Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Book Bitch: Nicolae

Let's get the basic stuff out of the way fast, becasue there really is no spoiler-free intro for Nicolae.

Title: Nicolae
Author: Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins AKA Tim and Jerry
Readability: Better than Tribulation Force, but still pretty poor.

What you should know before you buy: DO NOT READ IF: you are athiest, gay, pregnant and/or considering an abortion, pagan/any religion other than Protestant Christian, any race other than White, liberal, or well versed in the mysteries of science. Because you will blow a blood vessel if you try.

Spoiler cut!

So, just to recap our previous two reviews: the Antichrist is twenty-four, Rayford Steele wanted to bone his flight attendant, Buck Williams is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and is fucking loaded, HEY STUPID THE RAPTURE HAPPENED, Chloe Steele is twenty and a raging bitch, Bruce Barnes is a cool, black pastor and our first sympathetic character (until he opens his Bible) who dies randomly,  the Antichrist can hypnotize people into forgetting murders, if you are Christian you can be a bastard to anybody you want to without any concequences as long as you witness to them once in a while, Hattie Durham is FUCKING ANNOYING and the Antichrist stole her from Rayford, Jerry B. Jenkins fails at writing romance, Tsion Ben-Judah is totally Random Character who is also cool (until he opens his Bible), Cookies are eaten during a treaty signing and somehow we’re supposed to have warm fuzzies, and World War Three got lost at Alberqurque. Welcome to my nightmare, kids. The end of the world, as told via infodumping and copy pasta. So let’s find out just how much they can fuck up the next few chapters of Revelations, shall we?

The first line in the book is, “It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.”


Yes. Jerry B. Jenkins had the cahones to rip off Tale of Two Cities, and expected to survive the fucking fury of ten thousand pissed off literature nerds. And again, my only defense for having read and liked this series was, I was thirteen and didn’t know better.

So Bruce Barnes, Rayford’s dear pastor, has died of indeterminate causes. There is HEAVY hinting that Nicky C. did it, even though it says in the preceding book that Bruce had an exotic bug and slipped into a coma, and that he passed before his hospital got fucking bombed. And once again, we’ve opened from Rayford’s POV, this time with him failing at mourning about as hard as he fails at witnessing and monogamy. You don't get the feeling that he's grieving at all. We get several paragraphs of “Oh God! Bruce is dead! How will we ever go on!” Even though Bruce Barnes is mentioned like, twice in the preceding book and that’s it. I think the main reason these passages fail is, it’s basically “Rayford was devastated” repeated, and repeated, and then repeated. It is much more effective to describe the physical symptoms of grief while the character tries to keep going. We get many, many Darth Vader-style “NOOOOOOOOO” moments, and then … that’s it. The characters go back to their regularly scheduled lives, there are no trembling lips, there is no sobbing, there is nothing. Just “OMG how can we go on!” (they go on)

Two pages later, Nicolae Carpathia has the police (Oh, I’m sorry, Global Community Peacekeepers) get Rayford and Amanda out of the car and onto Global Community One, formerly Air Force One. Buck, meanwhile, hides behind a seat because he doesn’t want Nicolae to connect him up with Rayford.


Speaking of Buck and Chloe’s marriage, JBJ calls LOTS of attention to the age difference between Buck and Chloe. Mentioning Buck’s wonderful young wife very, very frequently. I think he’s trying to show that they are very much in LURVE, but it comes off as a creepy old man drooling on his child bride. And remember, Buck is so very obviously JBJ’s self insert. I only hope this is subconscious.

Also, speaking of age differences, you remember how Nicolae Carpathia, Antichrist and douchebag, is twenty four years old? I think somebody called JBJ on that, because suddenly he’s … um, older. Now, they never specifically said “he’s twenty four” but that was his age when he became President of Romania, and LB gave you the strong impression that was within a year of the Rapture. Everybody else is implied to be a certain age by either behavior (Ray is clearly late fourties, early fifties.) or by comparisons to other characters. Now, age is not that important to a novel (I don’t exactly give Webber’s MC an age. She’s late thirties) and you CAN get away with this as long as you are consistent. Yeah. In the end of the last book, Nicky is twenty-six (we’re at plus two years) Ray is late forties, Chloe is early twenties, Buck is late thirties (as implied by his age difference re: Chloe) Bruce is a little younger than Ray, Hattie is a little younger than Buck, probably same age as Carpathia (given that they hump like rabbits and make Devil Baby together), Chaim Rosenzwig is “Little bitty old man” age and Tsion Ben-Judah is late twenties, early thirties. Got it?

So in this one, Suddenly Nicolae is as many years older than Buck as Buck is older than Hattie (Re: Conversation with Hattie) and in his mid-thirties, and Tsion Ben-Judah is “the older man” when compared to Buck, which makes him closer to Rayford’s age. What the fuck, Jerry? Did you lose the series bible or something?  Also, this makes Buck’s constant obsessing over Chloe’s age total bullshit, because the Nicolae-Buck-Hattie comparison makes him about thirty, max. I could see being freaked out over a fifteen year age difference, but not a ten-year one.

Rayford goes off to fly Carpathia to safety, and Buck and Chloe go off to buy a car. The excuse is, they won’t be able to drive a “normal car” around the city anymore … but in a couple of chapters Buck does a lot of driving in a literal throwaway car.  This is the start of a very disturbing trend in these books, as the nominally Christian characters break all but two of the ten commandments systematically.  Buck lets Nicolae Carpathia pick up the six figure price tag for a brand new car, via his magazine’s charge card. They even call attention to this, in case you missed it:

(Chloe)“Do you feel like you just spent the devil’s money?”

“I know I did,” Buck said. “And the Antichrist has never invested a better dollar for the Cause of God.”

In other words, you can steal from your boss as long as it goes to your church and your boss is Satan.

I’m going to put on my theology hat for a second, because according to my belief system, this is the spiritual equivalent of lacing your pants with Napalm. One of the central teachings of Jesus boils down to it isn’t so much what you do that counts as much as it is what you think. Premeditation, in other words. The sin, so to speak, lies not in the behavior but in the thoughts behind the behavior, even if you don’t act on the thought. Jesus uses the example of looking at an attractive woman and lusting after her. Even if all you do is think “Damn, I’d hit that,” you’ve just committed Adultery. Being angry at a person=murder.  God doesn’t care so much about the things that we do as he does about our thought-lives. It's worse to act upon a bad thought, but you shouldn't have such thoughts in the first place. That’s why Protestant Christianity (With many exceptions) believes in the principal of Grace. Because without grace, we’re fucked. And that’s also why many branches believe that active behavior, or “works”, don’t count. If you're only being good to get into Heaven, your motives suck. I mean, how would you feel if someone bought you a gift only so you'd give them a blow job? Grace is the acceptance that we desperately need God to forgive us, because we can't get there on our own. What Grace is not, is a fucking free pass to do whatever you want to without spiritual consequences.

So let’s look at our heroes post salvation. Buck steals from Carpathia, overtly, and is fucking proud of it. Ray passively imagines murdering Carpathia, first because he’s the antichrist, then because HE KILLED BRUCE (via an exotic bug Bruce picked up in Indonesia. Because you can’t just get sick in Jerry’s world) and BOTH MEN  bitch, whine, whinge, moan and angst over working for the Antichrist. Two thirds of the chapters in this book end with “How much longer can I go on working for this evil man?” Dude. QUIT. YOUR. FUCKING. JOB. 

The main characters in this book might qualify as Christian to God (if, you know, they were real people) but they sure as fucking fuck don’t ACT like it. And the authors both present themselves as teachers in the faith AND market the series as biblically accurate.  This is why this series pisses me off.

So Buck drives his newly acquired Range Rover to Bruce’s church to inform Loretta, the church secretary, that Bruce has died.

...Do not get attached to Loretta. In fact, not to spoil the whole series ahead of time, but you might not want to get attached to any character other than Rayford.

Loretta informs them that Bruce had her print out the entire contents of his laptop, excepting, and I quote directly from the book,  “what he called program files, and all that”. It was written in '97. Loretta then introduces Buck to the church’s IT guy, a kid named Donny Moore. By the way, the print outs? We’re talking several thousand pages of perfectly formatted material. Also, a major plot point is taking everything Loretta printed out and putting it back on computer disk. I was alive in '97. We had floppy disks that were not floppy. I think we even had CDs. Even if Bruce had the original manuscript for War and Peace (the one delivered in a piano crate) you could have saved a lot of time, energy and money with a whole lotta floppies and coffee.

Meanwhile, Rayford meets with his old friend Earl Halliday (who?) and to the top-of-the-line airplane Earl designed for Nicky: The Condor 216 (the antichrist’s chosen number. Because 216=36=666. See? Yeah, that’s how I feel)

We the audience, however, are introduced to something I call techno-porn, the thing Jerry falls back on when he runs out of bible quotes to paste into his books. The guy loves technology. He loves it so much I feel like I should buy him and a computer a room.  It’s not so bad when Earl shows Ray the bug he installed in the entire plane (It broadcasts every word in the plane’s main cabin directly to Ray’s headphones, mostly because nobody wants to use a non-Christian VP in this series and there’s no other way to sit in on Nicky’s plotting. You know, because he’s not dumb enough to put a Christian in charge of his PR or anything) but when Buck orders laptops from Donny … wow. Cue the fucking porn music.

The unintentionally hilarious part is how very, very much Jerry’s techno-porn dates these books. You would not notice as much if he did not describe every detail and every feature of these books in such loving fashion, and then start talking about how wonderful the stuff is once it’s acquired. Buck buys the pie-in-the-sky, what you get with unlimited budgets kind of laptop … from 1997. The two stand-out Google Earth moments in our first example of Tech-porn is when Donny offers laptops “Like those computers that scientistis use in the jungle or in the desert when there’s no place to plug in or hook up to” and Buck asks if they have “built in satellite dishes.” I have to surrender as they didn’t have wi-fi in ’97, but … yeah, I snorted soda up my nose on that. Also, this exchange:

(Donny)“[I can offer you] Video Conferencing.”
“You mean I can see the person I’m talking to while I’m talking to him?”

I know that webcams weren’t common in ’97, but … yeah, I still snorted soda up my nose. I have a lil’ bitty one built into Away Team, and it only cost me 300 bucks, as opposed to 20K. This was Star Trek stuff back when the books came out, but it’s just funny now, and not in a good way. These books are supposed to be set in the near future, and they are … as long as you’re still in the ninties. It wouldn’t be a problem if the characters weren't so enthusiastic about it, and if techno-porn wasn’t JBJ’s fallback every time he needs to pad his wordcount.

Anyway, Rayford takes off and watches Carpathia continue to bomb the shit out of America. Buck lets Verna Zee stay at Loretta’s place, and then instantly regrets it because this horrible non-Christian (lesbian) woman might tattle on him, because she’s got no reason to like him (because he was a bastard to her when he first showed up). Ignoring the horrors of Buck’s dialogue, Verna and Loretta’s scenes are again, pretty good. You can really see Verna struggle with the idea of belief, and with her desire to believe in a system that directly contradicts parts of her personality.  Chloe then immediately crashes the brand new Range Rover, leaving Buck with Verna’s junkette car. The search for Chloe is basically filler. Interesting filler, but filler.

Back on the Condor (Nicky’s plane) we’re introduced to Rayford’s co-pilot, “Mac” MaCullum. And he delays so that Amanda White can get another flight to … somewhere. I can’t figure out where or why, and I don’t think Jerry did either. And then Rayford goes out of his way to take off before Nicky can sit down and fasten his seatbelt, thus inflicting physical harm on another human being, intentionally and maliciously. He thinks “Probably my last chance to inflict any justice.”

An example for the masses, our Ray.

Buck makes sure that everybody, including the Antichrist, knows what his new phone number is, and then wonders how long it will be before his family and loved ones are hiding in the church’s underground shelter. Probably a lot sooner than it’d be if you weren’t working for the guy. Idiot.

Then Buck gets a call from Chaim Rosenz(whatever), notifying that the Learned Schollar Tsion Ben-Judah has been attacked ,his whole family slaughtered. He must be rescued, and Buck is the only person who can save him! … !! … !!1!on1!!ELEVENTY!!!ONE!

Yeah. It’s not any more exciting with the exclamation points.

Buck goes to Israel to rescue Tsion. Ray’s VP in this section just informs us that Nicky wants Tsion dead, because Tsion says Jesus is the Messiah and this message is controversial. Seriously. It’s news. Also we find out Hattie is not happy with the Antichrist, and is still pregnant. (With. Satan’s. Baby. CHRISTIAN NOVEL, GUYS!) and wants Ray’s sympathy. Newlywed Ray mentions how attractive Hattie is a lot.

Meanwhile, Buck meets with the Two Wittnesses, a pair of figures who appeared in Israel, are obviously supernaturally powered (Fire breathing Preachers. Literally) and are pretty big figures in Revelations, so they have to be there. Have I mentioned lately that these novels’ cast is fucking HUGE!?! The Wittnesses are also telepathic, and beam bible-sounding nonsense phrases into Buck’s head so he can figure out where Tsion is.

Now, I can understand why you would use symbolic metaphors to lead someone to a fugitive, seeing as Buck can only meet these guys in the middle of a crowd. But they’re speaking telepathically. The novel does not call it that, it’s supposed to be spiritual speech direct from God … but it’s fucking telepathy, and they’re speaking directly to Buck’s brain. There is no reason why the Witnesses can’t give Buck detailed directions and a code word to get around Tsion’s body guard. And there really is no reason to speak in bible-gibberish, New King James translation.
Buck figures out Tsion is in Galilee, and gets a boat piloted by a guy named Micheal, who admits to being a Christian, and then, in the same fucking breath, to having killed two men looking for Tsion. He says he will shoot Buck and then sleep like a baby that evening. Buck talks filler for about seven pages, we get to pray with Tsion, which also goes on for pages, and then they load up into a van for a road trip to Egypt. I will gloss over most of it, as it is way too long and so chock full of religious cliches it reads like Guideposts Magazine. It cumulates with an inspection by GCPeacekeepers, and the inspecting Guard, Anis, passes right over Tsion in the back of the bus. Because he is some kind of Christian. This would be effective if this were the first inspection, not the second. They get Tsion safely to Chicago, where they stick him in the church with Bruce’s notes. Congrats, Tim LaHaye gets a new insert.

Let me spell this out for you, just in case you missed it. Tim’s mouthpiece in the first two books was Bruce Barnes, radical black pastor who, in the space of two years, becomes the post-Rapture Jessie Jackson (I assume he presented the Word with much more enthusiasm than he showed in the books). Then the books get published and rather large, and we’re introduced to Tsion Ben-Judah, Messanic Jew, handsome, credentials as long as your arm, with an even larger audience than Bruce ever had. And then Bruce dies in blink-and-you-missed-it fashion, and Tsion replaces him. Not to mention that his pre-ret-con age was probably somewhere around 33.

You know, Jesus was 33 when he died. Just sayin’.

So while Tim upgrades his self-insert, Rayford and Hattie talk about her relationship with the Antichrist, specifically, about the baby. Because she and Nicky are on the rocks, and she thinks she might want an abortion.

Yes. We’re going there. We’re actually going there. Hattie gives the whole Reproductive Rights argument and feminists everwhere say, “Get off my side, bitch.” Then Rayford gives the Christian pitch, which Hattie refutes with this little gem:

“When I left my job…I thought I was doing something for Hattie. Now I don’t like what I did for Hattie, so I need to do something else for Hattie.”

Because all women considering abortion are this fucking shallow.

Then we have Bruce’s funeral, where the cloak gets passed to Tsion, and we’re introduced to this book’s Major Plot Point. WW3 was Trib Force’s MPP. Nicolae’s is a massive, world-wide earthquake. Buck, who is still trying to hide his Christianity from Nicolae and pretend to be unbiased, runs a front-page story in his newspaper about the prophesied quake, calling it "The Wrath of the Lamb". And he is complimented on how unbiased this report is. He realizes that when he is outed as a Christian and has to go into hiding, he'll never have this influience again! Oh, what will he do?!?

Publish a full page ad for Jesus while he still has editorial control? Jury-rig the letters-to-the-editor so that the Roman Road appears in the comments section? Go on the news and "make the pitch"? Do SOMETHING while you still have an audience of millions so that you don't waste the best chance you think you'll ever have to wittness? Nah, it's just business as usual, "God I hate working for the Antichrist".

Ray, Amanda and Chloe try to talk Hattie out of going to an Abortion clinic, and Hattie flies there anyway. Also, I know you need to give the whole "God Talk" at least once per book, just in case any non-Christians are reading (God help us all) but there has to be a better way than just good ol' cut-and-paste. I want to Google these verses just to find out which version JBJ is using.

Another element that comes into play near the end is an increased amount of screen-time for a previously minor character named Peter Matthiews, AKA Pope Peter the Second, AKA the leader of Enigma Babylon One World Faith, AKA The Woman that Rides the Beast, yet another figure in Bible prophesy. Supposedly Carpathia got every religion in the world (excepting Christianity) to agree on a set of beliefs and cemented it all together with Pete here as the master of services. Let me repeat this. Carpathia's Satanic Hypnosis is so powerful it got everybody to agree on a creed. Pagans, Muslims, most Catholics, Buddists, the works. And because Pete is evil and the authors are biased, the paganism dominates everything, because Pagan=Satan worshiper.

You know, I once got caught in a debate between a lineaged Gardenerian Wiccan and a witch who got all her stuff from Silver Ravenwolf's books. I think it got as far as "The Lord and Lady can be anybody we want them to be" before the message board went up in flames. And the dynamic duo here want me to believe that Carpathia got (clears throat) Thelemic practitioners, Theosophists, Gardnerian Wiccans, Vodun practioners, the new age, "Listen to Mama Silver" "Wicca is what we want it to be" witchy types, the Moonies, Mormons, Catholics, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, LaVeyan Satanists, the crystal healer types, the "I am a reincarnated Aztec High Preist" types, assorted native American tribes, assorted native African tribes, Confusicians, Buddists, Shinto and EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE UNIVERSE to agree on a single, all-encompassing creed? And it's the "God is whatever you want he/she/it to be, and all gods are one" claptrap? Are you KIDDING me?

Pete also abuses modifiers like a baseball player with steroids. His first realtime scene in the book consists of he and Carpathia planning the Morale Monitors, basically the SS/Hitler Youth of the Global Community (gag). And we won't see them again until sometime after Nicolae gets it. Leonardo Fortunato pulls Rayford aside and asks him to please break up with Hattie for Carpathia. Because Nicky doesn't want to break up with his girlfriend in public. There is a lot of weird- ass confusion that basically amounts to nobody knowing where Hattie+Devil Baby are, and Amanda getting on the wrong plane. Rayford decides to have his co-worker, Mac, start up a helicopter so he can pick her up in Baghdad. Buck and Tsion start playing with their laptops, using the 1997 version of video chat. I guess Jerry was short a couple of pages. And then--


Rayford runs up to the helicopter and straps in, only to have Nicolae climb in behind him and kick some poor sap off the struts as he fastens his seatbelt. Seriously. The building they were in collapses. Rayford thinks about killing Nicky. The audience wonders why the fuck a Christian is working for the Antichrist, OPENLY. Buck finds Loretta's body in a ... crater. Gee, that's some earthquake, creating spontaneous craters. Tsion is trapped under the church, and Rayford bails on the helicopter so he can wander through the Iraqi desert in search of Amanda.

Book ends. Thank GOD.

Nicolae is, in my mind, a watershed moment in the series. Left Behind was solid, if rather fluffy and masturbatory in a religious kind of way (nothing to challenge the reader AT ALL) Tribulation Force was completely forgettable. I had to buy it to remember 80% of the plot. Nicolae is a little less bland than Trib Force, not because the writing is as strong as LB, but because you start getting little tastes of the batshit to come. The cast also begins to balloon out of control here. We lose Bruce Barnes, Verna Zee (she doesn't appear in the novels again, so I assume she died) Steve Plank (who didn't appear in the book at all) and Loretta, but we gain Tsion Ben-Judah, Leon Fortunato, Peter Matthews, Mac McCullum and a few other soon-to-be-major characters I left out. We also begin to have supernatural occurrences. During the earthquake, for example, the moon turned red, the sun went out and stars fell from the sky. This is not presented as atmospheric phenomenon and a meteor shower. God puts out the sun. For the rest of the series, eshatological prophesy WILL be taken word-for-word literally. Those of you who have read Revelations will have just said "OH FUCK."

Trust me, you have NO idea.

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