14 October 2010

Left Behind: Tribulation Force

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

After finishing Left Behind, I am continuing the Left Behind series with the next book in the series, Tribulation Force.

There is almost no difference between the first two books.  I suspect they were written without a break between.  Nothing happens for long stretches - during which the characters make a lot of phone calls - then there are brief moments with ludicrously swift changes. A lot of the problems with the writing have carried over, and some others have become more obvious.

In good literature, authors have to be careful how they describe people. If you call someone an amazing poet, we're going to want to see some poetry. You can slide by for a while by having other characters read the poetry and give their reactions, but eventually you have to suck it up and shell out some verse. The only way around this is if it's something the authors couldn't convey - sculpture, for example. You can easily get away with a rough description of a sculpture and some reaction shots.

But if you call someone an amazing reporter and give him a nickname like "Buck" because he's always "bucking authority" and "bucking the trends" and so on, eventually you have to show him doing some reporting and some bucking.

Alas, Buck seldom does any bucking. He seems more timid than anything else. Rather than deal with a call he doesn't want to take, he just tries to ignore it. When he speaks with the bad guy, he generally tries to get away as fast as possible and say as little as possible. When his new boss abuses him verbally and bullies him around, he simply lets events take their course and waits quietly outside the boss' office while her superior remonstrates her. I'm not saying these are necessarily bad traits (if the Antichrist wanted an appointment with me I might not take the call, either) but they clash a bit with the described "bucking" and bold Buck.

Nor does he seem like a particularly good reporter, for that matter, failing to pay attention during interviews with a world-famous Jewish inventor. Yes, Buck, we understand you "feel an attraction" to a girl (whoa there, tone down the ardor!) but maybe you could keep your attention on what you're doing?
He might even see if Chloe wanted to have a late dinner, just the two of them, before the meeting.
“So what do you think about that?” Dr. Rosenzweig said.
“I'm so sorry, Doctor,” Buck said. “My mind was elsewhere.”
The only journalism we see is Buck's story about the cause of the disappearances, and that takes him more than a week to write and doesn't appear in print for something like a month - even though it's the premier weekly newsmagazine and you'd think they might have covered the matter in rather a more timely fashion, considering how it's the biggest story of - literally - all time.

In the same fashion as Buck, we hear of Carpathia's oratorical skills to no end. He's a wizard of words, and everyone is charmed. But his speech and dialog - what we hear of it - completely falls short.
“You are a person I need! What I am saying is that you and I both had a problem. You were on someone's hit list, and I had two people in my trust who were involved in serious crimes. By committing suicide and killing Todd-Cothran in the process, my old friend Jonathan Stonagal took care of the problems we both had. That is good karma, if I understand my Eastern friends.”
...
“Frankly,” Carpathia said, “it merely humbles me. In many ways it does seem this has been my destiny, but I never would have dreamed it or imagined it, let alone planned it. I have sought no office since I ran for the Romanian senate, and yet this has been thrust upon me. I can do nothing less than give it my all and hope I act in a manner worthy of the trust that has been placed in me.”
...
“What is that old phrase from the movies you Americans are so fond of? ‘An offer you cannot refuse’? That is what I have for you.”
The authors appear unsure of how to create dramatic tension, and so they compensate by cutting back and forth between scenes. Whenever a character says anything with any potential implications - BAM! we shift to another scene. And then BAM! again. Back and forth.
Rex walked into the room, warily. He asked, "Why am I here?"
As Rex sat down, Cruellae leaned forward, smiling. "I think you know why you're here."

Back in Chicago, Shellie sighed and grimaced at her father. "I just don't know if Rex likes me. I want to think that he does, but I get such mixed signals and I'm so emotional because of my vagina."
Her father laughed, paternally patting her arm. "I don't think you need to worry. There's something I have to tell you."

Rex had been uncertain about Cruellae's intentions. The diplomat was so smooth and kind and awesome, it was hard to believe he'd just been eating a kitten. Only Rex knew the truth. But did Cruellae know about Rex's Jesus-shield?
"As I said, you know why you'r here," Cruellae said, bizarrely repeating himself as though to remind a reader about the situation. "I want you on my team."
The authors are also unsure how to structure the plot so that the main characters are involved in important events while also keeping them seeming humble. The main characters, a pilot and a journalist, are personally sought after by the most important people in the world at every turn. The President wants the pilot to fly Air Force One, and then the Antichrist wants the pilot to fly the charter plane of the new global dictatorship. The journalist was the only reporter present for the destruction of the Russian air fleet by Jesus, then the only reporter with an exclusive on the Antichrist, then the only one present at a murder, then the only one who gets to speak to some prophets, and so on. Maybe it's explained later, but right now it's hard to see why the President of the United States is calling in the world's top reporter to his plane, swearing him to secrecy, and then "venting" a little at him. It shows the reader something behind the scenes, but it makes no sense at all.

But really, these people live profoundly boring lives considering the tremendous events that are going on all around them. An exceedingly minor spell of flirting is a central plot point for the whole of the first two books - a much bigger deal is made of this than the complete disarmament of the world. Seriously. One character smiled a lot at another character - never even inappropriately touched, much less kissed - and it becomes a central item. And they never seem to know what's important! Page after page is devoted to the mystery of who sent the anonymous bouquet of flowers to Chloe, while half a sentence is devoted to waves of crime in America.
Rayford dozed with his earphones on in first class. Images from the news filled the
screen in front of him, but he had lost interest in reports of record crime waves throughout the United States. The name Carpathia finally roused him. The United Nations Security Council had been meeting several hours every day, finalizing plans for the one-world currency and the massive disarmament plan the secretary-general had instituted. Originally, the idea was to destroy 90 percent of weapons and donate the remaining 10 percent to the U.N. Now each contributing country would also invest its own soldiers in the U.N. peacekeeping forces.
Interestingly, though, we're finally given a few more crumbs of detail about the Rapture. It seems as though many Catholics were not Raptured, only "some." It's a pretty clear call-out to Catholicism: "Nyeh nyeh you aren't going to Heaven!"
A lot of Catholics were confused, because while many remained, some had disappeared—including the new pope, who had been installed just a few months before the vanishings. He had stirred up controversy in the church with a new doctrine that seemed to coincide more with the “heresy” of Martin Luther than with the historic orthodoxy they were used to. When the pope had disappeared, some Catholic scholars had concluded that this was indeed an act of God. “Those who opposed the orthodox teaching of the Mother Church were winnowed out from among us,” Peter Cardinal Mathews of Cincinnati, a leading archbishop, had told Buck. “The Scripture says that in the last days it will be as in the days of Noah. And you'll recall that in the days of Noah, the good people remained and the evil ones were washed away.”
“So,” Buck concluded, “the fact that we're still here proves we're the good guys?”
“I wouldn't put it so crassly,” Archbishop Mathews had said, “but, yes, that's my position.”
And just in case you missed that subtle point (CATLICKS IS WRONG) they give a little more:
Buck had been bold enough to ask the archbishop to comment on certain passages of Scripture, primarily Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
“Now you see,” the archbishop said, “this is precisely my point. People have been taking verses like that out of context for centuries and trying to build doctrine on them.”
“But there are other passages just like those,” Buck said.
“I understand that, but, listen, you're not Catholic, are you?”
“No, sir.”
“Well, see, you don't understand the broad sweep of the historical church.”
It's already been made pretty obvious that most evangelical Protestants were Raptured, and now we know that only a minority of Catholics were favored. I am curious to know about the other religious denominations, though. The book's narration describes worldwide catastrophes from the Rapture, but I just don't see how this is possible. Indeed, it would seem like most countries would only lose a handful of people. I bet Bangladesh and Japan barely noticed anything happened.

In the final bit of the book, suddenly a huge amount of things happen as it skips forward with an "Eighteen months later..."  All of the interesting things we might have wanted to see are just narrated in a few paragraphs.  Here's an example:
Buck hated the money he was making. Not even an outrageous salary could make his life easier. He had been forced to move back to New York. Much of the old guard at Global Weekly had been fired, including Stanton Bailey and Marge Potter, and even Jim Borland. Steve Plank was now publisher of the Global Community East Coast Daily Times, a newspaper borne out of the merger of the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe. Though Steve wouldn't admit it, Buck believed the luster had faded from Steve's relationship to the potentate too.
The only positive factor about Buck's new position was that he now had the means to isolate himself somewhat against the terrible crime wave that had broken all records in North America. Carpathia had used it to sway public opinion and get the populace behind the idea that the North American ambassador to the Global Community should supplant the sitting president. Gerald Fitzhugh and his vice president were now headquartered in the old Executive Office Building in Washington, in charge of enforcing Potentate Carpathia's global disarmament plan in America.
It would have been great to hear about how the terrible crime wave and its causes and reactions. Or about how the biggest newspapers in America got merged together into one. But these things only merit a few sentences in this book. Instead, we get long inane bits like this:
“Yeah.”
“You told me once that you were never serious about anyone.”
“Right. Well, a couple of times I thought I was, but I had jumped the gun. One girl,
a year ahead of me in grad school, dumped me because I was too slow to make a
move on her.”
“No!”
“Guess I'm a little old-fashioned that way.”
“That's encouraging.”
“I lost whatever feeling I had for her real quick.”
“I can imagine. So you weren't the typical college guy?”
“You want the truth?”
“I don't know. Do I?”
“Depends. Would you rather hear that I have all kinds of experience because I'm such a cool guy, or that I'm a virgin?”
“You're going to tell me whatever I want to hear?”
“I'm going to tell you the truth. I just wouldn't mind knowing in advance which you'd want to hear.”
“Experienced or a virgin,” Chloe repeated. “That's a no-brainer. Definitely the latter.”
“Bingo,” Buck said softly, more from embarrassment than from braggadocio.
“Wow,” Chloe said. “That's something to be proud of these days.”
“I have to say I'm more grateful than proud. My reasons were not as pure as they would be today. I mean, I know it would have been wrong to sleep around, but I didn't abstain out of any sense of morality. When I had opportunities, I wasn't interested. And I was so focused on my studies and my future, I didn't have that many opportunities. Truth is, people always assumed I got around because I ran in pretty fast circles. But I was backward when it came to stuff like that. Kind of conservative.”
“You're apologizing.”
“Maybe. I don't mean to be. It's kind of embarrassing to be my age and totally inexperienced. I've always been sort of ahead of my generation in other ways.”
At least it's over now. Only - what, ten more or so to go?

5 comments:

  1. Are you going to read them all? I didn't make it past the first two. I tend to get a little put off when authors tell me I'm not going to make it to heaven because I'm too Catholic.

    I also get put off by bad characterization, but I think I've mentioned that. :-)

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  2. Hell yeah I'm gonna read them all - or at least as much as I can while restraining my urge to vomit.

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  3. I will wait in anticipation for the reviews. Or I'll find a book that knows how to write characters.

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  4. “Experienced or a virgin,” Chloe repeated. “That's a no-brainer. Definitely the former.”
    “Er... Sorry.” Buck said softly, more from embarrassment than from braggadocio.
    “Wow,” Chloe said. “That's something to be proud of these days.”


    There, better.

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  5. Buck had been bold enough to ask the archbishop to comment on certain passages of Scripture, primarily Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

    "For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" the archbishop continued, "Do you see how looking at Ephesians 2:8-9 without Ephesians 2:10 changes the overall meaning? This is precisely my point. People have been taking verses out of context for centuries and trying to build doctrine on them.”

    -----

    How the archbishop should have responded.

    Poor Ephesians 2:10. Protestants do love to ignore it, don't they.

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