TF: Stuck in traffic

Tribulation Force, pp. 440-443

When we last saw our heroes they were in a dire predicament. Traffic leading up to their exit of the tollway was at a standstill and it seemed they would have to exit onto Route 53 and then backtrack for miles.

Oh, and also Washington, D.C., has been destroyed.

Still stuck in traffic, they desperately try to find a local news station:

“Put in on ‘scan,’” Chloe suggested. Finally the radio found an EBS station and Amanda locked it in.

I hope that by quoting only a couple of sentences from that section I haven’t made it seem less dramatic, because this is one of the most dramatic searching-for-the-news-on-a-car-radio scenes in any book in recent memory.

A Cable News Network/Global Community Network radio correspondent was broadcasting live from just outside Washington, D.C. “The fate of Global Community Potentate Nicolae Carpathia remains in question at this hour as Washington lies in ruins,” he said. “The massive assault was launched by east coast militia, with the aid of the United States of Britain and the former sovereign state of Egypt, now part of the Middle Eastern Commonwealth.”

Those expository little tidbits about the shape of the new confederations under Nicolae Carpathia’s one-world government are useful information. Sticking them into the middle of a news report on the outbreak of World War III, however, may not have been the most artful way of conveying that information to readers.

The remarkable thing here, though, is what doesn’t happen in this scene. Buck Williams is the publisher, top editor and star reporter for Global Community Weekly, yet he gives no thought to getting in touch with his office. I don’t know what the Weekly had planned for it’s next cover story, but I’m thinking the destruction of Washington, D.C., might require a change of plans. Yet like everyone else in the car, Buck just sits passively, listening to the CNN radio (?) report. He doesn’t frantically pull out his cellphone to call his close friends Steve Plank or Chaim Rosenzweig to get the inside scoop on the biggest breaking news story since the Event itself.

Yes, I realize that Buck doesn’t have a cellphone. We’ve discussed that before, but since then 18 months have elapsed in our story and Buck has been promoted to his new position as one of the world’s media elite. In 1996, when Tribulation Force was first published, cellphones were not yet as ubiquitous as they are today, but surely the publishers, top editors and star reporters for Time and Newsweek had them.

Again, though, the really strange thing here is not that Buck Williams does not have a cellphone. The really strange thing here is that Buck Williams isn’t wishing that he had a cellphone as he sits, stuck in traffic and unable to do his job as the biggest story in the world unfolds.

The CNN radio report continues:

“Global Community peacekeeping forces immediately retaliated by destroying a former Nike center in suburban Chicago. Reports from there indicate that thousands of civilian casualties have been reported in surrounding suburbs, and a colossal traffic tie-up is hampering rescue efforts.”

“Oh, dear God!” Amanda prayed.

It’s not altogether clear there whether Amanda’s prayerful cry is due to the news of the thousands of casualties or to the news about the scope of the traffic jam.

The hilarious awfulness of the mention of that traffic jam — by this reporter in this context — takes a moment to sink in. This reporter, remember, is broadcasting live from the outskirts of what used to be Washington, D.C. That city now “lies in ruins,” and this reporter is braving the chaos, flames and destruction to bring us the first heart-stopping account of that astonishing, horrifying news. And somehow he manages to work in a reference to the very traffic jam our heroes are sitting in.

One might imagine that the destruction of the former American capital might also lead to a “colossal traffic tie-up” all along the East Coast, and that this might also “hamper rescue efforts” in that city of 600,000 people. The reporter, on the scene there in Washington after somehow navigating that traffic himself, makes no mention of that. Yet from the front lines of World War III, he reports on traffic conditions a thousand miles away.

We’ve often discussed the staggering self-absorption of the main characters in these books. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for Buck and Rayford when they act as though the world revolves around them. But they can’t help it, because thanks to the authors, their world does revolve around them. Nothing matters to the authors except that which directly affects our heroes. No one matters except those who directly affect our heroes. If Buck and Rayford don’t care about someone then they authors don’t care about them either, and vice versa. And we readers are expected to share this disregard.

The reporter babbles on a bit about some other news from the second seal of the apocalypse:

“Other attacks we know about at this moment,” the reporter went on, “include a foray of Egyptian ground forces toward Iraq, obviously intending a siege upon New Babylon. That effort was quickly eliminated by Global Community air forces, which are now advancing on England.”

The Egyptians’ planned siege might have worked, too, if only the Antichrist’s fighter jets hadn’t destroyed their battering ram.

These strange and random-seeming little details of the war are included because, according to Tim LaHaye, they fulfill “Bible prophecies.” In this case, I think it has something to do with Ezekiel 30:10: “I will also make a multitude of Egypt to cease by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” LaHaye’s strictly literal interpretive scheme, of course, means that this doesn’t refer to Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire from 605-562 BCE, but rather to the future Antichrist who will create a global capital on the site of the ruins of that empire. And, obviously, the proper chronological reading of scripture is to locate the events described in Ezekiel 30:10 as occurring immediately after the events described in Revelation 6:4. Obviously.

Once it seems clear that the intrepid radio reporter isn’t going to provide any further information about the traffic in suburban Chicago, our heroes lose interest in his account of the outbreak of global conflict and return their focus to more urgent matters:

“We’ve got to get to Bruce,” Chloe said, as Rayford inched along. “Everybody’s going to be taking 53 north, Dad. Let’s go south and double back.”

But then the reporter — the same reporter there on the outskirts of the rubble of Washington, D.C. — starts talking about the other urgent question on everyone’s mind all over the world: What about Nicolae Carpathia’s beautiful airplane?

“Global Community intelligence today uncovered a plot to destroy Potentate Carpathia’s plane, which may or may not have contained Carpathia when it was flown to O’Hare International this morning. That plane is now airborne, destination unknown, though Global Community forces are marshaling in New York City.”

At this point I’m almost surprised that the reporter didn’t say, “when it was flown to O’Hare International this morning by ace pilot Rayford Steele.”

Amanda grabbed Rayford’s arm. “We could have been killed!”

When Rayford spoke, Buck thought he might break down. “Let’s just hope I didn’t fulfill Earl’s dream by getting him killed,” he said.

“You want me to drive, Rayford?” Buck asked.

“No, I’ll be all right.”

Apparently Rayford is only just now realizing that when Nicolae asked him to fly the plane to Chicago as a decoy to mislead rumored insurgents, what he actually meant was that he wanted Rayford to fly the plane to Chicago as a decoy to mislead rumored insurgents.

Buck never got around to telling Rayford that those insurgents were more than a rumor. He had been told about the planned attack on Nicolae, and he knew just when it was going to occur, but somehow he forgot to mention any of that to his father-in-law, Nicolae’s personal pilot. Buck’s offer to drive seems like an awkward attempt to change the subject before anyone says something like, “If only we had had some way of knowing that insurgents were planning to attack Nicolae’s plane today …”

And then, abruptly, Jerry Jenkins decides to sprinkle in a misplaced, misbegotten and mishandled attempt at humor:

The radio announcer continued: “We’re on standby for a lie feed, excuse me, a live feed from Global Community Potentate Nicolae Carpathia …”

“He had that right the first time,” Chloe said.

The wit involved in constructing that joke and the evident pride in its execution makes me realize who it is that Jerry Jenkins frequently reminds me of: David Brent.

While waiting for the live feed from the leader of the world, the CNN radio reporter — still the same reporter — continues to neglect the carnage all around him in the smoldering ruins of Washington and, instead, adds more detail to his report on the Chicago suburbs:

“GC peacekeeping forces spokesmen say the destruction of the old Nike base was effected without the use of nuclear weapons. … There is, we repeat, no danger of radiation fallout in the Chicago area, though peacekeeping forces are not allowing automobile traffic near the site.”

I’m fascinated by the image of this reporter, standing on the outskirts of the shattered capital city but neglecting to report on that while compulsively discussing the traffic in Chicago. I’m imagining that this reflects some new technology in the “not-so-distant future” world of Tribulation Force.

Think about it, if we speculate about possible developments based on our current technology and cultural trends, we can imagine a world of the not-so-distant future in which “the news” would become a personalized, idiosyncratic stream of information tailored to each individual. In such a world, the “news” that you would read, hear or watch would be different from the “news” I would consume. It would be shaped to meet our personal needs and preferences, based on location (not just our addresses, but using GPS tracking in our phones, tablets, etc.), and based on a host of data mined from our browser histories, digital TV and radio habits, our social media “likes” and our responses to a steadily evolving series of interface surveys.

So if, in such a NSDF world, you were stuck in traffic due to the outbreak of World War III, your personalized news reports on the start of the war would be interspersed with practical information on your personal traffic dilemma.

If that were what Jenkins were portraying here, then the characters’ behavior and reactions would also make more sense. Because a story involving that sort of technological development wouldn’t be a story about technology, but a story about people — the kind of people such technology might foster and the kind of people who might incline toward such technology. It would likely be a satire chiding an increasingly self-absorbed culture of people stunted by a myopic epistemic closure. And while that isn’t the authors’ intent, it often seems like we’re reading that kind of satire.

But despite its being set in the not-so-distant future, Tribulation Force doesn’t include any such speculative creativity regarding possible technological or cultural changes. That results in a “future” that seems weirdly behind the times. It’s only been 15 years since the book was first published, but the future it describes already seems quaintly 20th-century.

Part of the blame for that rests with Jerry Jenkins, who doesn’t seem to have expended any real effort or imagination in creating the world of his novel. But I think the blame also has to be shared with his co-author and with their intended readership. Tim LaHaye would not have allowed any such inventiveness by Jenkins. And their intended readers would not have understood it.

Consider one of the classic clichés of “futuristic” possibilities: the flying car. If Jenkins had tried to give Buck Williams a flying car, LaHaye would have vetoed the idea. His “Bible prophecies” don’t say anything about flying cars, so flying cars cannot be permitted in this story. LaHaye allows some strange and largely unexplained future developments in these books — such as Rosenzweig’s miracle formula, or the even more miraculous peaceful quadrupling in size of the nation of Israel — but only when those developments are items from his prophecy check list.

That distinction is also what the intended readers of these books are expecting. Any additional creative touches from Jenkins would likely be interpreted by those readers as official parts of LaHaye’s “Bible prophecy.” If Buck Williams were allowed to zip around in a flying car, those readers would begin to view flying cars as a necessary sign of the Last Days. “But pastor,” they’d be saying, “we know the Rapture can’t come yet because we haven’t got flying cars.”

And that’s a shame. Because if you’re the greatest investigative reporter of all time and you’re hopelessly stuck in traffic while the biggest breaking news story in the world is unfolding a thousand miles away, then a flying car would probably come in handy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Cell phones weren’t even impossible to have in 1986…just very expensive.  And considering that two high-ranking employees of Satan Inc. are in the car, I’m sure the expense account would have covered one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    Well, in this series Israel and its Arab neighbors don’t really have any conflicts. And, if you want to get technical about it, Israel’s Arab neighbors no longer exist — it is surrounded on all sides by Greater Rumania, apparently a benevolent and democratic state.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    > I’ve actually had some tell me that science fiction is demonic because it implies that the End Times will not come

    To be fair, I can actually get behind this criticism if I accept the premises. Not so much that it _implies_ the lack of End Times, but a lot of SF encourages the idea that the future is unbounded, that continual progress is possible, and that mankind is the author of its own destiny, all of which are sort of antithetical to both the idea of the End Times and to the mindset that embraces that idea.

  • Leila

    I’m so sorry Jessica, like the others have already said, I hope the outcome is better than expected. Hugs to you and yours and good thoughts as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    Pratchett and Gaiman could salvage this mess and make it something actually readable.  I don’t object to Left Behind just because it’s an End Times story; I object to it because it’s a shallow, badly-written, badly-conceived End Times story.  Given that Pratchett at least is 1) a very vocal atheist and 2) suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease I don’t know if the project would work, however. 

    Now, hand this same material to Neal Stephenson and we’d get something *truly* epic!

  • Mau de Katt

    Think about it, if we speculate about possible developments based on our
    current technology and cultural trends, we can imagine a world of the
    not-so-distant future in which “the news” would become a personalized,
    idiosyncratic stream of information tailored to each individual. In such
    a world, the “news” that you would read, hear or watch would be different from the “news” I
    would consume. It would be shaped to meet our personal needs and
    preferences, based on location (not just our addresses, but using GPS
    tracking in our phones, tablets, etc.), and based on a host of data
    mined from our browser histories, digital TV and radio habits, our
    social media “likes” and our responses to a steadily evolving series of
    interface surveys.

    That was actually one of the more disturbing things I found in the movie Minority Report.  Tracking cameras were everywhere, and they tracked a person by their retinas.  Advertising (and so presumably news and entertainment) played constantly as you walked around or drove around, and it keyed off your retina prints to change based on your personal activities and preferences.  “Good to see you again, Mr. Smith; Levi’s Button-Fly Jeans in size 36M are now on sale at Joslins. It’s been 6 months since your last purchase; shall we reserve a pair for you?” etc etc.

    So having the radio say “Good afternoon, Global Air Force One Ace Pilot Rayford Steel.  The road ahead of you has been closed due to the total annihilation of the city by aerial bombardment.  We advise you to take the next exit and backtrack three streets to Exit 14.  And Washington D.C. has been destroyed, so your flight out next week has been delayed by two days.  Have a nice day!” actually makes some sort of sense, in a backwards, very twisted way.  And in a totally different story….

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    In other words, S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse series.  Ironically, Stirling (who is as atheist as atheist gets) presents a much more compassionate picture of Christianity than L&J do.  Probably because he’s orders of magnitude better as a writer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    GC General Staff Officer: “We’ve located the rebel base.  They’re using an old Nike facility outside Chicago.  Shall I order the strike?”
    Carpathia: “Just do it!”

    (couldn’t resist!)

  • http://www.iki.fi/wwwwolf/ Urpo Lankinen

    When we last saw our heroes they were in a dire predicament. Traffic
    leading up to their exit of the tollway was at a standstill and it
    seemed they would have to exit onto Route 53 and then backtrack for
    miles.

    Oh, and also Washington, D.C., has been destroyed.

    Yay! Supermutants in the Capital Wasteland! Let me guess, the designers of Fallout 3 were debating whether or not to use the fast travel system in the game, and someone brought up these books. The words “logistics-heavy narrative” started to get thrown around.

    Global Community peacekeeping forces immediately retaliated by destroying a former Nike center in suburban Chicago.

    The Global Community Peacekeeping Forces are not a nice army! A nice army would have “immediately neutralised a terrorist-controlled missile site before the terrorists would get a chance to destroy another city with the remaining missiles”. In other words: don’t the fine author gentlemen read news? The armies always give stuff a positive spin. “Immediate retaliation” sounds bloodthirsty.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re thinking of switching to linux, it would be wise to spend some time googling to make sure there are linux drivers for all of your hardware. And if you already use linux (or a mac), you want to avoid devices that say “made for windows” because chances are, there won’t be a linux (or mac) driver available, and then your printer will turn out to be an oversized paperweight that doesn’t print. Before you buy a printer (or anything really), type the name of the printer and “OS X” or “linux” or “Ubuntu” or whatever into google, to find out whether it will work with your computer or not.

    If you don’t know what a driver is, you shouldn’t be thinking about switching to Linux.

    I suppose I am another of those mutants who likes military logistics.  Hell, that is the whole reason I play computer strategy games.  The right context can make logistics very gripping.  Unfortunately, L&J enthusiasm for phone calls and itinerary is mired by their inability to actually write anything interesting.

    I don’t mind logistics, myself, I just don’t really like having to manage the whole darn thing myself.

    Holy hell.  Bob Collins was still alive in 1996.  WGN was the most important radio station in Chicago.  Hell, it was the most important radio station in the Midwest.  And yet Jerry Jenkins invents a radio station in spite of the fact that he’s pretty much set it out so that Nicholae didn’t supplant the media at all, he just bought all the existing outlets.

    Presumably WGN Radio is no longer functioning (or just overriden), hence why the Emergency Broadcast System is active…

    This suggests the more sensible tactic of a strikeforce and not a missile.  Which brings us back to: how’d we get these civilian casualties again?

    Perhaps a particularly psychotic strike force?

    The AGM-129B is a non-nuclear variant of the AGM-129A that was under development in the early 1990s.  It utilizes stealth technology and can be launched from a B-52 up to 2,000 nautical miles from target.  One of these would have done the job without having to send in any ground forces.  Whether Fitzhugh was stupid enough to surrender an AGM-129B (or a B-52 for that matter) to Carpathia is another matter, but in this series the characters’ stupidity does seem to rise to the occasion.

    The B-1 seems like a better fit.  The B-52 is a high-altitude strategic bomber with no stealth capability, while the B-1 is a high-speed stealth strike bomber.

  • P J Evans

    The B-52 is a high-altitude strategic bomber with no stealth capability

    And a heckuva wingspan, and eight engines, mounted as four pairs. It’s known as ‘aluminum overcast’ because of that wingspan. They have one at March Field Museum. It’s the one in camo in the middle. (The smallish black one in the lower left is a Blackbird.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    The AGM-129 series was designed specifically for the B-52 to grant it a long-range strike capability, mitigating the fact that the B-52 is 1) subsonic and 2) has a radar signature the size of Rhode Island.  The B-1 OTOH is not a stealth vehicle (that distinction belongs to the B-2 Spirit) and as of 1995 the B-1 was downrated to conventional ordnance only.

  • Anonymous

    The AGM-129 series was designed specifically for the B-52 to grant it a long-range strike capability, mitigating the fact that the B-52 is 1) subsonic and 2) has a radar signature the size of Rhode Island.  The B-1 OTOH is not a stealth vehicle (that distinction belongs to the B-2 Spirit) and as of 1995 the B-1 was downrated to conventional ordnance only.

    Huh, I seemed to remember the B-1 being a stealth vehicle.
    In any case, you only really need conventional weapons for a strike mission, and I believe ‘downrated’ only means that it doesn’t typically carry it, not that it’s actually incapable.
    An F-117 maybe?  They have a small loadout, but you only need one shot.  Also a lot easier to conceal, since you need to hide it from the GC levy…
    It *can* also carry the B-61 nuclear bomb.

  • Anonymous

    And Idaho.

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    An F-117 would actually be a better choice for a tactical strike (they did rather well in Iraq and Bosnia doing exactly these sorts of missions, the Chinese Embassy and one lost aircraft in Bosnia notwithstanding).  But nowhere in any of this is the notion addressed that the United States is the only operator of any of these planes, and the only user of any of this ordnance.  The Russian air force was destroyed early on in the story, and the Chinese in 1995 didn’t have anything even remotely capable of doing this sort of job inside US territory.  The other countries with equipment capable of doing this are primarily traditional US allies with professional militaries who really don’t like firing on civilians.  So unless a foreign aircraft was launched from an American or Canadian base, we’re talking about American pilots firing on an American city–they’re the only ones with the training.

    I know that the authors almost worship the excluded middle fallacy–that in their view there is no middle ground between ‘RTC’ and ‘absolutely depraved’ but to have the United States military operate contrary to its oath to defend the country is an insult to everyone in uniform.  Good job, authors! :-P 

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.condrey Steve Condrey

    The B-1 was originally designed to carry up to 40 1.4-megaton nuclear gravity bombs.  The bomb compartment configuration also includes the arming mechanism.  All of this would have to be reinstalled and revalidated prior to the mission–not cheap and not easy to hide, given the number of people involved.  I agree with you on the F-117–the B-1, B-2, and B-52 were designed as city-killers, not bunker-killers.  Of course a *good* (in the literary sense only) Antichrist would not hesitate to nuke Chicago off the face of the Earth as an example.

  • http://profiles.google.com/fader2011 Alex Harman

    It’s beginning to sound like Tim LaHaye’s “bible prophecies” are in some ways as narrowly parochial as Then Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.  Agnes was essentially omniscient, but she the only visions she wrote down in her book were those that directly impacted her own descendants.  LaHaye’s prophecies aren’t just aimed only at those living in the far future, relative to when they were made: they’re primarily aimed at and about Tim LaHaye, and the few people he knows well enough that they actually exist as people, rather than objects, in his narcissistic little mental universe.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    WAIT A MINUTE — WW3 GOING DOWN, SECOND HORSEMAN SADDLED UP AND GOING “HI HO SILVER!” AND BUCK IS STUCK IN TRAFFIC OUTSIDE OF CHICAGO?

    IS THIS THE SETUP FOR CHICAGO TAKING A MEGATON-RANGE NUKE HIT SO BUCK CAN MAKE HIS HEROIC CAR CHASE MOVE OVER THE MEDIAN AND DO THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT SCENE FOR THE LAND-ROVER COMMERCIAL?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I’m fascinated by the image of this reporter, standing on the outskirts of the shattered capital city but neglecting to report on that while compulsively discussing the traffic in Chicago. I’m imagining that this reflects some new technology in the “not-so-distant future” world of Tribulation Force.

    More like Jerry “Buck” Jenkins, GCAAT, is from Chicago and everything has to revolve around him.  Kind of like rewinding paleo-history to the Burgess Shale, starting the biosphere all over again, and being primarily concerned with its effects on the British Monarchy. 

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Speaking of which, if there are only 9 countries in the world at this point, why is Britain one of them? — Andrew C

    Anglo-Israelism?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    To people of Jenkins’ generation (and mine) “Nike base” or “Nike center” was a very common phrase. Every major city had one (or more). Everybody knew where they were. I think the idea of making it generic wouldn’t even occur to him.     
    – Walden

    And most Nike Base sites were closed down in the 1960s or 1970s, as ICBMs replaced bombers as nuke delivery systems.  Most of them nowadays are either Cold War museums (like the one near San Fran) or have disappeared under seas of Investment Real Estate flipper condos.

    “Nike Base” would make sense in the Nifty Fifties (AKA That Godly Golden Age), but sometime in the 21st Century?

    Wait… Nike Bases are an artifact of the Cold War.  I think it’s been speculated before that LaHaye was a Bircher and Vlad Putin isn’t the only one stuck in the Nifty Fifties who thinks the Cold War is still going on…

    (Double kicker — I say that as an aficionado of the Nifty Fifites.)

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “a lie feed” is a non-sequitor; it sounds like it’s the feed that’s lying somehow. “We’ll be hearing from the Potentate lie & in person, I mean live and in person” almost works. Freudian slips still tend to follow grammar.
    – Chris Doggett, re “Lie Feed”

    You know the first thing that came to mind with “Lie Feed”?

    Jenkins giggling over “See How Clever I Am?”

    (He’s done it before.  Character naming conventions, anyone?)

    (I used to deal with a fanboy in local Furry Fandom who was very much into dumb-ass “See How Clever I Am?” turns of phrase.  I recognize the symptoms.  I wish I couldn’t , but I recognize the symptoms…)

  • Brightie

     Erm… Why Adam Young, exactly? Because he’d heel-face-turn in his faith if he had a choice between love, joy, optimism and music and a “loving” God mysteriously pouring out a taste of hell on the world, or what’s the rationale for his suddenly being the Potentate of Pop?

  • phoenix_feather

     Oh haha it’s been so long since this conversation I hardly remember why I picked Adam Young.  I think we were talking about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and “Good Omens” is the only book I’ve read by them.


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