TF: Merry Christmas

TF: Merry Christmas December 22, 2010

Tribulation Force, pp. 307-310

I'm in a holiday spirit, so in keeping with the generosity of the season, peace on earth good will to all and all that, I'm going to try to accentuate the positive when looking at these pages from Tribulation Force. I think I've even managed to find some positive aspects of this section to highlight.

The first leaps out at us from the opening sentences of Chapter 14:

Buck Williams was cashing in all his journalistic chips. After trying to sleep off jet lag in the King David Hotel on Saturday, he had left messages for Chaim Rosenzweig, Marc Feinberg and even Peter Mathews. …

When we last saw Buck he was at the United Nations building in Manhattan, about to head back to Kennedy International Airport after spending most of Chapter 13 in a cab riding first to, then from, that airport. This circling about in New York City traffic did nothing to advance the plot of the book nor to develop any of its characters, yet Jerry Jenkins didn't seem to think it was worth skipping over, providing his readers a blow-by-blow account of all this commuting that was nearly as pleasurable as an actual drive to or from JFK.

We've previously discussed Jenkins' habitual violations of Kurt Vonnegut's "Eight Rules for Writing Fiction," particularly Vonnegut's Rule No. 4: "Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action." That rule is really just something of an elaboration of Vonnegut's first rule: "Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted."

Jenkins flagrantly violated both of those rules in the previous chapter with all that time- and ink-wasting business of driving in circles in what seemed to be nothing more than shameless padding. The only rationale the authors seemed to offer for that dull and pointless chapter was Rabbi Feinberg's brief summary of the history of the temple. Yet even that was unnecessary, as here in Chapter 14 Buck is in Jerusalem and will soon visit the Temple Mount in person accompanied by the book's Grand Expositor, Tsion Ben-Judah. The character of Feinberg never needed to be introduced and neither Buck nor the readers needed to be dragged to and from the airport.*

But here at the beginning of Chapter 14 we see the first signs of Jenkins beginning to follow Rule No. 4. He has advanced the action by transporting Buck from New York to Jerusalem, where the next bit of action in our story is set to occur. And he did so without wasting readers' time with a blow-by-blow account of Buck's trip back to JFK, his walk through the terminal, the flight to Israel, etc. In extremely un-Jenkinslike fashion, Jenkins has skipped over the uneventful details of travel and cut to the chase.

Well, not quite to the chase. Buck awakens in Jerusalem and immediately starts in with the phone calls, including several pages of conversation with Steve Plank rehashing and repeating their earlier conversation about why Nicolae won't help Buck gain access to the Two Witnesses at the Western Wall. But despite this initial relapse into redundancy, and despite his layering on of multiple superfluous phone calls that should have happened off-stage, we begin to get a sense — finally, 300+ pages in — that some of these redundant passages at last have an actual purpose. Something is finally going to happen in this dismally uneventful book.

We're not quite there yet. There's plenty of padding and throat-clearing and repetition in the first half of this chapter, but by the end of Chapter 14, the authors will have introduced us to a major new character and he and Buck will have done something together.

The other positive point in these pages comes in the account of Rayford's first flight at the helm of the new Air Force/Global Community One.

Here again the authors seem far more excited about the shiny new plane than readers are likely to be, and Rayford Steele comes across as his usual insufferable self. Yet try to look past the annoying arrogance of the protagonist and the continuing portrayal of "Air Force One" as some kind of civilian charter jet and consider what we have here:

Rayford had met the crew of Global Community One just a couple of hours before takeoff. Not one had ever worked for Pan-Continental. In a brief pep talk he had emphasized that safety was paramount. "That is why every one of us is here. Proper procedure and protocol come next. We do everything by the book, and we keep our logs and checklists as we go. We look sharp, we stay in the background, we serve our hosts and passengers. While we are deferential to the dignitaries and serve them, their safety is our primary concern. The best airplane crew is an invisible one. People feel comfort and security when they see uniforms and service, not individuals."

Rayford's first officer was older than Rayford and probably had wanted the pilot's position. But he was friendly and efficient. The navigator was a young man Rayford would not have chosen, but he did his job. The cabin crew had worked together on Air Force One and seemed overly impressed with the new plane, but Rayford couldn't fault them for that. It was a technological marvel, but they would soon get used to it and take it for granted.

Flying the 757 was, as Rayford had commented to the certifying examiner in Dallas, like sitting behind the wheel of a Jaguar. But the excitement wore off as the flight stretched on. …

Yes, Rayford Steele is still the same pompous, condescending git we've come to know through the course of these books, and there are plenty of stylistic, technical and continuity flaws we could discuss in these pages. But it's Christmas, remember, holiday spirit, etc., so let's just focus on what I find praiseworthy in this passage.

Rayford Steele is a pilot and here we see him at work, doing his job. Set aside the realism or accuracy of that portrayal and just notice that this is what we are being shown.

That's an unfortunately rare thing in most stories not involving police officers, private detectives or doctors. Our work — the stuff we spend most of our waking hours doing — is rarely regarded as a part of our stories. Stories often treat this work the same way we often think of it — as time to be killed, time apart from life that doesn't really count as part of that life. Cause and effect flow in both directions here. Our stories treat work as though it were a separate thing that doesn't really count because that is how we think of it. And we think of it that way, in part, because this is how our stories treat it.

Rayford Steele is not an easy character to like. His regard for himself is so vast that it leaves little space or oxygen for readers to share in it, and so he comes across as a clownish Malvolio. (A violation of Vonnegut's Rule No. 2: "Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.") But here is something genuinely admirable about the guy: He takes his work seriously and he wants to do it well.

Rayford believes that being a good person requires being good at one's craft. That's almost right. I'd amend it to saying that becoming a better person requires becoming better at one's craft — a distinction that helps avoid the pitfall both Rayford and Buck seem to have fallen into of becoming so arrogantly self-assured that one stops learning, practicing and refining, assuming that one already knows all there is to know and that one is already as good as one can be. But still, he's got that initial, prerequisite commitment to his work and his craft.

If only Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins shared such a commitment then these books might be —

But it's Christmas. We'll save that for another time.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* What I found least believable in Chapter 13 was Buck's willingness to ride both ways in the cab without getting into a discussion with the driver as to the best or proper way to get from midtown to JFK. Guys like Buck are never, ever indifferent on the question of How to Get to the Airport. They are certain that they have figured out the best, fastest, most hassle-free secret route and they will not be stopped from explaining to you that there are two types of people when it comes to trips to the airport: 1) Those who gratefully take his advice, and 2) Foolish suckers who insubordinately insist on taking some other route.

That Buck didn't take the time to lecture both Feinberg and the cabbie on the gnostic mystery of How to Get to the Airport seemed weirdly out of character. It was as jarringly inconceivable to me as being told, say, that Rayford Steele doesn't wear expensive cologne.

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  • Have an Internets, MadGastronomer and Darth Ember. :) I was sadly asleep when that repartee occurred.

  • Andrew Glasgow


    But there has to be a situation where you can take someone’s side without having to wait for the evidence to be presented.

    I mean, things like spousal privilege exist because we recognize the difficulty to people and society in ignoring certain bonds of loyalty. But ideally, wouldn’t we wait for all the evidence before making judgements, especially on issues where we have not personally been harmed? Especially on issues where a rush to judgement has significant repurcussions.

    My point is that most people have people in their lives whom they know very well and whose character is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of them committing a horrible act like rape. For me, my father is one such individual. If a woman accused my father of raping her, my default assumption, which it would take a great deal of evidence to sway, would be that she’s lying. My father is a very peaceful, self-controlled man, and the only scenario I can possibly imagine where he would have committed such an act would be if he were dosed against his will with an extremely powerful mind-altering, judgement-impairing, agression-enhancing drug, and in order for him to fail to report to the police along with the woman to say “Someone drugged me and caused me to involuntarily assault this woman, I need to be tested before it’s out of my system”, it would also have to affect his memory. (I realize that alcohol does all those things, but he’s a teetotaler, and not because he’s a recovering addict, and he’s really a very together person so a really large amount of alcohol would be needed, probably enough that he’d pass out first. And my eyes just crossed with the sheer cognative dissonance of thinking about my dad passing out from alcohol. It’s like imagining Tim Lahaye turning out to be a lesbian atheist.)

    Perhaps I should. Have been clearer. By “Baal” I meant excessive greed, aggresive cultural assertion, smear tactics, all the cornerstones of the Religious Right. I am an atheist, so it makes approximately zero difference to me whether one’s claim to be christian is “legitimate” or not.

    Well, alright, but I’ve never heard “Baal” being used to refer to those things before, and they aren’t exactly something that one worships as such. It’s like me saying:
    You christians don’t worship jesus, you worship steve! Who’s steve? well steve is a personification of belief in the inerrancy of the bible, the preference for driving large cars, the dislike of rock-and-roll music, and a tendency to tip poorly after church on sunday. Who I just made up. Yeah.

  • Andrew Glasgow

    Gah. fucked up the blockquotes. Sorry. At least it doesn’t spread through the page.

  • MadGastronomer

    I realize that alcohol does all those things, but he’s a teetotaler, and not because he’s a recovering addict, and he’s really a very together person so a really large amount of alcohol would be needed, probably enough that he’d pass out first.
    OK, gonna quibble. If he doesn’t drink, it actually probably wouldn’t take all that much alcohol because he doesn’t have a tolerance, and if he’s been a teetotaler for a long time, then neither you nor he know whether he’d pass out or have walking blackouts first.
    Not especially significant, but there it is.
    More importantly, we weren’t talking about those kinds of cases, we were talking about the general public responding to an accusation of rape against a public figure. If it’s not about you, It’s Not About You.

  • Darth Ember

    It’s not boobies, but it is a bit of cute to encourage a few more happy feelings…

  • MadGastronomer


  • Darth Ember

    Baby otters are such a wonderful way to feel better.

  • douching tends to mess around with the internal PhD
    I know this was a typo, but I confess I found this hilarious on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin.

    Oh my goodness.
    Until you pointed it out, I had NO IDEA that I’d done that.
    I fear I’m going to have to laugh at myself all day.

  • Darth Ember

    There once was a clever vagina
    For whom graduation was minor
    A douche came along
    To make her degree wrong
    So she threw it away and was finer.

  • Said a feminist student called Buff
    ‘That douche bag is useful enough:
    It’d do to store ink,
    Be a stress ball, I think,
    Just keep it away from my muff.’
    I learned at my old almer mater
    All the tricks in the patriarch’s charter.
    When just a school-leaver
    Men called me a beaver –
    I’m now a vagina dentata.

  • Will Wildman

    I have stayed the heck away from this thread for a couple of days, but I am at least pleased by its resolution.
    And it was totally worth it for MadGastronomer and Darth Ember’s alliance, and the, um, ‘internal PhD’. The mental images are in my head and may never go away.

  • Darth Ember

    A lass who thought boys were too thick
    Found a way to repell any prick
    Deeming douches crap
    She chose a mouse-trap
    And smartened them up right quick.

  • Here- y’all just take these internets. Divvy them up amongst yourselves.

  • Darth Ember

    Impromptu limericks are a fun way to liven up a day.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Hearts Club Band

    GDwarf, I’ve wondered the same thing. I met someone once who described themselves as a Christian but said they didn’t believe in God (or, by extension, the divinity of Jesus). I thought it was no skin off my nose what he called himself, but…a word has to mean something, even very broadly, right?
    I also know a woman who eats chicken, eggs and cheese, and says she’s a vegan. Umm, OK, but…I don’t think you are, actually.

  • redcrow

    Maybe she belongs to some cult of stars, and her celestial patron is Vega.

  • MadGastronomer

    Sgt Pepper, have you ever asked her what “vegan” means, then?

  • I’m a Vegan. I have all* of Suzanne Vega’s albums (5 of which are autographed /brag).
    *Excluding compilations.

  • Limericks! May I play?
    There once was a man named Bobbit
    Who stood twice as tall as a hobbit
    His wife he did irk
    Who thought him a jerk
    So with a sharp knife she did bob it

  • Vermic

    There once was this fellow named Nicky
    With a mind organized like a wiki.
    He fought TurboChrist
    And treated folks nice —
    Though granted, that pig scene was icky.
    The Pulitzer judges were clamorin’
    For that studly reporter named Cameron.
    But he ran out of luck
    When he found himself stuck
    In an extremely dull Götterdämmerung.
    There once was a pilot named Steele
    Whose wife adored Jesus with zeal,
    And his would-be girlfriend
    Went with Nick in the end.
    (So much for old Ray’s sex appeal.)

  • hapax

    A bright Stanford student named Chloe
    Converted and turned dull and doughy
    But it drives LaHaye batty
    When her Meta met Hattie
    And teamed up for lesbian moe.

  • Moe? In my Left Behind?
    I don’t think the world’s ready for Nicky-tan, Tsion-tan, or Airforceone-tan just yet.

  • Hawker Hurricane

    I haven’t followed the case so I’m in no position to form an opinion as to his guilt. I do think it’s possible that he’s guilty AND that powerful people tried to frame him. There was some speculation that with OJ, the LAPD tried to frame a guilty man.
    Posted by: Tonio | Dec 25, 2010 at 05:02 PM
    I’m going to tentively agree, but I’m going to say that Assange is probably guilty of at least being a jerk*, but he’s not being framed, he’s being prosecuted (and persecuted) for political reasons. The prosecuter originally dropped the case, probably because he didn’t think he could win, but was ordered to re-open it for political purposes.
    *Jerk: when someone does something for personal gain or amusement. As opposed to Fool, who does something because he doesn’t know any better, or Asshole, who does something because he thinks it’s for the best.

  • With Nicolae taking the throne
    And claiming the world as his own
    For Tribbles to fight
    would only be right
    But prophecy might not get done
    Not my best work, sorry. Actually, This Wicked Day inspired a better one:
    A Presbyter who was named Arius
    Wrote heresies many and various
    He insisted the Son
    was no part of the One
    And now his position’s precarious.

  • The prosecuter originally dropped the case, probably because he didn’t think he could win, but was ordered to re-open it for political purposes.

    By “framed” I meant that the governments could have manufactured additional evidence, such as “friends” coming forward to claim that Assange bragged to them about his “conquests.” My point was that whether the governments did this is a separate question from whether Assange is guilty – one doesn’t change the other.

  • And of course, what happens when I get the idea of Moé LB in my head? I go and draw a Moé-fied Nicolae Carpathia.
    Nicky-tan was able to win over the world with her cute smile and bubbly personality, which make it so adorable when she recites the names of countries. She started the Enigma Babylon One-World Faith to promote peace and understanding, unlike those mean old Tribbles. She likes chilling out with her best friend Hattie-chan, and like all Left Behind characters, takes a perverse pleasure in cookies.

  • Why am I suddenly reminded of Axis Powers Hetalia? :O

  • Flying sardines

    @MadGastronomer | Dec 27, 2010 at 08:35 AM :
    Sgt Pepper, have you ever asked her what “vegan” means, then?
    Presumably somebody coming from a planet orbiting the star Vega (Alpha Lyrae) a nearby (25 ly) hot bright bluish (type A0 V) star & the fifth brightest in Earth’s skies. ;-)
    (See : for mroe info if you’re curious. )
    @hapax | Dec 27, 2010 at 12:39 PM :
    A bright Stanford student named Chloe
    Converted and turned dull and doughy
    But it drives LaHaye batty
    When her Meta met Hattie
    And teamed up for lesbian moe.

    ROTFLMAO! Thanks – & also thanks to Vermic, Raj, Michael Mock & everyone else. Love the limericks. :-)

  • Darth Ember

    D’awwww, Nicky-tan is so cuuuuute.

  • I am powerless before the cuteness of Nicky-tan!

  • nanananana

    I haven’t visited in a few days.SO I just saw a huge flame war followed by sea otter babies and moe…
    I’m cool with this.

  • renniejoy

    For the record, I just found this: Shakesville’s Rape Culture 101, under Feminism 101 link at the top of their home page –

  • I was involved in #Mooreandme as one half of @WeekdayBlues.
    I have not been able to comment thus far because I couldn’t find the words. Because I didn’t feel safe.
    I agree with hapax’s comment, if anyone remembers it.
    I’ve always thought of Slacktivist as one of the safest spaces on the Internet. No longer.
    What rape apologism looks like: suggesting that accusations of rape are flimsier because of how the victim/survivor acted before or after the assault.
    My full thoughts, written during the #Mooreandme campaign itself, here and here.
    Remember, as mymilkspilt has pointed out, who hears you when you speak about rape. (I, for one, feel horribly triggered and unsafe right now, fwiw, which is why I’ve waited till breaking-point to comment.)
    No love,
    an honest-to-God sixteen-year-old queer cisfemale survivor, who, incidentally, is someone else who reclaims the word douche so it’s not just MadG, can you lay off her with your derailing please?

  • Posted before I realised the resolution, sorry, folks. I had to step away from Slacktivist for a while because of the bad feelings.

  • renniejoy

    Wednesday – I am so sorry that happened to you. I wish you every comfort that can be given.
    Hugs if you want them.

  • Seconding Renniejoy, Wednesday – so sorry for what you went through, and if anything I said in the thread caused a problem for you, I deeply apologise.

  • Lonespark

    Wednesday, your uncorking of righteous fury is equally awesome any day.

  • Thank you, Renniejoy, Kit, Lonespark <3
    This is why I stick around Slacktivist ^^;
    Have a good 2011 too, you gentlefolks.

  • Green Monkey

    Long time lurker but first time poster here. It is threads like this that remind me why I love the Slacktivist community.
    MadGastronomer: I just want to say thank you for taking the stand you did in this thread. At first I didn’t get it, but now I truly understand. I did some research into rape apologism and rape culture and realize that many of the attitudes I previously held were indeed harmful to women. I would describe myself as a feminist, but obviously I still have a lot to learn. I just wanted to thank you and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. You really never know who you will influence or how far-reaching of a positive impact you can create.

  • Lonespark

    Welcome, Green Monkey. Way to be a Wise Elf.

  • Indeed. Welcome, Wednesday and Green Monkey.
    Please do not kill us with fully-loaded sheep, for they are heavy. :)
    Admire the pet booby, for it is our bird.
    And may your posts here be fruitful, and your experience be good.

  • Juisarian

    Speaking as a plane spotter/nutcase the thing that annoys me most about this chapter is the presence of the 757. Anyone with an utterly rudimentary knowledge of airplanes knows that Air Force/Global Community One would never and could never be a 757. It’s too small, too old fashioned and too short ranged to serve that role. Rayford would never aspire to be a 757 captain, he’s a 747 man all the way. Did the authors think that because “5” comes after “4” the 757 is a superior airplane to the 747? Do they ever know what a 757 is? This in itself is mind bogglingly poor novel writing. Obviously it’s a minor point and just the tip of atrocious writing iceberg that is the Left Behind series but the contemptuousness of it sticks in my craw.

  • stationary

    I read these books fast enough to overlook a lot of glaring flaws, but this was the point where the question of “Are these books Not Good, or just Not My Thing?” was definitively answered. In a series of novels where one of the main characters is The World’s Best (Commercial) Pilot, there’s no excuse for getting this kind of detail so thunderingly wrong.

    They retcon it later in the series – “We went with a smaller plane to be humble/economical/something during these times of trouble” – but that explanation is clearly at odds with everything we’re told about the plane here in TF.

  • I said:

    and as a result, an entire town starts to lose any
    appreciation for the structure of government and they certainly never
    cared for memorizing Joe Mayflower’s famous whatever in 1769.
    Art said:
    that does happen, it’s certainly not because of the reason you came up
    with. People lose appreciation for the structure of government because
    they have no respect for its integrity. When justices can electioneer,
    and the Senators can filibuster without saying a word, and the President
    can nominate judges that the Congress refuses to consider — they’re
    quick to learn that there are more rules than there seem to be, and most
    of them aren’t written down in our vaunted Constitution, a document
    which many people quote but few of them have ever read or even seen.

    In light of events since then I think I can now safely reply to Art that such maneuvers by politicians doesn’t lead to more enlightenment among the general population, it leads to a cynical understanding that politics is just one big system you can game to your advantage if you happen to be a Republican, and that it should be treated on the same serious level as professional wrestling.