TF: Still a million things to say

Tribulation Force, pp. 78-82

Buck Williams is brooding in his new apartment:

He turned on a ball game but ignored it, keeping the sound low.

With an utter lack in these books of any indication of the weather or the time of year, I keep forgetting when the Rapture took place. I seem to recall we deduced a late-winter or early-spring setting. So it must be too late for football and too early for baseball, making this a basketball game Buck is ignoring.

But then even if I have the time of year wrong, and even though the book never mentions this, I'm sure that by now Nicolae Carpathia has outlawed both baseball and American football. Surely his OWG needs a One World Sport to go along with his One World Currency, One World Religion and One World Language. Basketball for winter and what we Americans call soccer for the summer would seem the obvious choices. (In keeping with his theme of unity through uniformity, Nicolae could decree that the seasons of the northern hemisphere apply throughout the globe. Changing the weather in half the globe by royal edict might not seem workable, but if he can establish a single language and religion by decree, then this should be easy.)

I do wonder what sort of crowd would be in attendance at an NBA game just weeks after everyone's children disintegrated. As for the teams themselves, I'm just guessing based on the profiles and speakers bureau of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but it seems like the NBA rosters would be far less depleted of top talent than those of the NFL or the major leagues.

He couldn't shake Bruce's message, either. It wasn't so much the content as Bruce's passion.

As always in these books, passionate intensity is the hallmark of the Real, True Christian. Not the content, but the passion; not the substance, but the sincerity. The corollary to this principle, of course, is that everyone who is not an RTC is fundamentally insincere. That helps to explain why even the villains in these books are boring.

Consider, though, the specific "content" of the message Bruce just delivered. He told the congregation that this is the apocalypse, the end of the world, that the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen could be heard approaching and that their futures were likely to be brief and filled with untold misery and suffering. It wasn't just a fire-and-brimstone sermon, it was a fire and brimstone forecast. Is it really possible for content like that to be overshadowed by the speaker's passionate delivery? If anything, I would think such a "message" would best be delivered dis-passionately so that the wildness of the words could not be mistaken for rhetorical flourish.

He needed to get to know Bruce better. Maybe that would be a cure for his loneliness — and Bruce's. … Buck was used to a solitary life, but he'd had a network of friends in New York.

No he didn't. Buck had and has one friend, Steve Plank. That's one more friend than Rayford Steele has ever had. Steve has been a pretty good friend — someone Buck could call to come pick him up at the airport. That's what friends do. And if you've got a friend you can call to pick you up at the airport when you're traveling incognito after faking your own death, then you've got a very good friend indeed. (Although, of course, calling your very close friend to ask for a ride isn't the smartest thing to do if you're trying to travel incognito.)

Apart from Steve, though, Buck has no friends. In the immediate aftermath of the Event he checked in with Steve, but he didn't have anybody else to check in with or to check in with him. Sad, actually.

He certainly wasn't handling the Chloe situation well. …

In part, this is because he seems more preoccupied with "the Chloe situation" (band-name alert) than with Chloe herself. Buck obsesses about the Chloe situation for another page before he realizes that, having spent Sunday morning in church, he hasn't placed a phone call for 20 pages.

He reached for the phone, but when he put it to his ear, he heard a strange tone, and then a recorded voice. "You have a message. Please push star two to hear it."

A message? I never ordered voice mail.

The italics there are original, intended I think as the typographical equivalent of ominous background music. DUM-dum-dummm. Here is Jerry Jenkins' notion of how best to convey the full, terrifying powers of the Antichrist. Nevermind that he is a global potentate capable of mesmerizing his followers into unwitting slavery — he can also leave you a voicemail message even if you never ordered voicemail.

The message isn't actually from the Antichrist himself, but from his lackey and Buck's only friend, Steve Plank. Steve still hasn't gotten the hang of voicemail, so he leaves another epic message, transcribed over more than a page of the book.

Steve reminds his friend that Nicolae expects to meet with him back in New York. And just in case the insistence of the global supreme leader isn't sufficient persuasion, he says, "I know you're unlisted there, but if you think Nicolae Carpathia is someone to trifle with, ask yourself how I got your phone number." (DUM-dum-dummm.)

The first line in Terry Gilliam's movie Brazil is spoken by a nameless Central Services bureaucrat. "Hi there. I want to talk to you about ducts." Ducts and ductwork are the dominant visual theme of the film. Watching that film forces you to ask what all those ducts mean, what they signify. I think it has something to do with bureaucracy, but I'm never entirely sure. Yet while Gilliam may sometimes be inscrutable, I know that he's an artist, so I'm confident his film's obsession with ducts means something, even if what that is isn't entirely clear.

LaHaye and Jenkins are not artists and I have no reason to suspect that the belabored obsession with telephony in these books means anything at all. I doubt they're even aware of how prevalent this motif is here — of how the details of every phone or voicemail system are lovingly savored or of how strange it may seem to readers that the Antichrist's ability to call anyone and leave a message is presented here as the most chilling imaginable display of his nefarious powers.

But even though it's not an intentional device, surely it tells us something about the authors and the way they perceive the world. The telephone thing is too big to ignore, but too strange to make sense of. Why telephones? What does it mean? I have no idea. It's frustrating, like … like I'm talking on the phone but I can't make out the voice on the other end.

Steve's message tells Buck, "There's a first-class ticket waiting for you at O'Hare under the name of McGillicuddy for a 9 o'clock flight tomorrow morning."

Why the fake name? And why "McGillicuddy"? This isn't explained, but it has inspired me. If I ever find myself as the evil supreme global leader, I'm going to make everyone travel under silly fake names. "Your reservations will be at the counter under the names Pat McCrotch and Seymour Butz," I'll say, and then giggle sophomorically in my evil lair high above the city.

We cut back to the Steeles:

"What's the scoop?" Rayford asked.

Chloe imitated the recorded voice. "The number you have dialed has been disconnected. The new number is …"

"Is what?"

She handed him a scrap of paper. The area code was for New York City. Rayford sighed.

This is how we learn that Hattie ha
s moved from Chicago to Ma
nhattan, and Rayford sighs because this confirms his deepest fear — that the woman he never touched is probably, right that very moment, receiving the hickey of the Beast.

After visiting with the Steeles for less than half a page we cut back to Buck.

Buck called Bruce Barnes.

"Do your ducts seem old-fashioned, out of date? Central Services' new duct designs …"

Remarkably, they agree to meet to talk in person rather than staying on the phone. Bruce says he'll come over to Buck's apartment.

To recap some of what we've just learned, then, we now know that the Antichrist has tracked down where Buck is living and is keeping an eye on him there. Buck therefore asks the other members of the super-secret Tribulation Force to come visit him at the apartment. One gets the feeling that once they finish building Bruce's secret shelter under the church, they'll put up a sign on the highway reading, "Secret Resistance HQ, Next Exit."

Buck decided he would take his phone off the hook after one more call. He didn't want to risk talking to Plank, or worse, Carpathia, until he had talked over and prayed about his plans with Bruce. …

Just one more phone call to check in with the woman he loves:

Buck called Alice, the Chicago bureau secretary. "I need a favor," he said.

"Anything," she said.

The authors refuse to acknowledge the existence of The Alice Situation, but it seems far more, um, situated, than anything supposedly felt between Buck and Chloe. What we've seen hasn't matched with what we've been told. We've seen Buck and Alice flirting and laughing together and we've seen Buck and Chloe greet one another with a chilly formality. I think Jenkins imagines Buck and Chloe as Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet, but what he intends to convey romantic tension just suggests plain old tension. Yet with Alice, Buck seems relaxed and at ease.

He told her he might be flying to New York in the morning but he didn't want Verna Zee knowing about it. "I also don't want to wait any longer for my stuff, so I'd like to bring you my extra key before I head for the airport. If you wouldn't mind bringing that stuff over here for me and locking back up, I'd really appreciate it."

"No problem. I have to be going that way late morning anyway. I'm picking up my fiancé at the airport. Verna doesn't have to know I'm delivering your stuff on the way."

Aha. So that's where Jenkins is going with this.

It's a somewhat capable set up for the "It's Not What It Looks Like" romantic confusion that will inevitably follow. But while Jenkins gets the basic mechanics of that old reliable plot twist lined up well enough, he doesn't seem to realize that it requires us knowing that Buck isn't at all interested in Alice, only in Chloe. And based on what he's shown us, we can't know that. We're heading into pages upon pages in which he tells us over and over of the sincere feelings Buck and Chloe feel when they think of each other, but none of that is anywhere as convincing as "I need a favor," "Anything."

This is again mainly due to simple Bad Writing, but I think it also relates to their larger insistence that sincerity is distinct from action, faith from works, word from deed, content from passion. If your religion tells you that faithfulness is a matter only of saying the right words and assenting to the proper notions then you're liable to wind up with a similarly warped understanding of romance and every other form of love.

  • Launcifer

    Consumer Unit 5012: Me too, sorta. Admittedly, the only part of the programme I could remember from when I saw it as a kid was the bit with the guinea pig (well, that and the bloke who’s not Michael Douglas from Streets of San Francisco stepping out of the space craft), so I think it was probably embedded. Not entirely sure how I developed the vore fetish between childhood and adulthood, though.

  • Dash

    Not Really Here, thank you for the review of The Shack. I shall have to look intelligent about it at some point. This helps. I think.
    So, let’s see. God is played by Oprah Winfrey, Tony Shalhoub, and Lucy Liu. Or maybe instead of Oprah, Gloria Foster, the Oracle from the Matrix, because she’s handing out cookies. Of course, Oprah as God is typecasting. Tony Shalhoub because he plays all sympathetic Arabs, regardless, although personally, I would like to see Jesus played by Ahmed Ahmed, because really, could you resist Jesus as played by Ahmed Ahmed? I would like to see him do that scene where Jesus tries and fails to catch a trout. Later Oprah/Gloria turns into Morgan Freeman.
    I may need some of that cannabinized phlebotinum to get through this book.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    Sorry, been out all weekend and just now caught up.
    Someone upthread quoted Kipling’s “Tommy”, and it’s a favorite, but so is “Last of the Light Brigade”.

  • Not Really Here

    @Dash- I would like to see Jesus played by Ahmed Ahmed, because really, could you resist Jesus as played by Ahmed Ahmed?
    I couldn’t resist Ahmed Ahmed, period. Google the documentary “Reel Bad Arabs” sometime- it’s available for free online viewing. Ahmed appears in it, they show a clip from one of his standup routines, and he also relates his experience auditioning for the part of “Terrorist Number Four” in some movie or other.
    Personally I picture Oprah/Tony Shaloub/Summer Glau/Morgan Freeman as God. Not sure who I’d have as Sophia though.
    And there’s plenty of cannabinized phlebotinum. I still have a bunch from when I tried to drown myself in a bathtub full of it during the Fluffy Iguana Cookies mini-flame war last week. And, like I said, the book is only 248 pages, and doesn’t require actual use of your brain to read, God is really nice, so it won’t leave you feeling angry. At worst, you will feel like you just ate a bowl full of white sugar with maple syrup poured over it while listening to Joan Baez sing a capella.
    And I think listening to Inna-Gadda-da-Vida while you read it would make it much less of an ordeal.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Hi Nicole – I was flipping through the thread and saw you’d written me a rather long post on p 20 which I unfortunately missed because I was away from the computer that day. (Generally I’m away at weekends, and last Friday I was at a wedding.)
    However, since you clearly took a lot of time to write to me, I feel like I should take the time to reply.
    You say,
    COMPETING ASSERTIONS ARE:
    A. Humanity is as mature as it’s going to get.
    B. Humanity will continue to mature into the future…
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING A: I can’t see any.
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING B: Hope and motivation to strive.

    And I think this is where we differ. I would class it thus:
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING A: I don’t see any. It seems to me complacent, resigning responsibility to future generations and congratulating ourselves on being superior to our ancestors – which makes us likely to repeat their mistakes.
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING B: Acceptance of the fact that this is the place and now is the time, that we’re as equipped as we’re ever going to be and hence the responsibility is ours.
    So we’re coming at it from different angles, I think, but we’re both of the opinion that humanity should strive to be responsible. We just see different ideas as motivating.
    As I see it, saying we’re more mature than our ancestors makes us think we can’t possibly act as badly as they did, and that puts us off guard. And well, we do act as badly as they did. I don’t see the Holocaust as being any more mature than the Inquisition. England hanged ‘witches’ in the Renaissance; America imprisoned ‘Satanic abusers’ in the 1980s. People are dying right now in religious wars no more rational than the Crusades. I just think if we look at how we act now and see the past as people who thought they were as modern as we do rather than as something quaint, it tends to the conclusion that people are people whatever their era, and we’re just as capable of being irrational and dangerous now as we were then. And they were as capable of being reasonable and just as we are: Reginald Scot was debunking witchcraft in the 16th century just as vehemently as others were calling for witches to be rounded up, for instance. Every era has its reasonable and its unreasonable people.
    It’s not that I’m congratulating ourselves on being perfectly mature. It’s that I think we’re pretty much like we’ve always been: societies may improve, but they can also regress, and I don’t see a general human trend towards maturity. To me, saying that is a repudiation of our connection to the great mass of humanity, most of which has preceded us. We’re much like our ancestors and I think it’s hubristic to say otherwise.
    Also I’m sceptical because of biology. Once a species has evolved to fit its niche, it tends to stay that way. I think the adult form of the human being is pretty consistent. Do other species get more ‘mature’ as the times roll on? I don’t think so – and I don’t see why we should exempt ourselves. I similarly find it hubristic to forget that we’re animals.
    So to me, ‘This is as mature as we’re going to get’ is a statement of resignation rather than a statement of celebration. And I don’t think it takes away motivation either.
    I mean, come a certain age most people accept that they’re adults. Do they personally sit down and say, ‘Yay! Job done’? No: the statement is, ‘I guess I’m an adult now – so I have to take responsibility for my own life; nobody’s going to do it for me.’ That’s what I mean when I say we’re as mature as we’re going to get. Maturity isn’t a place you reach and then sit down; it’s an ongoing state of behaviour. An adult is capable of acting immaturely: maturity is just a state where you’re capable of doing better and it ill behoves you to be childish. And I think that pretty much describes the human race: we’re always capable of doing better than we do, and it ill behoves us when we don’t. And everything I see by comparing history and current events suggests that we’ve always been that way.
    I think we’re in agreement that we should always strive to do better and take responsibility. It’s just that I think adulthood lies in making that very commitment, knowing that you won’t fulfil it perfectly and knowing you’ll always have to work to live up to it.

  • http://www.kitwhitfield.com Kit Whitfield

    Bah. Please reread my classifications corrected thus:
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING A: Acceptance of the fact that this is the place and now is the time, that we’re as equipped as we’re ever going to be and hence the responsibility is ours.
    ADVANTAGE OF BELIEVING B: I don’t see any. It seems to me complacent, resigning responsibility to future generations and congratulating ourselves on being superior to our ancestors – which makes us likely to repeat their mistakes.

  • http://www.nauticalhome.com/ Angelina

    I have to agree that “DUCTS” do not solve problems (oh well, they do but for a limited time only) and people tend to use these ducts to beautify and not to attend to the real dilemma.

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    And I think that pretty much describes the human race: we’re always capable of doing better than we do, and it ill behoves us when we don’t.

  • Brightie

    This “what you say, not what you do” thing confuses me… I mean, even for conservative authors with a (supposed?) emphasis on doctrine, shouldn’t there be some “by their fruit you will know them” going on? Or how about the possibility that some people who have made verbal assent to the lordship of Christ may not have gotten the “believe in their heart” bit right, and therefore may be “wolves in sheep’s clothing”? Meh.

    Anywho. The One World Sport made me laugh.

  • Daniel

    “I know you’re unlisted there, but if you think Nicolae Carpathia is
    someone to trifle with, ask yourself how I got your phone number.”

    Didn’t they work together? So presumably the super sly evil scheme went something like this:

    [Nicolae knocks on the door of the personnel office in Global weekly. It is opened by a thirty something woman in business attire, and careless shoes- a good sort. Her name is Mel, because people in HR often have names like that.]

    Nicolae: Hi I’m Nicolae Carpathia, I expect you know me from being the ruler of the world?

    Mel: Oh yes! Can I help you at all?

    Nicolae: I was wondering if you could give me Cameron “Buck” Williams’ phone number?

    Mel: Certainly. Here you are.

    Nicolae: EXCELLENT! MWA HAHAHAHAHA! My evil plan is finally coming together!

    Mel: You’ll have to go now- I’m about to go for a tea break… actually, would you like one?

    Nicolae: MWAHAHAHAH! Playing right into my hands! Thanks, that’d be nice. Do you have any biscuits?

    Mel: I think there’s some bourbons…

    Nicolae: EXCELLENT! Then the final piece of my fiendish plan has fallen into place! MWAHAHAHAHA!

    Mel: Do you like bourbons?

    Nicolae: I do, yes.


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