning toward her [Hattie] over Stonagal's head, "you will want to slide your chair back about three feet so as not to soil your outfit."

Nicolae Carpathia: Emperor of the World and Antichrist, but too cheap to pay his personal assistant's dry cleaning bill. Classic. In any case, Hattie doesn't move so Carpathia locks eyes with her and uses his antichrist mojo to influence her thoughts. Along the way he remarks that most of Stonagal's brain matter will be absorbed by Todd-Cothran, among others.

Page 457- Line 10-11:
Hattie moved her chair back, fingers trembling.

Stonagal whined, "No, Nicolae, no!"

"Stonagal whined"? Really? That's the best way to characterize the vocalization of a man who has a gun to his head? As whining? I just don't get the authors' mentality.

Page 457- Line 12-18:
Carpathia was in no hurry. "I am going to kill Mr. Stonagal with a painless hollow-point round to the brain which he will neither hear nor feel. The rest of us will experience some ringing in our ears. This will be instructive for you all. You will understand cognitively that I am in charge, that I fear no man, and that no one can oppose me."

My margin note here reads, "Yes, without god this is totally how we do things." I'll tell you, it makes leadership succession at the American Atheists meetings really, really hard on the upholstery. More seriously, though: "understand cognitively"? That word, I do not think it means what the authors believe that it means. Regardless, however, one wonders how he thinks he's going to get away with this little stunt. I'm sure the authors have something totally plausible ready for us.

Page 456- Line 20-22:
Buck considered a suicidal dive across the table for the gun, but he knew that others might die for his effort.

Okay, let's just hold on for a moment here. First off, Carpathia has a gun to a guy's head. Moreover, he has just explained that he is going to kill said guy. Therefore, whether Buck acts or not, it's fairly clear that someone is going to die in moments. And Buck should know this given that he believes with utter, unshakeable conviction that Carpathia is the f-ing antichrist. Second, what is the probable collateral damage from such an attempt? Well, earlier (Page 454- Line 26-28) the firearm was described as a "thirty-eight caliber police special," which basically means a revolver. Now, revolvers are not like semi-automatic pistols in a number of respects, particularly including that the discharge of one round does not cycle the action so as to put another round in the chamber. Instead, revolvers come in one of two types: single-action and double-action. If it's single-action, after firing the user must manually re-cock the hammer, in the process rotating the cylinder to put a fresh round under the firing pin, in order to fire again. If it's double-action, the user just pulls the trigger and that re-cocks the weapon, rotates the cylinder, and eventually causes the round to discharge. As you might guess, however, producing enough mechanical force to do all of those things with your finger is somewhat difficult and, in either case, the shooter is almost never able to fire as fast with a revolver as with a semi-automatic pistol. What this all boils down to is that if Buck were to make a crazed dive for the weapon, Carpathia would probably only get one chance to turn, aim and fire before Buck was on him, and likely wouldn't get a second shot. Given that Buck would have the advantage of surprise, I'd give him decent, but not awesome, odds. So frankly, from a purely utilitarian perspective, he should go for it. Now, I want you to understand something else here: I don't blame Buck for not attempting this thing. In this kind of situation any normal human should be afraid, and fear can paralyze people no matter how good and decent they may be. But the thing is, the authors don't tell us that Buck was too afraid to do anything. They don't describe an internal struggle between his bravery and his fear. No, they simply suggest that Buck calmly evaluated the options and then reigned in his bravery because he was afraid someone might get hurt. And this is stupid, both because it makes Buck an inhuman caricature that we, the readers, cannot sympathize with and because, when you actually look at it rationally, Buck should have given it a go. So what could have been a moment of sympathetic characterization comes across as the attempt of a coward to rationalize his cowardice, and that just never goes over well. As always, Buck remains the inaction hero.

Page 457- Line 26-27:
"When Mr. Stonagal is dead, I [Carpathia] will tell you what you will remember."

Ah, well, that answers one question: he's going to get away with it by using his supernatural mojo to make them forget what he did. One wonders how that makes sense given that he's allegedly doing this to teach them something "cognitively," but who am I to argue?

Page 457-458- Line 457: 27-30, 458: 1-2:
"And lest anyone feel I have not been fair, let me not neglect to add that more than gore will wind up on Mr. Todd-Cothran's suit. A high-velocity bullet at this range will also kill him, which, as you know, Mr. Williams, is something I promised you I would deal with in due time."

Wait, what? He promised Buck that he'd deal with... Todd-Cothran's suit? Did I miss a chapter somewhere? Because this is getting weird.

Page 458- Line 5-8:
The blast rattled the windows and even the door. Stonagal's head crashed into the toppling Todd-Cothran, and both were plainly dead before their entwined bodies reached the floor.

You mean Stonagal still had a head to topple into something else? Because a .38 hollow point to the head should have an exit wound like a fucking baseball. I mean, plain and simple, Stonagal wouldn't have a head as traditionally defined any longer. And, leaving aside the fact that most pistols are not as loud as the authors seem to imply, wouldn't such a powerful report be likely to alarm building security? Maybe? Whatever. Carpathia slips the gun into Stonagal's hand, placing his finger on the trigger, and then turns to address the assembled morons.

Page 458- Line 16-23:
"What we have just witnessed here," he [Carpathia] said kindly, as if speaking to children, "was a horrible, tragic end to two otherwise extravagantly productive lives. These men were two I respected and admired more than any others in the world. What compelled Mr. Stonagal to rush the guard, disarm him, take his own life and that of his British colleague, I do not know and may never fully understand."

Ah! The old, geriatric world financier rushes armed guard, steals his weapon, and assassinates Brit by shooting through his own head maneuver! How could we not see that one coming? But will anyone believe it? Will Carpathia's mind-control mojo be enough to see him through?

Well, if you want to know, you're going to have to come back next week because this episode is done. But beyond relieving your suspense, next week will also bring us to the end of the twenty-fifth and final chapter of Left Behind. It's been a long damned trip, people, and I expect you back as we finally slog through to the far side.

Until then...

* Damnit! Yet another named character! Seriously, you dumb shits? You're giving me another named character in the last chapter? And as long as we're on the subject, "Otterness"? Good lord. That man got teased in middle school something fierce.

** Yes, I am a Star Wars geek. No, I am not ashamed. If you think I should be, what the hell is wrong with you? It's f-ing STAR WARS!

*** I mean the scene in "Left Behind." The scene in Star Wars is totally awesome!



Blogger Ken Houghton said...

""I am going to kill Mr. Stonagal with a painless hollow-point round to the brain which he will neither hear nor feel."

Uh, the reason you use a hollow-point is that it explodes on impact: produces shrapnel (and therefore requires less skill to use, among other things).

It would hardly be painless to have your brain shredded, and the rest of the tale makes it clear that the bullet was not a hollow-point--the dispersal pattern of a hollow-point wouldn't kill Todd-Cothran so neatly.

(Not to mention that Todd-Cothran is an idiot for not moving when told he would be killed by the bullet after it went through Stonagal's head. A financier without an inflated sense of his worth and therefore need for self-preservation?)

I thought these guys were supposed to be Real Americans, with knowledge of guns and bullets and "gun control is knowing how to aim" written in their souls. Any self-respecting NRA member would stop believing the book at this point, even if they allowed themself to be suckered for the previous 24+ chapters.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 9:46:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

""I am going to kill Mr. Stonagal with a painless hollow-point round to the brain which he will neither hear nor feel."

Uh, the reason you use a hollow-point is that it explodes on impact: produces shrapnel (and therefore requires less skill to use, among other things).

It would hardly be painless to have your brain shredded, and the rest of the tale makes it clear that the bullet was not a hollow-point--the dispersal pattern of a hollow-point wouldn't kill Todd-Cothran so neatly.

(Not to mention that Todd-Cothran is an idiot for not moving when told he would be killed by the bullet after it went through Stonagal's head. A financier without an inflated sense of his worth and therefore need for self-preservation?)

I thought these guys were supposed to be Real Americans, with knowledge of guns and bullets and "gun control is knowing how to aim" written in their souls. Any self-respecting NRA member would stop believing the book at this point, even if they allowed themself to be suckered for the previous 24+ chapters.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 9:47:00 AM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

Hey, there was action! Of sorts.

Thursday, August 05, 2010 12:44:00 PM  
Blogger scripto said...

"Was she still reachable? Would he have access?"

No. Not without Rohypnol. (I think I used this one before but I'm certainly not going back and checking. That would be too painful. Anyway, all things are permitted in the infinite loop of Left Behind)

Only Lahaye could make a double murder committed by the antichrist himself as compelling as a trip to the grocery store. Not only did he telegraph what was going to happen before hand, he lead us step by step through the whole leaden process. Never mind Stonagal, shoot me in the head so I can be more like the typical Left Behind reader and enjoy this more.

Friday, August 06, 2010 11:16:00 AM  

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