25 October 2010

Left Behind: Assassins

Read all my reviews of the Left Behind books!
1. Left Behind, 2. Tribulation Force, 3. Nicolae, 4. Soul Harvest,
5. Apollyon, 6. Assassins, 7. The Indwelling, 8. The Mark,
9. Desecration, 10. The Remnant, 11. Armageddon,
12. The Glorious Appearing, and 13. Kingdom Come

In this sixth book, I feel as though the writing and characters have shifted somewhat, perhaps even - dare I say it? - developed. Surprising, I know.

The basic plot is evident from the title, and is spelled out to us often: the Antichrist, Nicolae Carpathia, is fated to die. Who will be the one to kill him? There are three candidates:
  • Rayford Steele, who has suddenly turned into a huge dick in this book. He buys a gun called a "Sabre," and travels to see Carpathia speak, with the intention of shooting him.
  • Hattie Durham, jilted lover of the Antichrist, who manages to smuggle herself from America to the Middle East and then gets into the line-up of the on-stage entertainment at the same Carpathia rally. It is not really explained how Hattie managed this, since she is famously stupid and is known worldwide.
  • Chaim Rosenzseig, the Israeli scientist who is disillusioned with Carpathia.
The book ends on a cliffhanger - Carpathia dies at the rally, but we don't know who really killed him.

But is it really so much of a cliffhanger? It turns out, Chaim has spent months becoming acclimated to a motorized wheelchair and studying the symptoms of a stroke. He has also become obsessed with creating the thinnest and strongest sword imaginable. And two days before the rally, he has a stroke that suddenly consigns him to a wheelchair - so he bypasses the metal detectors.

Is this really a tough one? We're told repeatedly that the Antichrist will be stabbed in the head with a sword. I'm no genius, but it sure seems to me like the one guy in the book with a sword is probably the guy who did it. This is less a cliffhanger and more of a cliff-that-you-descend-in-a-hammock-while-sipping-herbal-tea.

But anyway, the timeline is now almost exactly halfway through the Tribulation period, the time during which God causes massive suffering and death on the planet to try to force - sorry, "convince" - people to convert to Christianity. The population was decreased by something like a billion during the disappearances, give or take, and subsequently has been reduced by a worldwide earthquake, comet impact, massive waves of fire that burn up a third of everything, worldwide poisoning of water, and a dozen or so nuclear strikes during a world war. God has also dimmed the sun and moon by a third and sent a plague of tiny monsters to attack all unbelievers. So it's been an eventful three years, and a third of the population remaining after the Rapture are dead. But it's been fifty pages since a mass slaughter occured, so in Assassins two hundred million magical horsemen appear and start killing people with their enormous snake tails, incinerating them with sulfur, and choking them with smoke. Another 25% of the planet dies.

Because some people have died, openings appear in the Tribulation Force. No one important dies, of course. Even when Amanda, Rayford's new wife, died, we didn't really care. But a lot of people have roles, and those roles have to be filled. For example, originally the "tech guy" was Donny. But Donny died in the earthquake in Tribulation Force. So they brought in Ken. He died. So now there's David Hassid. They each had their little quirks, but by and large they spoke with the same faceless chatter possessed by all of the non-ethnic characters. They buy fancy computers, fancy phones, and so on. Eventually they die.

The other replacement is nurse Leah, who replaces Dr. Floyd, one of the two "brother brothers" (black Christians) in the books so far.

"I'm a fool is all," Floyd said. He sat up, settling directly behind Buck. "I felt this coming on for months, telling myself I was imagining it. When the vision started to go, I should have contacted the Centers for Disease Control. It's too late now."
"I'm not following you."
"Let's just say I figured out what almost killed Hattie. I contracted it from her somehow. In layman's terms, it's like time-released cyanide. Can gestate for months. When it kicks in, you're a goner. If it's what I've got, there'll be no stopping it. I've been treating the symptoms, but that was useless."
NEW WOMEN ALERT! With Loretta and Amanda dead, Chloe safely raising a child and submitting to her husband, and Hattie vanished, they had to introduce a few new women. So which will they be: submissive and quiet or "feminist?"

Well, first we have Leah, the nurse. She is a "feminist," by which I mean she tends to be extremely unpleasant. Witness the following, completely unedited conversation, taking place the day she joins.

Rayford looked pleadingly at her. "Would a tough day be an excuse?"
"I've had one too," she said. "Tell me you're not afraid of me before I turn in."
"I'm not. I'm sorry."
"I am too. Forgive me if I overreacted."
So much for bonding, Rayford thought. "Won't give it another thought."
"You trust me then."
"Yes! Now go to bed and let us do the same. Feel free to use the bathroom before the rest of us."
"You're telling me you trust me."
Rayford could tell even Chloe was losing patience with Leah. "I'm tired, Mrs. Rose. I apologized. I'm convinced. OK?"
"No?" Chloe said. "I have to get to bed."
"You think I'm blind or stupid or what?" Leah said.
"Excuse me?" Chloe said.
"Where's the shelter?"
Rayford flinched. "You don't want me to be suspicious and now you ask about a shelter?"
"You don't have one?"
"Tell me how you would know to ask."
Leah shook her head. "This is worse than your thinking me subversive. You think I'm daft."
I'd use a different descriptor.

Then there's Annie, who works for and loves Tech Guy #3. She is... well, she apparently is a person. I mean, we're assured that she is and we see her talking and smiling and writing love notes. But this might be some narrative device where all the characters pretend that a block of wood is a real person. It's hard to tell. But she does do as she's told! And she's a riveting storyteller:

"He said, 'What do you call it?'
She said, 'Fearing for my life.'
He said, 'Welcome to the club. I'm a believer too.'
She said, 'But how did you know?'
He said, 'It's written all over you.'
She said, 'But really, how?'
And he said, 'Literally, God wrote it on your forehead.'"

Moving on, we see some more moralizing in this book. The proposition is put forth, undisputed, that the ends justify the means and that anything goes in wartime.

She turned back to Mac as if she had just thought of something. "You have no trouble lying?"
Mac shook his head. "To the Antichrist, you serious? My life is a lie to him. If he had a clue, I'd be tortured. If he thought I knew where Rayford was, or Ray's daughter and son-in-law, I'd be dead."
"The end justifies the means?" Annie said.
Mac shrugged. "I sleep at night. That's all I can tell you."

"Well, I just appropriated a bed and a lot of medicine from the enemy. If you have a problem with that, I'm sorry. I don't. This is war. All's fair, as they say."
"I can't argue with that. But, um, where am I taking you?"
Now, I'm not saying they're wrong here. But this raises a good point, since in addition to these moments, the good guys also have guns and shoot at the bad guys or engage them in hand-to-hand combat with lethal results. Buck killed a guard with a single punch in the last book when rescuing his wife. Rayford seems to have probably killed (or almost killed) another guard in this book, and later starts firing a gun from within a crowd. And there's almost no soul-searching or agonizing about it, except an occasional exclamation or thought: "Rayford hoped he hadn't killed the man." I expect we'll see a lot more tragic repentance in the next book, but at least right now it seems like everyone happily and without thought accepts the idea that violence is justified. What about the fact that those guards are now eternally damned? You'd think the Tribulation Force's certainty that God was guiding events would make them less likely to kill, not more likely.

But anyway, let's talk about the guns for a moment. The authors have long had a fetish for technology, and spend many pages discussing the capabilities of the latest computer or cell phone. The latest iteration of the "Ultimate phone" (as it is called) entails detailed explanation no less than five times over the course of two books. But the discussion of Rayford's new gun leaves the phone fetish in the dust.

Albie said, "This is found in no other handgun. Only in highpowered rifles. It does not cock. It is semiautomatic. You have to pull the trigger anew for each shot, but it will fire off a round as quickly as you can release the trigger and trip it again. It is probably the loudest handgun made, and I recommend something in the ear nearest the weapon. For now, just plug your ear with your other hand."
"I don't see a safety."
"There is none. You simply aim and fire. The rationale behind this piece is that you do not separate the block and produce it unless you intend to shoot it. You do not shoot it unless you intend to destroy what you are shooting. If you shoot at that rock enough times, you will destroy it. If you shoot a person in a kill zone from within two hundred feet, you will kill him. If you hit him in a neutral zone from that same distance, your ammunition will sever skin, flesh, fat, tendon, ligament, muscle, and bone and will pass through the body leaving two holes. Provided you are at least ten feet away, the soft hollow-point shell has time to spread out due to the heat of the firing explosion and the centrifugal force caused by the spinning. Rifling grooves etched inside the barrel induce the spin. The projectile then will be roughly an inch and a half in diameter."
"The bullet spreads into a spinning disk?"
"Exactly. And as I told you on the phone, a man missed by the projectile by two inches from thirty feet away suffered a deep laceration from the air displacement alone. Should you hit someone from between ten feet and two hundred feet, the bullet will leave an exit wound of nearly six inches in diameter, depending on what body part is expelled with it. The thin, jagged, spinning bullet bores through anything in its path, gathers the gore around it like grass in a power-mower blade, and turns itself into a larger object of destruction. During the testing of this weapon a technician was accidentally shot just above the knee from approximately twenty feet away. His leg was effectively amputated, the lower portion attached by a thin ribbon of skin on each side of the knee."

Now, as I said, there has been some shift in the writing. We're given one or two examples of surprisingly decent phrasing. There is even - be still my heart! - an original phrasing!

It was possible he had been exposed already. How could one know? The end of a traitor is like the end of a star: the result is always seen long after the event has taken place.
But of course these remain the exception. Far more often, we get this:

The schemes playing at the edges of his mind were so far afield from the Rayford Steele he thought he was that he could only imagine what Chloe would say. And she knew only the half of it.
Terrible! She can't know "only the half of it" because she doesn't know any of it, because Rayford was just imagining what she might say if he told her! Either she knows it (or the half of it) and you don't need to just imagine what Chloe might say or she doesn't know any of it, much less half! Terrible!

Subtler errors also exist.

She shook her head. "I tried to kill myself. I swallowed everything in the medicine cabinet and made myself violently ill. God must not have wanted me dead, because apparently much of what I ingested countered whatever else I took. I awoke hours later with a horrible headache, stomachache, and rancid taste. I crawled to my purse to find some mints and came across that pamphlet again. Somehow it finally made sense."
Can barely move... must... crawl to purse... for mints. Why... did I fail... so badly... at suicide... even though... I'm a nurse?

But! There's one terrible, stupid, moronic bit of thinking that rivals anything I've ever seen or heard of.  It leaves every previous example in the previous books far behind in idiocy.


"In their precious old King James translation the operative verse reads like this: 'And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.'"
"So that's why those two dress in those burlap bags," Fortunato said. "They're trying
to make us think they're these- what did it say? 'Witnesses.'"
At this point it has been 1,200 days into the preaching of the witnesses. That's over three years. The witnesses have personally and repeatedly confronted the Antichrist - the leader of the world - and have preached almost ceaselessly throughout that time, destroying all who approach them. They have continually proclaimed who they are ("candlesticks of the Lord") and what they are doing. They speak almost solely in adapted verses from the Bible. The second-most-prominent man on the planet next to the Antichrist, the leader of the Christians, has explicitly and repeatedly identified them by verse from Revelations.

But the Antichrist's forces are just now - after three years! - realizing these guys claim to be from the Bible. This surpasses any believable stupidity on the part of the characters, and slops right over into being thoroughly believable stupidity on the part of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

1 comment:

  1. Let me counter this fatal dose of alcohol with a fatal dose of caffeine! My humours will come back in perfect balance!