L.B.: What a world, what a world

Left Behind, pp. 466-467

The penultimate scene begins with four sentences crying out for rewriting:

By the time Stanton Bailey stormed into Buck’s office an hour later, Buck realized he was up against a force with which he could not compete. The record of his having been at that meeting had been erased, including from the minds of everyone in the room. He knew Steve wasn’t faking it. He honestly believed Buck had not been there.

This force with which he could not compete (“he” being Buck, not Steve) is also something sense of which the reader cannot make. We assume that the erasing of all traces of Buck’s presence was something Nicolae did, but why would he do that? He invited Buck to the meeting and now he seems to have gone to great lengths to make it seem like Buck was never there. What’s the point of that? What’s Nicolae’s — or the authors’ — logic here?

And more to the point, why isn’t Buck wondering why Nicolae did this? If Buck has just been singled out by Nicolae, then it would seem like he’s just made a very powerful enemy and that it’s probably time to go back into hiding. Or it could be that Carpathia cast some kind of generalized magic spell designed to eliminate every trace of any doubter who might have been in the room — in which case Buck is in imminent danger of being exposed as an RTC and an enemy of the Antichrist and thus, again, going into hiding would seem wise. Yet apart from the precaution of worrying that his office phone might not be “safe,” Buck doesn’t seem particularly worried that he’s now on Page 1 of the global emperor’s enemies list.

The power Carpathia held over these people knew no limits. If Buck had needed any proof that his own faith was real and that God was now in his life, he had it. Had he not received Christ before entering that room, he was convinced he would be just another of Carpathia’s puppets.

Again, it might make sense for someone like Bruce Barnes to be using phrases like “God was now in his life” or “received Christ,” but Buck has been a born-again Christian for just a few hours, during which time he hasn’t interacted with any others of his new kind. That makes it very strange for him to be so fluent in the peculiar (and revealing) idioms of the subculture.

Bailey was not in a discussing mood, so Buck let the old man talk, not trying to defend himself.

Stanton Bailey explains that he’s tracked down everyone he could find who’d been in the meeting and that none of them remembers seeing Buck in the room. Bailey, it turns out, is a much more thorough journalist and investigator than Buck has ever been. He’s also a much better boss than Buck deserves, delivering an avuncular dressing-down that conveys more disappointment than anger. For his part, Buck displays the same sense of entitlement that he did before his instant sanctification:

“This is unacceptable and unforgivable, Cameron. I can’t have you as my executive editor.”

“I’ll gladly go back to senior writer,” Buck said.

“Can’t go along with that either, pal, I want you out of New York. I’m going to put you in the Chicago bureau.”

“I’ll be happy to run that for you.”

Bailey shook his head. “You don’t get it, do you, Cameron? I don’t trust you. I should fire you. But I know you’d just wind up with somebody else. … If you tried to jump to the competition, I’d have to tell them about this stunt. …”

“… Someday I want you to come clean with me, son. That was the sorriest excuse for news gathering I’ve ever seen, and by one of the best in the business.”

So Bailey here does not seem to have been the victim of Nicolae’s mojo — he’s not “just another of Carpathia’s puppets.” And he openly invites Buck to “come clean with me.” Yet Buck, who is sitting at the very computer on which he has just typed his full account of what really happened at the meeting, decides not to share that account with his mentor. Unlike every other story Buck was working on in this book, this one actually got written, but he still never turned it in.

I suppose you could argue that hearing the truth might put Bailey in danger — that Buck is somehow protecting his old boss by not telling him about the menace that Carpathia poses to the world. Or maybe he just doesn’t care what happens to Bailey, so he doesn’t give any thought to whether or not the old guy deserves to hear the truth.

It’s awfully convenient that of all the places he could’ve been demoted to, Buck is being sent to the office nearest his new girlfriend and Tribulation Force HQ. That’s one big advantage to writing Christian brand genre fiction — convenient coincidences can be chalked up to divine providence rather than to hackneyed plot devices.

Bailey tells Buck he’s getting demoted all the way down to the bottom rung:

“You’re going to be a staff writer out of Chicago, working for the woman who was Lucinda’s assistant there. …

Yes, the one with the “sensible shoes.”

” … I’m calling her today to give her the news. It’ll mean a whopping cut in pay, especially considering what you would’ve gotten with the promotion. You take a few days off, get your things in order here, get that apartment sublet, and find yourself a place in Chicago.”

And there it is. Yet another offhand reminder that the post-Event world portrayed in Left Behind is exactly the same as the pre-Event world. The disappearance of 2 billion people — including every child on the planet — hasn’t changed anything at all.

This particular instance might seem like a minor detail, but world-building is all about getting the details right. LaHaye and Jenkins have no interest in the details because they have no interest at all in world-building.

Subletting an apartment in Manhattan ought to be a different thing in this post-Event world with two-thirds the population it had only eight days before. “Find yourself a place in Chicago” ought to be a very different thing,* but instead, here’s how this is described early in the next book in the series:

Buck Williams had spent the day buying a car — something he hadn’t needed in Manhattan — and hunting for an apartment. He found a beautiful condo, at a place that advertised already-installed phones …

Apart from the weird telephonophilia, the world in which Buck buys a car and rents a condo seems indistinguishable from this world. But it’s not supposed to be anything like this world. It’s supposed to be the traumatized, mystified world of the immediate aftermath of the Event. Auto sales and real estate would not work the same in that world as they do in this one.

Why doesn’t Buck just give his friend Bruce Barnes a call? Bruce has a database of the members of New Hope Village Church. Cross off his name and Loretta’s and this becomes a list of newly vacant houses in the area. They come furnished — fully furnished, with already installed phones and also clothes in the closets, food in the pantry and two cars in the driveway. Buck could have his pick of any of those.

But wait, how would that work? Could Buck just slide in there and pick up the mortgage payments where the departed RTC family left off? The banks holding all those mortgages would have to be pleased if people like Buck stepped in to continue payments, but in most cases nobody would be there to do that. What would happen to all those homes? Foreclosure? Escheat? What about all those other now-unclaimed assets — the stocks, insurance policies and bank accounts that once belonged to the disappeared?

Once we start asking questions like that, alps on alps arise.** The economic impact of the Event would seem to be devastating. It’s hard to see any way that the world wouldn’t be plunged into a global depression that would make the 1930s look like a Golden Age. Tens of thousands of businesses — those that catered to children and parents — would be wiped out entirely, overnight. But every remaining business would find itself with a massive surplus of inventory and production capacity. Despite the millions of instant job vacancies from disappeared employees, there would still need to be massive layoffs as global demand drops by 30 percent or more. All those vacant homes point to all the mortgages, car loans and credit card debts that would suddenly be in default. So now the banks are failing — along with the insurance companies, and …

Yeah. It wouldn’t be good.

But reading about it should have been interesting.

The consequences of the Event are so far-reaching and pervasive that this book could have been successful if it had consisted of almost nothing but world-building. With a premise like this you could get away with minimal plot and character development and just give readers a tour of the brave new post-Event world. Instead of “get that apartment sublet, and find yourself a place in Chicago,” give me a tangential chapter walking me through the effects of the Event on housing and real estate and I’d eat it up. I’d read that book even if it didn’t bother with narrative at all — even if all it did was list, in no particular order, the various consequences that flow from the premise: Our world, and then in the next instant our world without children.

But L&J are too lazy and incurious to get into anything like that. It’s not that their exploration of this is unsatisfyingly meager, it’s that it doesn’t exist. The authors do not recognize at all that the post-Event world is a new and different place. The book offers a cursory 36 hours of inconsistent inconvenience (a helicopter flight for Rayford, a charter plane for Buck, no trouble at all for Chloe coming back from California) and the rare occasional mention of sadness over Irene and Egg’s absence, but then everyone goes back to work and everything goes back to normal. Back to pre-Event normal. Once they get that parking garage cleared out the Event will become a distant memory.

I’m mentioning this again here because of Bailey’s casual, pre-Event comments on Buck’s living arrangements, but the insurmountable weirdness of this pervades every page of the book. Every single page tells of something that happens just the way it would have happened in the pre-Event world, which is to say just the way it couldn’t happen in the post-Event world. Every page, in other words, recounts an impossibility, a contradiction, a negation of the premise of the entire book.

The effect of this never-ending stream of impossibilities is a book that’s impossible to read, a book that is constantly slapping readers in the face and pushing them outside of the story, a book that — on the most basic, fundamental level — just doesn’t work.

And yet not only do Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins never notice this, but the book sold millions of copies to readers ever-eager for sequel after sequel. Neither the authors nor their readers seem to care at all that the story takes place in an impossible and contradictory world. Neither the authors nor their readers has any regard for world-building.

I suppose that’s not surprising. Why should you care about fictional world-building if you don’t give a damn about the real world — the actual one we actually live in — or about any of the Other People in it?

LaHaye and Jenkins may not know anything about world-building, but they sure do know their target audience.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

* Hat-tip to ShifterCat for recommending this. Every panel of that comic puts more thought into the look, feel, taste and texture of a post-Rapture world than can be found in all 468 pages of Left Behind.

** For instance, I start to think about how this economic tsunami would affect the public sector — would the sudden decrease in tax revenue be balanced out by the sudden savings from the end of elementary schooling, child-care, foster-care and welfare as we know it? And that gets me thinking about the various social programs that might still be needed in a world without children, things like care for the elderly and for the mentally handicapped. And that starts me wondering about another matter not addressed in Left Behind thanks to L&J’s aversion to world-building: What does happen to the mentally handicapped during L&J’s Rapture? What would L&J say was the “age of accountability” for someone with Down syndrome? What about those reduced to a childlike state through TBI or dementia? And that whole series of questions prompts another horrifying thought about the scenario of a mission hospital or nursing home full of non-RTC patients, the prospect of which is disturbing enough to bring this whole train of thought to an end.

  • hapax

    Jeff, that isn’t nice. It may be Flame-War Thursday, but NOBODY deserves to be denied pie.
    aunursa, try some of my pie. It’s pecan, so watch out for the calories.

  • http://jamoche.livejournal.com jamoche

    The computer monitor I’m looking at right now was probably built in Japan
    Singapore is more likely.

  • SchrodingersDuck


    The computer monitor I’m looking at right now was probably built in Japan

    Singapore is more likely.

    It’s probably even more complicated than that – my mouse and keyboard for instance were designed in Switzerland, assembled in China from (most likely) Chinese, Taiwanese and Singaporean components, then distributed from Ireland. One of the amazing things about containerization is that it reduced transport costs to almost zero, so if getting components from one country costs less than another – even slightly – the company can afford to ship the components in from further afield. I’m actually reading through The Box at the moment; it’s a fascinating history of containerization. The BBC are producing a documentary based on the book, in which they will follow a container for a year, tracking the cargo it carries and the ports it stops at (and praying it doesn’t get washed overboard, as a surprisingly high number of containers are every year). It should be very interesting.

  • http://www.geocities.com/aunursa aunursa

    Praline: But a lot of Americans forget the rest of the world, and it’s always discourteous. … I was trying to encourage you to remember that the ‘national outlook’ is not the only thing that matters; there’s an international outlook as well. And before you say ‘many Americans don’t care about that’ – I know. And it pisses me off. So I remind people when I get the chance.
    If you’re pissed off about Americans placing country first, then I suggest you go make the rest of the world more appealing. There are increasing riots and other lawlessness in France; in certain neighborhoods in Paris, one can get killed for being Jewish. Great Britain is in the process of implementing Sharia law; certain places in your country a person is in danger of bodily harm for being Christian.
    And that’s just in the leading democracies. Elsewhere in the world there is rampant slavery, subjugation of women, persecution of homosexuals, institutionalized corruption, brutal dictatorships, and a host of other calamities that you can’t blame on American self-centeredness.
    You want Americans to care about the rest of the world? Worry about the interests of your own countries first.
    [aunursa steps off soapbox]
    Moreover, the role of the U.S. President is first and foremost to serve the interests of the United States. In situations where American interests differ from international interests, the president’s priority is to the former. A president who places the interests of the American people lower than outside interests will be removed from office.
    And everybody else’s point is that any American person who decides that will be wrong.
    [aunursa steps back up]
    Go organize a campaign to tell that to every voter in a tossup state. Please educate us on what’s in our best interests. It’s disgustingly condescending when outsiders lecture a group that they’re too near-sighted or stupid to understand what political positions they should hold. Like when certain people lament that individual women or Jews or blacks or others hold views or elect candidates outside what is considered acceptable to a liberal world … views and candidates that, we are told, are incorrect and contrary to our interests. I repeat, it’s disgustingly condescending. Who the —- appointed you to decide what is right or wrong?!?

  • http://www.geocities.com/aunursa aunursa

    hapax: thanks, but I prefer apple. And, after my last post, you may to rescind the offer.

  • nesciomancer

    Great Britain is in the process of implementing Sharia law;
    Hi, aurnursa- I’m British, so I have something of a vested interest in this country’s legal system (although admittedly I’m not an expert on it). It’s true that some members of the British establishment, notably the Lord Chief Justice and the Archibishop of Canterbury, have made official statements to the effect that Sharia might have some role to play in the British legal system. However, from what I understand, these statements have so far been pretty vague on detail. It looks as though what’s being suggested is that Sharia could play some sort of role in issues like divorce cases, private financial issues, and civil disputes. I’d be really, really surprised if Britain wound up implementing Sharia in relation to criminal law (which is where all the really controversial stuff comes in, like the death penalty). I’d guess that there are at probably SOME British Muslims who would ideally like to see full-blown Sharia implemented in Britain, and maybe are even trying to work towards that as a goal- however, I’d be very surprised if they succeeded any time soon, given the amount of opposition they’d face from the British public in general (including other British Muslims).
    This article does a reasonable job of summing up the current situation:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7488790.stm
    certain places in your country a person is in danger of bodily harm for being Christian.
    Could you be more specific? I can’t immediately think of any recent cases of people being assaulted for being Christian in the UK. I’m not saying it never happens- it’s true that there are some neighbourhoods where Christians and atheists are in the minority, so I’d imagine that Christians sometimes get beaten up there, in the same way that Britain has some neighbourhoods where black people or gay people sometimes get beaten up- but off the top of my head, I can’t think of any specific examples.

  • sophia8

    Sharia law is NOT being implemented in the UK. All that’s happened is that Muslim religious courts are using standard British contract law to arbitrate agreements in divorce and minor civil cases – just as Jewish religious courts and Christian church councils have already been doing here for decades.
    And please give a reference for Christians being attacked because of their religion.

  • hapax

    Sorry, aunursa, pie is like grace — once it’s offered, it’s immutable, irresistible, sovereign, and efficacious.
    (Mmm. Prevenient pie…)
    I must admit, though, that while I agree that the primary responsibility of the United States President is to the people of the United States, one cannot effectively protect their interests in the long term by ignoring — let alone pissing off — the rest of the world. As Jon Stewart pointed out to Tony Blair last night, there is no military power strong enough to keep nineteen people from hating us.
    That soapbox of yours seems to me to be a scary and lonely place, and sets you up in a perfect position to be a vulnerable target.

  • http://www.geocities.com/aunursa aunursa

    sophia8: All that’s happened is that Muslim religious courts are using standard British contract law to arbitrate agreements in divorce and minor civil cases – just as Jewish religious courts and Christian church councils have already been doing here for decades.
    nesciomancer: It looks as though what’s being suggested is that Sharia could play some sort of role in issues like divorce cases, private financial issues, and civil disputes.
    Britain Adopts Shari’a
    Muslim activists point out that allegedly simiral Jewish family courts (Bet Din) and Catholic marriage tribunals have existed in Britain for many years, but there is a major difference: such courts explicitly claim jurisdiction only over their believers, whereas according to orthodox Islamic teaching shari’a is the only legitimate law in the world, with universal jurisdiction over Muslims and non-Muslims alike. To a devout Muslim the incorporation of shari’a into British law is by no means the end of the affair. It is merely a major milestone on the road that cannot stop short of subjecting all Britons, regardless of faith, to the stricutres of Allah’s commandment and Muhammad’s example….
    What this means in practice was evident from a recent inheritance dispute in the Midlands, when the Nuneaton shari’a court divided the estate of a Muslim father between three daughters and two sons. The “judges” gave the sons twice as much as the daughters—perfectly in accordance with sharia, of course, but contrary to any regular British court, which would have given the daughters equal shares. In six cases of domestic violence quoted by Siddiqi, the “judges” ordered the husbands to take “anger management” classes and “mentoring from community elders” (such as imams and shari’a judges). In each case, the battered women subsequently withdrew the complaints and the police stopped their investigations. It should be noted that under normal British law those six cases could have been prosecuted as criminal, rather than “family” cases….
    I’d be really, really surprised if Britain wound up implementing Sharia in relation to criminal law (which is where all the really controversial stuff comes in, like the death penalty).
    Oh, certainly not in the next ten or twenty years…
    I can’t immediately think of any recent cases of people being assaulted for being Christian in the UK.
    Touché. I may have exaggerated the current situation.
    Christian preachers face arrest in Birmingham
    Exclusive: UK: Preaching the Gospel Is a ‘Hate Crime’
    Pastor Joseph Abraham: Officially there is no area designated as “no-go areas” in Britain. However, some Muslims consider that some predominantly Muslim neighborhoods are off-limits for non-Muslims. I have been told by some Muslims that I am not welcome in what they consider their own neighborhood. The police officer who confronted us told that we should not give Christian literature in a Muslim area and wanted us to leave or he would arrest us.
    4,000 terror suspects in UK

  • http://www.geocities.com/aunursa aunursa

    hapax: As Jon Stewart pointed out to Tony Blair last night, there is no military power strong enough to keep nineteen people from hating us.
    That is an incredibly naive thing for Stewart to say. Does he still make the mistake of blaming American foreign policy for global terrorism?

  • Anonymous

    “The police officer who confronted us told that we should not give Christian literature in a Muslim area and wanted us to leave or he would arrest us.”
    We shouldn’t assume that the motive was anti-Christian or pro-Muslim. It’s possible that the officer suspected that the neighborhood would react violently to the proselytizing and was simply trying to prevent trouble. Without having no loyalty for either side in the dispute, I find proselytizing in general to be distasteful.

  • Tonio

    I did it again – forgot my name on the 8:57 a.m. post.

  • Tonio

    “Without having no loyalty” – the grammarian in me must have been snoozing.

  • Caravelle

    There are increasing riots and other lawlessness in France; in certain neighborhoods in Paris, one can get killed for being Jewish. Great Britain is in the process of implementing Sharia law; certain places in your country a person is in danger of bodily harm for being Christian.
    And you know, even worse, there are parts of Paris where they cut off your electricity if you don’t pay for it. But I guess it’s a good thing, now the thread is dead and I don’t have to ask for cites. Or ask why it’s somehow worse to be killed for being Jewish or Christian than for being gay or black.

  • http://jasoninsurance.blogspot.com Carmel

    Well said.

  • http://d_84.livejournal.com cjmr’s husband

    Just pausing in reading another favorite blog (dansdata.blogsome.com) to note that he plugged this one. Cool.
    Dan, you should be commenting here. We don’t have enough Aussies.

  • b0fh

    I just have one question – in the post rapture world, is everyone automatically sterilized? Or can women still get pregnant and have kids? Do the kids get born and enraptured immediately? Or is rapture a one time occurence?
    OK, so more than one question…

  • Melissia Blackheart

    Another thing that they haven’t considered– why is the power and water still running, why are the pumps still running, etc?

    Power and water and fuel are HUGE issues that are effected by all catastrophes.  What kind of disasters would be caused if, say, workers at a nuclear power plant vanished in the middle of maintenance?  Or if water purification plants lose their testers?

    Oh.

    Wait.

    To them, anyone that educated is probably a sinner and can never be a Christian…  
    even so they didn’t, how would the HUGE decrease in power and water consumption effect the industries?
     They never seem to be able to comprehend the insanely wide reaching event…

  • Melissia Blackheart

    Another thing that they haven’t considered– why is the power and water still running, why are the pumps still running, etc?

    Power and water and fuel are HUGE issues that are effected by all catastrophes.  What kind of disasters would be caused if, say, workers at a nuclear power plant vanished in the middle of maintenance?  Or if water purification plants lose their testers?

    Oh.

    Wait.

    To them, anyone that educated is probably a sinner and can never be a Christian…  
    even so they didn’t, how would the HUGE decrease in power and water consumption effect the industries?
     They never seem to be able to comprehend the insanely wide reaching event…

  • Melissia Blackheart

    Another thing that they haven’t considered– why is the power and water still running, why are the pumps still running, etc?

    Power and water and fuel are HUGE issues that are effected by all catastrophes.  What kind of disasters would be caused if, say, workers at a nuclear power plant vanished in the middle of maintenance?  Or if water purification plants lose their testers?

    Oh.

    Wait.

    To them, anyone that educated is probably a sinner and can never be a Christian…  
    even so they didn’t, how would the HUGE decrease in power and water consumption effect the industries?
     They never seem to be able to comprehend the insanely wide reaching event…

  • Savpunk

    Ever since I started reading these postings about a week ago, (the advantage of finding them years later means I can read them one after the other with no interruption), I’ve been thinking about what the authors believed happened to the mentally handicapped. What about the woman who has the mental ability of a five-year-old, but is chronologically 30? What about the young man in his twenties with Down’s Syndrome who bags your groceries on the weekend? What happens to these people? Hellfire and damnation b/c they’ve passed puberty despite they have the reasoning ability of children?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1029543253 Benjamin Thomas

    “Irene and Egg’s absence”

    I may be reading too much into it – but if this is an Arrested Development reference then you’ve just  made my year. Unless I still manage to go to enough carol services to hear a rendition of  “O Holy Night” before Christmas arrives and it’s too late.


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