Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Bitch: Left Behind Pt 2

I was about halfway through my original draft for this thing when I realized that memory and wikipedia had failed me in one particular area I remember being especially heinous. So I broke my promise to myself. It seems I AM going to have to re-read the fourteen remaining books in order to do the job right.

The GOOD news is that the used bookstore had most of 'em for two bucks a pop. Nice, big hardcovers too.
Books that size are usually five bucks. They have so many of them they're trying to offload rapidly.

It made my day.

Title: Tribulation Force
Authors: Tim LaHaye (hereafter TLH) and Jerry B. Jinkens (Either JBJ or just Jerry, depending on how pissed I get)
Readability: ...don't. Just fucking don't. Okay?

What you need to do before you buy: If you are not a Christian, you will hate it. If you are a Christian and you have atheist/pagan/agnositic/catholic friends (Because CATHOLICS DON'T COUNT) you will want to light it on fire. If you like good writing, subtle characterization, romance that doesn't make you want to become asexual and politics that make fucking sense ... I don't think an atom bomb can solve the pain. Although you could stand directly beneath it. And this is book two.

Spoiler cut, though at this point, I really shouldn't bother.

TLH wrote the basic script for this book regarding bible prophesy, thus giving JBJ an idea of what he had to work with (I think, anyway. Everything I've read puts the actual writing on JBJ's shoulders). Explaining that playbook is a job and a half, and while I promise you this stuff makes sense (kind of) within the context of religion, it'll be too much work to give you that context. I'd ignore it completely, but the book has a major problem, and it's basis is Tim's batshit insane playbook.

Tim claims that the end of the world begins with the Rapture, that there is a period of seven years between Rapture and the Second Coming/Glorious Appearing (I am calling it the Second Coming because I do not give a shit) of Jesus Christ. These seven years are (drumroll please) the Tribulation, wherein the Left Behinds are given one last chance to get saved, otherwise... yeah, they're fucked. IIRC there are three "judgments" that occur during the Tribulation, coinciding with different sections of Revelation that I am not going to get into because that would take too much fucking time (Go read the book). These are the Seal Judgments, the Trumpet Judgments and the Bowl Judgments (or vice versa. I seriously do not remember the order and I can't be arsed to look it up). The first four Seal judgments are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and signal the rise of the Antichrist and the start of World War Three. Got it so far? According to TLH, the Seven Years (/spooky Ring voice) of the Tribulation begin when Israel signs a treaty with somebody. I say somebody and not the One World Government because Christians tend to shit themselves whenever anyone puts a pen in the Israeli government's hands. I think we'd start the countdown over a parking ticket at this point. There will be a period of eighteen months between the Signing of the Treaty and the start of World War Three. Trib Force will end with Nicky the Antichrist bombing the shit out of New York, Washington and Chicago.

To TL/DR that, Jerry B. Jenkins has to fill eighteen months between the rise of the One World Government/signing of Israel's treaty and WW3's kickoff. Logically, this means writing about the political climate, how Nicky C. insinuates himself into the government, how tensions rise, and the event that will finally drive humanity to nuke the shit out of itself. This should be challenging, but not impossible. I can already see how I'd do it. So let's dive right in and see how Jerry did it, shall we?

So we open on our hero, Rayford Steele. He's flying a plane! This is the EXACT SAME OPENING AS THE FIRST BOOK! How ... yeah. This time, however, he is not thinking about boning a flight attendant. Instead, he's reading his bible. See? He's a Christian now! He's changed! And it's not for the better!

"...How many hours had he wasted during idle moments like this, pouring over newspapers and magazines that had nothing to say? After all that had happened, only one book could hold his interest."

So reading books other than the bible is wrong, but writing them is okay. Wow. Hey guys? We are so totally screwed. Also, YO, JERRY? IT'S SHOW, DON'T TELL. TATTOO THAT TO YOUR CORNEAS. Rayford has also apparently preached at his co-pilot so much, the poor guy cringes every time he has the bible out.

Actually, our opening is a recap. Because readers are idiots, incapable of remembering anything for more than twenty seconds AND will not re-read the preceding books before buying the new one. Although given what I just read ... my only excuse is I was thirteen and still in that "Hey Christians, Represent!" phase. First three paragraphs boil down to "HEY STUPID, THE RAPTURE HAPPENED." Then we get Rayford reading his bible, and remembering everything that happened in the last two weeks or so, thus making the god-awful recap completely useless and a waste of a good wordcount. This is either lazy-ass writing, or filler, or both.

Wanna hint? It's both.

Buck, meanwhile, has been demoted for skipping the murder- meeting with Nicolae that he actually did attend, and is meeting his new boss, Verna Zee. She is a minor character whose function in the book managed to piss me off more than any other character, save for one (and you're gonna have to wait a while for that one). He is an asshole to her. JBJ says these two characters have had friction prior to and just after the Rapture, but it was all either offscreen or too minor for us to give a fuck about in book one, so it just comes off as Buck being an asshole to his new boss because he got demoted. Also (and it's not very clear in this book, but it is in book three) Verna is a lesbian.

Time for our first bitch, ladies and gentlemen!

When you write fiction, just plain, ordinary fiction, you can do whatever you want as long as it's entertaining (because if it's not, people won't read it). When you write Christian fiction, especially if you do it as a teacher (As Tim LaHaye did) the game changes a little bit. Your characters (as implied by writing fiction) are role models and/or self-inserts for your readers. If you're writing about Christians trying to apply Christian ethics to a hostile world (as Tim and Jerry do here) then you must either have those characters behave like Christians, or receive consequences for not behaving like Christians. Because it is implied by your choosing to write specifically Christian fiction that you have something to teach to your audience and fucking up your theology would be a really bad thing. People might actually take you seriously.

Tim and Jerry threw this out the window on page one of Trib Force.

How? Well, remember when I said that Rayford has managed to make his co-pilot flinch whenever he removes his bible? I want you to think about the worst bible thumper you ever had to work with, the one with the anti-abortion bumper sticker on his car and the pictures of Jesus's sacred heart on her cubicle wall. I want you to think about how long it took for you to reach critical mass, to the point of complaining about harassment to HR.

And I want you to realize that, in the context of the book, Ray's managed to do that in much less than one month. Showing, you know, no compassion for his co-pilot, his boss (who he has also preached at) Hattie (who he also preached at) and apparently everybody else he has encountered since he got saved halfway through LB. He has done this so much that Hattie files a transparently fake complaint against him and his boss immediately accepts it as true.

Also, see Buck being an asshole to Verna Zee.

Now I think what Tim and Jerry were going for was the Honeymoon period, where new Christians typically preach to everybody, wear shiny buttons to work and make people want to duck for cover every time they show up, and yet are most prone to not acting like Christians. This ... is not how it works out. First, because of the way it's angled in the book. Rayford is the one being harassed. Because it is perfectly okay to preach at your co-workers until they literally cower every time you bring out your bible, but it is not okay to complain about said preaching (and just a reminder, I am a Christian who firmly believes in the value of evangelizing to the masses, so I am definitely "one of those" and even I think this is too much.) Buck is insubordinate to Verna Zee until she calls her boss to complain, and is told, "Look, he's demoted, but he's not really demoted. Let him do whatever he wants." So in Christianland, be an asshole=free pass. Neither man receives any consequence for being an insensitive, insubordinate, whiny, very much non-male jerk. And their behavior never changes. It's almost like Tim and Jerry are saying that the rules don't apply to Christians, and as both of these men are older than my father and highly respected in the faith ... I can't think they're that fucking stupid.

Tim, Jerry, your application of theology sucks. Just an FYI.

So the Christians-get-harrassed at work is one of the two plot threads JBJ uses to fill the space that should have been between the treaty-signing and WW3. And I am well over halfway through the book and the fucking treaty has not been signed yet. Do you remember the scene in Deathly Hallows where Harry Potter and Co. go camping and it lasts forever? I would rather be reading that. By the end of this plot thread, both Ray and Buck work for Nicky, Buck as the publisher of Global Weekly/Global Community Weekly (BTW the all powerful iron fist of the U.N. has been renamed the Global Community. Gag me.) and Rayford as Nicolae's pilot.

Let me repeat that, just so you remember: Rayford Steele, the Christian pilot who is so fucking Christian he makes his co-workers cringe inside of a week, is flying for the Antichrist. And another Christian is running his PR campaign. And to make this even worse, Ray and Buck bitch about working for Nicky constantly. As in Ray looks in the mirror and says, "this uniform would be really cool if I were not working for the Antichrist." Buck says "It'd be really cool to be a publisher of a large news center if I weren't working for the Antichrist." Because Nick forced them to take the jobs. Seriously. Dead fucking seriously. The Christians have to take these two prestigious positions in the Antichrist's inner circle/staff. He is twisting their arms and shoving this down their throats. The Antichrist insists on hiring Christians. Nicky, you are officially TSTL.

JBJ is also smart enough to know politics alone will not hold our interest. So he decides on that old fall-back, romance. Between Buck and Ray's daughter, Chloe. And Oh, my God. You know Twilight, and how awfully convoluted Edward and Bella's relationship is? How the entire foundation is that Edward is mysterious and Bella smells good? And how there is no sexual chemistry, at all, ever, and the vampire and his jailbait spend their courtship talking about favorite colors and blood drinking and the best way to cheat out of English? This is so, so, so much worse. At least in Twilight you knew that Meyer did care about Edward/Bella (that was all she cared about, but that's a rant for another bitch). Jerry not only can't write romance, he doesn't give a shit when he does write it. And god forbid we have unattached single people in Christian material.

It starts on page two, and as far as I can figure the reason Buck and Chloe latch onto each other is because they are the first Christians of the opposite sex that either person sees. Of course, first we have to do the "do you like me? I won't really ask you, though" shit, because that form of romantic friction isn't beaten more than Baalam's donkey (look! Bible joke!). Finally Buck and Chloe decide to get together, and reveal that both are virgins.

Chloe, I can buy. Buck is supposed to be in his late thirties, a hot shot, globe trotting, pulitzer prize winning journalist who is fucking loaded with money, and he never slept with anybody. Not a movie star, not a fellow reporter, not a girlfriend, not a prostitute in Bangkok. Nobody. And he didn't get saved until the last five minutes of Left Behind.

Can you find Nicolae Carpathia's HQ on Google Earth, too?

And we come to my second bitch about this series. Time and again, JBJ comes to a real issue. Something that is not fantasy, something that real people have to deal with every single day. We are talking the kind of struggles that make you go home, curl up and cry until you pass out from exhaustion and dehydration, pray on your knees till your joints bleed kind of pain here. And every time, every single fucking time, he cops out. Look, guys, you write fancy plots like Chronicles of Narnia, Left Behind and my own humble, unpublished Webber for the hell of it, but you address the real stuff inside the fluff because ... well, that's what you do. C.S. Lewis did this so well, so often that you frequently missed it the first read through and find yourself quoting him years later. (Hell, he demolished the Christians-must-be-passive thing by letting Dr. Ransom open a can of whoop-ass on Weston/Satan in Perelandra. Why am I not reading those books now?) Here we have an issue hundreds of thousands of people face every day: Founding a relationship on Christian principals, with someone who has adhered to Christian ethics (AKA is a virgin) when you have been sexually promiscuous in the past. Dealing with the guilt, or lack thereof, talking about it with your partner, figuring out what the "right" move is when you're new to this whole "religion" thing ... this, right here, could have been the heart of this book. And what does Jerry do? Make 'em both virgins.

Wow. Way to go.

The nadir of this romance is when Buck (thirty! LATE THIRTIES!) and Chloe remember their first joke together in book one ("Feel like a cookie?" "No, do I look like one?") This romantic moment leads to them each buying a cookie at a mall shop and saving the cookies so that when Buck flies overseas for the treaty signing (on Nicolae Carpathia's airplane. Sitting. Next. To. The. Antichrist.) they can eat their cookies together! It's romantic. And they make moon eyes at each other and whine about leaving each other, and when Buck is onstage with the Antichrist during the signing ON LIVE TELEVISION, he and Chloe eat their cookies.  Because they are so in LURVE. I cannot convey how stupid the entire sequence is. It is not romantic. Buck gets chewed out for eating on the job, Chloe is sobbing with a heaving breast at the touching romance, and I am dry heaving. I made it through Twilight's pointless Edward/Bella/Jacob triangle, and this makes me vomit.

Jesus, kill me now. Please.

Three hundred pages in (and well past the halfway mark. The treaty is still not signed. We still have a minimum of eighteen months before this book ends) we are introduced to Tsion Ben-Judah, a Rabbi who was commissioned to do a study on Messianic prophesy several years before the Rapture, who has finally completed his study and will give a live televised broadcast on his findings very soon. This is supposed to be suspenseful, and if Jerry showed ANY subtlty AT ALL, it might be. Tsion hooks up with Buck and he's also a pretty cool character. The scenes leading up to his broadcast are really good, and you actually start caring about this cool guy's soul (at least I did) and wanting him to be on your side and all. He's also like a super genious and somewhere around Nicolae's age (remember, the Antichrist is twenty-fucking-four years old.) and yet is highly respected in Jewish circles. I thought a Rabbi was an older man who proved ... Fhahhhhaaaaaaa .... screw it. We're almost done.

So we get the buildup to the broadcast, and Rayford watches it with the Antichrist in his stateroom. Naturally, Tsion's conclusion is the Messiah is Jesus Christ. Also, the second he opens his Bible, we lose interest in everything. It's just another info dump opportunity for TLH to remind us he's helping write these books. I guess JBJ felt that since he got two self-inserts, TLH needed another one too.

Just for the record, I love my religion. I feel people who write in my religion, for my religion, from the posistion of teachers/evangelists have a responsibility to make it as interesting as humanly possible, to present it in a positive light, to make it look attractive and sane. Basically, if you're claiming to have something to teach, don't fuck it up. And what I see here, in this section, is JBJ going "Ctrl+C, Ctrl+P" and adding audience reactions and "Tsion said" every few pages. Also long paragraphs about just how engaging a speaker Tsion is. Jerry! SHOW DON'T TELL! SHOW DON'T TELL! YOUR AUDIENCE IS FALLING ASLEEP, TSION IS NOT ENGAGING ANYTHING. Except maybe neutral gear.

And then Rayford flies the Antichrist home and decides to become his pilot, the treaty is signed, and we have fifty pages left in the book. For once, I am not counting down with glee. In fact, I've gotten more and more dismayed the longer we go without a signing, because again, eighteen months+World War 3. There are things that HAVE to happen onscreen for this to be entertaining. JBJ has proven that he cannot be brief to save his life, because it took four hundred pages to get that fucking treaty signed. This book has officially run out of room. And what happens next is so unbelievably lazy I had to re-read it to make sure I didn't miss a few hundred pages stuffed between scenes.

We skip the eighteen months. The whole thing. Just ... boom! Done! We're now twenty-four hours before the kick-off of World War Three! And this could still possibly work if JBJ did not infodump the setup he should have done earlier, and if that setup were not incredibly stupid. The United States will start WW3 because Nicky conned the President into giving him Air Force One. There are a few other things mentioned in passing (like forcing the President out of the White House so the Global Community Ambassador (gag) can live there) but all of them are along the lines of, "He took my toys away". I do not know jack shit about politics, but even I don't think the Pres. of the US of A can start global nuclear war over another world power 'jacking his ride. The President passes a warning on to Buck (Who works for the man Pres. Stupid is about to nuke) not to be in Washington, or New York, or Chicago (or planet earth) for the next few weeks.

...*checks wikipedia*

Yeah, doesn't a war have to last longer than a couple of weeks? Nevermind, just go with it.

So Buck flies back to Chicago for his wedding with Chloe. And it's a double wedding. Rayford is getting married too. To Amanda White. You remember Amanada White, right? She was such a HUGE character in those three hundred pages leading up to the treaty signing? No, no, she was mentioned once, in passing, randomly, more of a "Why did the editor leave this here?" moment than a "romantic lead!" moment. And then we cut out of the scene so Rayford can remember when he and Chloe first met Amanda. Because Jerry couldn't fit this meeting in between million dollar job offers from your supernatural spiritual enemy and romantic scenes involving cookies (Oh why, oh why, oh why couldn't it at least have been the cookie scene from Armageddon?) And we are told that Ray has fallen in love with Amanda. Rather than showing us. Because we really needed Tsion's massive "Jesus is the Messiah" ten page copy pasta more. (Trust me. If you are Christian enough to read and enjoy these books without screaming, you not only know those verses by heart, you automatically skim to the point whenever you see them.)

Also, Buck steals a few pages from Edward Cullen's playbook and uses his powerful connections to block Chloe's getting her own apartment so she'll have to move in with him. Also, we have used up twenty five pages on this shit. WW3 is not looking good.

Pres. Maturity warns Buck about the upcoming plan to bomb the universe. It lasts about two pages before we cut to the wedding. Incidentally, Bruce Barnes, their pastor, has become a world famous expert on end-time prophesy in the past year. Everyone looks up to and reveres him. Except for the Antichrist, because that wouldn't make any sense. Then Nicolae insists on meeting Ray's new wife. THE SATANIC LEADER OF THE WORLD TAKES TIME OUT OF HIS DAY TO MEET HIS EMPLOYEE'S WIFE. And this is not "oh, hey, is this your wife?" pass in the hall kind of thing. HE HAS THEM MAKE AN APPOINTMENT. And it contains this gem:

"Meeting the most evil man on the face of the earth was clearly out of her sphere of experiance, though she had told Rayford she knew a few garment wholesalers who might have fit the bill."

I mourn for the pronouns that died creating that sentence. Also, comparing world shattering evil to your store's suppliers does not make your evil guy seem more evil.

Nicky then brings Hattie Durham into the room, and announces that they are engaged and that Hattie is pregnant. Hattie is pregnant. THERE IS A WOMAN WHO IS PREGGERS WITH THE ANTICHRIST'S CHILD. IN A CHRISTIAN NOVEL. And in this evangelical Christian novel which is clearly against gays and abortions and paganism and the hijacking of presidential rides and all sorts of things, this is played as absolutely disgusting. What is not clear, unfortunately, is if the disgust is because Satan's Spawn has, well, Spawned, or if it's because they weren't hitched when Nicky hit that.

Bruce, Chloe, Buck, Ray and Amanda all talk about this amongst themselves. We get a description of Buck's apartment. We get another prophesy info dump from Bruce Barnes. We are on page 432, there are eighteen pages of printed material left in this book. Did World War Three take the wrong turn at Albuquerque? And can I trade characters with Warner Brothers? This book would work a lot better with Bugs Bunny as the Antichrist.

On page 433 things FINALLY pick back up, with Nicky acting like he's about to shit himself. People send warnings to each other, and then, on page 438, we get the stupid. Buck mentions that he is worried about Bruce, because he hasn't returned anybody's calls. Buck calls the church and this exchange takes place:

"But he picked up some kind of bug in Indonesia...He didn't want us to tell anyone because he was sure it was something they could fix real quick and he could still make it down there. But he's slipped into a coma."
(Buck) "A coma!?" (<--That right there is exactly how the book is punctuated.)
"Like I say, we're a little worried about him."

AAAAARRRRRGGGGGG!!!!!!!!!!!!!! A major character is fucking dying and we wasted three hundred pages on cookies! GOD THE STUPID IT BURNS PLEASE MAKE IT STOP. So the rest of the group go running to the hospital to take care of Bruce, only to run into a road blocade. World War Three apparently found a cab at the last minute and managed to drag its sorry ass into the book at pg 439. Way, way, way past when any of us gave a shit. And all the build up and action and bombing and cool stuff is infodumped over the radio while Random Characters make gasping noises, and we get to the hospital. It was bombed. And we all read about the bombs falling on Chicago, right? Right? You know, the smoke and flame, and the way impacts and explosions make your stomach go hollow even when miles away? Or did I miss that. No, no, it wasn't there at all. We just find a smoking ruin where the hospital should be. And yeah, Bruce is dead. Book's done, too.

So am I. No cool wrapup, no real additions whatsoever. I'm just gonna go drink something. And that feeling you have right now, Anticlimactic what the fuck? That's the feeling I've got. Now, on to book three, in which Tim LaHaye has to find himself a bible-copypasta info-dumping self insert (three guesses as to who, and the first two don't count.) and we all ask ourselves, how in the hell can this get any worse?


  1. "Also, Buck steals a few pages from Edward Cullen's playbook and uses his powerful connections to block Chloe's getting her own apartment so she'll have to move in with him."

    Man what?

    Also, I've skimmed the Left Behind books. Y'know what? Nicky is a great boss. He's generous, cares about his team, goes out of his way to meet his staff, and takes time out of his plans for global domination and desolation to welcome new family members. No wonder Hattie is sleeping with her boss.

    Based on their idea of what Evil looks like, LaHaye and Jenkins must be the worst bosses in the world.

  2. I'm kinda disappointed in this review. Not only because of the foul language, but because I think the book is so much better written than the review. The fact is that most Christians who are born again, want mildly written action that they can understand and relate to. I am very sorry that you were not able to see the creativity and I question if your "religion" is in fact Christianity at all. The other problem is that there are only about fourty million copies sold, so they cant be all that bad. After reading some of your other reviews of books that I have read and have really enjoyed, I wonder if you enjoy anything at all or if your just a miserable person. Just saying...

  3. Felly:

    Well, the foul language is a "your milage may vary" kind of issue. I happen to find it funny, and I also tend to swear when I get hurt, or when things offend me. I found the Left Behind series to be strongly, STRONGLY offensive as a Christian.

    The issue I have with LB is that it's not creative. It's sloppily written. 90% of the time, there's no grace to the prose at all. The authors consistently choose to avoid challenging themselves. They chose to have a lesbian character in the third book, and chose not to address her spiritual condition at all. She neither gets saved, nor totally rejects Christianity, and rather than having her die, she just kind of vanishes. They allow the Antichrist's girlfriend to become pregnant, do the whole "choose life" anti-abortion thing, which I happen to agree with, and then choose to have the woman naturally abort the baby rather than carry to term. The Christian characters never mature. Ever. They are mean, vindictive, and are more apt to pull the wings off flies than turn the other cheek. The antichrist is a hilarious caricature rather than an actual, terrifying antagonist. He reminds me of Jeremy Irons from Dungeons and Dragons, when he ought to remind me of a blending of Hitler and David Koresh.

    What offends me most about LB is how negatively I feel about Christianity when I read it. There is nothing in these novels that makes me want to be a Christian, want to be with God, want to worship, want to do anything except point and laugh at the ludicrisness of the whole thing. C.S. Lewis and Madeline L'Engle make me remember how much I love my faith, my God, and how much I yearn for heaven. I just completed 'Till we have Faces, and I was bawling from pure, spirit-filled joy by the end of it. Lewis's theology brings me to my knees. Even Frank Peretti, who wouldn't know subtlty if it fell on his head, is better at generating joy than Left Behind.

    Left Behind is a poorly constructed, emotionless, joyless, uncreative mess. Their portrayal of Jesus makes me think of Jasmine, the mind-controling amoral Lovecraftian goddess from Angel, and the second coming is a "Rocks fall, everyone dies" senario (though it's literally "Jesus speaks, everyone dies"). Jesus deserves better. Jenkins and LaHaye did not write a spiritual book. They wrote a commercial product. They wrote a SEQUEL to the biblical end of the world, and then copy/pasted half of the first book into their prequil trilogy because they just didn't want to do the work of writing a new one.

    As for 40 million copies sold ... yeah. Twilight has sold more, and Twilight sucks hard enough to draw the black out of space. Quantity sold does not equal quality writing.