TF: Springtime for Nicolae

TF: Springtime for Nicolae October 25, 2011

Tribulation Force, pp. 426-428

Nicolae Carpathia seemed thrilled about Rayford’s marriage and insisted upon meeting his new wife.

Note that “seemed.” Nicolae seems thrilled. He acts like he’s thrilled. He does everything one would expect that someone who was thrilled would do:

He took both her hands in greeting and welcomed her and Rayford. … After pleasantries, Nicolae immediately approved Rayford’s request that Amanda accompany them on the next trip to the U.S.

But since we know he’s the Antichrist and he’s evil, we know it’s only seeming. Deep-down, we know he isn’t really thrilled.

Likewise, with our protagonists. They may seem like cowardly, self-serving toadies, constantly ingratiating themselves to the powerful in exchange for wealth, luxury and privilege, then pretending that being ungrateful for that wealth, luxury and privilege makes them heroic. But since we know that they’re real, true Christians and they’re virtuous, we know it’s only seeming.

The ellipsis in the quote above skips past the description of the “opulent offices” to which Nicolae welcomes Rayford and Amanda. Once again Jerry Jenkins tells us that Rayford is unimpressed by this opulence, and Rayford goes out of his way to convey that refusal to be impressed to Nicolae. But once again Jenkins himself is far too impressed with and excited by his own description of this splendor to make this convincing:

He took both her hands in greeting and welcomed her and Rayford to his opulent offices, which covered the entire top floor of the Global Community headquarters in New Babylon. The suite also included conference rooms, private living quarters, and an elevator to the helipad. From there, one of Rayford’s crew could ferry the potentate to the new airstrip.

That “airstrip” not only has to accommodate the ginormous 757 Rayford pilots, it also has to accommodate 90 percent of the world’s military aircraft.

Rayford could tell that Amanda’s heart was in her throat. Her speech was constricted and her smile pasted on. Meeting the most evil man on the face of the earth was clearly out of her sphere of experience, though she had told Rayford she knew a few garment wholesalers who might have fit the bill.

The superlative evil of the Antichrist creates a real problem for the authors. Nicolae cannot simply be portrayed as evil, or even as just eeeevil. He must be not just “the most evil man on the face of the earth” but the most evil man ever on the face of the earth.

That unavoidably Godwins the thread, in a sense. It invites, and requires, a Hitler comparison. The Antichrist of Tim LaHaye’s End Times mythology must be, by definition, worse than Hitler — or Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Nero, Caligula, Idi Amin or anyone else you might think of as a candidate for the most monstrously evil person who ever lived. Every reminder of the Antichrist’s surpassing, superlative evil thus becomes an invitation to the reader to compare him to those monsters of history. And that creates two big problems for the authors.

First, it’s difficult for the authors — or for any other author, even a good one — to convince readers that their character’s evil really exceeds that of every such possible comparison. Nero, for example, seems to have the edge over Nicolae in the matricide department. And so far, Nicolae’s body count isn’t even close to being in the same league as the murderous tyrants we all think of whenever the subject turns to “the most evil man on the face of the earth.”

The larger problem is that by leading us to think of all those other monstrously evil people from history, the authors tempt us to remember that the word “antichrist” in the Bible is usually plural. The epistles of John warn early Christians to guard against “antichrists,” and the context makes it clear that actual historical figures like Nero or Domitian (or Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, etc.) fit the bill. That’s not something that Tim LaHaye wants to remind his readers of.

So far, Nicolae doesn’t seem even remotely as malevolent as the real-life examples who come to mind when we think of history’s greatest monsters. Amanda may be nervous about meeting him, but she has no reason to feel in mortal terror about the encounter. When the Antichrist congratulates Rayford on his marriage and insists on meeting his new bride, there’s none of the menace that such an insistence would have conveyed coming from someone like Nero or Caligula or Uday Hussein. If he were convincingly the “most evil man on the face of the earth,” then his “insisting” on meeting Rayford’s wife would be their cue to go into hiding, changing their names and appearance and never looking back.

Nicolae has been shown to be evil, but his worst acts so far — ending democratic rule, freedom of conscience and freedom of the press all over the world — have barely registered as actual events in the story. They seem more theoretical than like anything readers are supposed to imagine has actually happened. The supposed one-world religion, for instance, doesn’t seem to require Rayford to abandon his Christian faith, nor is it apparently incompatible with the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. I guess the whole treaty-signing business might be meant to suggest that Jews are uniquely exempt from the religious repression of the Enigma Babylon One-World Faith, but that’s an arbitrary reversal of everything history shows us about religious persecution.

And anyway none of that seems to be what the authors have in mind when they refer to Nicolae as the MEMOTFOTE. His evil, like the protagonists’ virtue, seems to be a free-floating abstraction unrelated to actual deeds.

Before the end of this chapter, Nicolae will begin racking up an impressively evil body count, cracking down on freedom-loving rebels and indiscriminately slaughtering civilians. Over the remaining years of the Great Tribulation, the death toll of his lethal oppression really adds up and by that point he might make a strong claim to being the second-most EMOTFOTE. But only second. Because if we use indiscriminate lethal violence as our criterion, then the Killer Robo-Jesus of the Glorious Appearing outdoes Nicolae and every other candidate for the top-ranking of superlative evil.

Rayford asks for, and receives, permission for Amanda to:

… accompany them on the next trip to the U.S. to see his daughter and new son-in-law. Rayford did not say who that son-in-law was, not even mentioning that the young newlyweds lived in New York City. He said, truthfully, that he and Amanda would visit the couple in Chicago.

I still don’t understand why Rayford and Buck think it’s necessary and/or wise to try to keep their friendship, and kinship, hidden from Nicolae. I also don’t understand why they think they’ll be able to do so. It ought to be obvious to him — even without the whole mind-reading thing.

“And now I have some news for you and your bride.” Carpathia pulled a tiny remote control from his pocket and pointed it at the intercom on his desk across the room. “Darling, would you join us a moment, please?”

Darling? Rayford thought. No pretense anymore.

Hattie Durham knocked and entered. “Yes, sweetie?” she said. Rayford thought he would gag.

He ought to be gagging. Not, as Jenkins suggests, because of their syrupy terms of affection, but for two other, much more significant reasons.

First, he just finished being elaborately evasive about the identity of his new son-in-law, believing it vitally important for some reason to prevent Nicolae from learning that Buck Williams is married to his daughter. Two seconds later, in walks Hattie Durham, Nicolae’s closest and most intimate confidant — and also the matchmaker who got Buck and Chloe together in the first place. Hattie knows. Therefore Nicolae knows. And even worse, Nicolae knows that Rayford didn’t want him to know and tried to keep him from knowing. Gag.

Possibly even worse: Rayford is newly married and is standing there next to the new Mrs. Steele when who should walk into the room but the pseudo-mistress he strung along for years while still married to the first Mrs. Steele. Nicolae may be the MEMOTFOTE, but at this point Rayford probably isn’t as frightened by the Antichrist as he is by the prospect of these two women having a long conversation. Gag.

Hattie turned to Rayford. “I’m so happy for you and Amelia,” she said.

“Amanda,” Rayford corrected, noticing his wife stiffen. He had told Amanda all about Hattie Durham.

No, no he hadn’t. In order for him to have told Amanda “all about” Hattie, he would first have had to admit to himself what his sick control games and self-indulgent emotional manipulation of Hattie had been “all about.” And he’s never done that.

“We have an announcement too,” Carpathia said. “Hattie will be leaving the employ of Global Community to prepare for our new arrival.”

Carpathia was beaming, as if expecting a joyous reaction. Rayford did what he could not to betray his disgust and loathing. “A new arrival?” he said. “When’s the big day?”

“We just found out.” Nicolae gave him a broad wink.

I invite you to consider that gesture, which seems so strangely corny that there’s almost something innocent about it. Think again of whoever it is that you regard as this Antichrist’s chief rival for the title of the most monstrously evil person ever to walk the face of the earth. Now picture that person giving “a broad wink.” Tell me you haven’t just envisioned a scene from a Mel Brooks movie.

“Well, isn’t that something?” Rayford said.

“I didn’t realize you were married,” Amanda said sweetly, and Rayford fought to keep his composure. She knew full well they were not.

Saw that coming. If Rayford is written as Tim LaHaye’s Mary-Sue surrogate, then it only makes sense that his wife should start acting like Bev LaHaye, smugly sneering at the one thing even worse than the most evil man on the face of the earth: an unmarried woman who has had sex.


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  • Tonio

    He just doesn’t have the resources to pull off anything psychologically interesting on more than a handful of people.

    Valid point. My argument wasn’t about the types of evil that would be within Nicolae’s ability. I just see the destruction of people’s souls (psychologically speaking) as more qualitatively evil than the causing of general suffering. One can even make a case that destroying 100 souls is worse than destroying 100 lives, depending on the method used for murder.

  • Tonio

    I’m not sure Buchanan’s so much getting worse as making it harder to ignore his ugliest material.

    He didn’t sound as hateful in the 1980s when he was on the Sunday talk shows, but by the time he ran for President in 1992 his bigotry was well known. But even then he wasn’t as rabid about it as now – perhaps as he ages he cares less about censoring himself.

  • Anonymous

    Someone mentioned Tarquin from Order of the Stick, but now I can’t find that comment to respond to it.  What I liked about Tarquin, though, was that he didn’t rule outright; he acted as the power behind the throne to a series of minor dictators, so that whenever one dictator was ousted, he’d just wait for another one to come into power and then ingratiate himself with them behind the scenes. That would be a really cool concept for an End Times series, where the protagonists are TRYING to oppose the Antichrist; problem is, every time they think they’ve got someone pinned as the Antichrist, he (or she) is killed off and the actual Antichrist replaces them with yet another puppet ruler. 

    Now that I’m thinking of it, how fantastic would this series be if we got to the final book and found out that Nicolae wasn’t the Antichrist at all, but it was, say, Leon Fortunato pulling the strings the entire time?  It might have made the entire series worth it.

  • Al Franken has pointed out that Pat Buchanan is widely thought to have said “culture war”, but he actually said “religious war”, and to a Jewish person that had some rather unsettling possibilities, given that some fundamentalist groups have a streak of anti-Semitism going on.

  • Leon Fortunato? What if it’s Stonagol from Book 1, who staged his own death? What if it’s really Hattie Durham?

    Tagline: ‘They thought she was just an ordinary stewardess. They were wrong.’

  • P J Evans

     Some people do seem to lose their mental self-censoring as they age. (Unfortunately for everyone else.) It may be a subtler form of dementia.

  • [Added:] Wait.What? Did you edit your post? I swear it said something along the lines of, “I didn’t say nano-augmentation,” when I first started writing this one. If not then I’m seeing things. [/added]

    I did, then I realized I meant to say something else.  So I edited it briefly after posting it.  I am surprised that you caught it. 

    All I can say about that (I have seen the intro for whatever it’s worth) is that I’m hoping that those difficulties have nothing to do with nano augmentation.

    Not nano specifically, no.  But a big part of the difficulty with augmentation by the time of Human Revolution is the build up of glial cell tissue on the nerve endings which are hooked into augmentations (and by nerve endings I mean the ones in the brain and spine which the augmentions are necessarily connected to.)  Let the build up get too severe, and the brain-augmentation interface short-circuits, communication gets interrupted, and the augmentations malfunction.  The effects can range from the augmentation activating uncontrollably, to painful feedback on the part of the user, to the augmentation simply shutting down.  There is a way to prevent the glial cell build up, but it requires that a person take regular doses of a patented pharmacutical to keep their augmentations functioning normally.  This drug is pretty expensive, which further limits augmentations to the wealthy, though even they are not secure if they happen to lose their sources of income or get denied medical coverage.  This in turn is one factor among several driving the anti-augmentation sentiment. 

    The thing about the augmentation project is that before they can make nano-augmentation, they need a way of insuring that the body will not suffer long term effects of the glial cell build up.  This is a big stumbling block in general augmentation research and the problem only gets worse with the amount of nerve connections nano-augmentation requires, and was part of the reasons that the clones were created in the first place, as test subjects in ethically dubious experiments to try and create a human body which could accept augmentation without such difficulties, then reverse-engineer a more generally applicable solution from them. 

    Again, trying not to spoil too much, but let us just say that there were reasons that much of their earlier research was lost and had to be re-developed.  They are not going to risk their only test prototype until they can learn how to create a second. 

    You know, the Human Revolution team had the same problem as the Austin team, in that they wanted to include their home city but could not.  They did manage to include Montreal as a playable location, but only in a particular closed part of it for a single story mission rather than a level hub like Detroit or Heng Sha.  They realized that making it a level hub would have required too many resources or been too hard to make believable. 

  • Anonymous

    As much as I’d love it if the Antichrist in this series were Hattie Durham, I feel like Ellenjay would throw a fit at the idea that a woman might actually be competent enough to rule the world.  Not that Nicolae displays anything close to what you would call competency.

    I could go for Stonagal as the Antichrist, who first brainwashed the room into thinking they saw him shoot himself… and then, knowing that Buck was a Christian, brainwashing him into seeing something different so that he would go back to the other Christians and report that Nicolae Carpathia was the clearly the Antichrist.  The Trib Force would be sitting there smugly thinking how they were immune to the fake Antichrist’s power, when the real Antichrist was just brainwashing them into thinking they were.

  • Anonymous

    Person who is better at being a villain than Nicolae: Dr. Horrible.

    And now I will see Nicolae as being played by Neil Patrick Harris for as long as this goes on.

  • I just want to announce: The product today on is a voice-activated remote control.  

    I choose to imagine that Nicky Volcania had a voice-activated remote control for his intercom.

  • Anonymous

    You know, I always sort of pictured Nicolae as played by Neil Patrick Harris.  I’m glad I’m not the only one.

  • Anonymous

    I can imagine Mormon-basher Robert Jeffress creating characters that way. He’s the one who asked, “Do we want a candidate who is a good, moral person, or one who is a born-again follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?”, implying that these two are mutually exclusive.

    “Do you want Bobby to be a Christian, or do you want him to have a conservative haircut?”

    “I haven’t yet given up on having both.”

  • Anonymous

    Who uses lame to describe people with physical disabilities? 
    Like, who wasn’t born in the 19th century?

    “And right away, Jerry Falwell’s god found the two people who would listen to him and began spaking in a voice so loud, it made the Beastie Boys sound like the Vienna Boys Choir.  “And he made the lame to walk.  “I mean, these were my friends, so they were still lame, but they could walk!  “And he turned the loaves to fishes, and the Oreos to Hydrox.  “And he divided up the room, divided he, saying “Gays here, lesbians here, pagans here, abortionists, feminists, civil libertarians, People for the American Way,” and frankly, some of us did not know where to stand.  “I went with the lesbians.”

  • Rikalous

    And now I will see Nicolae as being played by Neil Patrick Harris for as long as this goes on.

    Added to my list of things to do when I’m the Antichrist and can get away with it: Acquire Music Meister glasses and wear them to formal occasions.

  • Matri

    Acquire Music Meister glasses and wear them to formal occasions.

    The Muuuuuusic Meister, sings the song that the world wants to hear…

  • They are not going to risk their only test prototype until they can learn how to create a second.

    Once again, this is where it’s difficult to know what you’re talking about.  If we’re discussing nano-augmentation then they already created a second, and a third, and so on four years before Human Revolution takes place and won’t stop creating more for another few decades down the road.  Their only annoyance is that they have to wait for their prototypes to grow up just like any other human being.

    Well, that’s not the only annoyance.  For example, they’d prefer to use standardized artificial womb, which they won’t have until *checks* 2029, probably sometime after the first quarter considering something else they did in 2029 that seemed to be done without the definite knowledge that they’d soon have such a thing.

    I cannot speak to how the glial cell thing works in terms of realism.  I know who I would ask (that being the guy who said of the science in Deus Ex something like, “Most professionals get upset when they see their field misrepresented; I’m just happy to see them using the terms even though they’re using them wrong.”) but I know that he was asked to do a science based review of HR by the same person who asked me to do a story based one, so I should probably look to see if he’s done that yet.  Of course before I start doing things like that I have to translate Herodotus, so that’s for later.

    I can say that my first impulse is to point out that when discussing nano augmentation nerve endings being hooked into a augmentations sounds like a non-sequitur.  The whole thing about nano augmentation in Deus Ex is that it’s in every cell in your body.  (Only now does it occur to me to ask if that includes spermatozoa and eggs.  Is being augmented hereditary?  That could cause some real heartache.)  Every cell in JC’s brain and so forth.  The problem with nano augmentation is that if your immune system rejects the augmentation, and most people’s do as of Deus Ex in 2052, then that means it rejects every cell in your body and you’ve effectively got a deadly autoimmune disorder.

    Regarding nano augmentation it makes sense to talk about an interface in terms of how you operate the augmentations, but in terms of a physical nerve-augmentation interface not so much because the nerve, by simple virtue of being a part of the augmented individual, is itself augmented.

    But like I said, that’s just my first impulse.  It’s entirely possible that augmentation-augmentation interface would have that problem.  No idea.  If there’s a plausible sounding explanation for why there would be a problem at the interface when it wasn’t a problem in any other parts of the augmented nerve or the augmented, say, muscle then, then provided that the explanation doesn’t blatantly contradict Deus Ex (and it’s probably on fairly safe ground on that count as, of the top of my head, the only person I can think of even discussing nerve problems in Deus Ex was Ford Schick) then I’ll buy that.

    I wanted to try to bring this back to be somewhat on topic by doing a Deus Ex Left Behind crossover.  The problem is that there’s no place to fit Nicky Molehill in.  A much more impressive and activist conspiracy is already in charge of the UN.  If Nicky tried to become head of the UN and they didn’t want him there they’d simply rig the vote.  If he somehow continued to be annoying Walton Simons would shoot him in the head.  (Just imagine Walton’s “I’m not that patient,” in response to Nicky’s alphabetical recitation.)

    There’s also, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, a feeling that JC Denton already dealt with the Antichrist.  Spoilers for Deus Ex follow.

    The depopulation in the decades leading up to Deus Ex makes the rapture look small by comparison.  As I recall we figured that the rapture took somewhere between 2 and three billion people.  By the late 2030s in Deus Ex’s setting 100 years of population growth had been undone.  There were only around 2 billion people left.  It’s not as sudden as the rapture obviously, and there are still children, but you do have a sense of world hit by massive catacylsm.

    Being built on the same Bircher conspiracy theories as Left Behind the UN really is evil and powerful (though unlike Left Behind there’s no claim that that holds true today, the implication is pretty much the reverse) and there are shady international bankers.

    Bob Page isn’t exactly big on hiding his goal, he wants to be a god.  For a given value of god.  That seems sufficiently Antichrist like to me.

    In a certain ending JC brings the humanity to what amounts to a deity, more or less.  It is pointed out that he is not a product of nature.  If you squint, and look at it crooked, and play as something other than an unrestrained killer, you can sort of see some similarities between JC and … that other JC.

    Of course I’ve long had difficulty working out exactly what the trinity would be.  If JC is the son, and Helios is the Holy Spirit then … um.  If we define father as creator then the only thing would be the UC, which is nothing more than a mindless machine.  That doesn’t work.  Of course JC-Helios is a three personed entity because Helios is a two personed entity (We are Daedalus, we are Icarus. […] We can be more if we join with you.)  In that case though are we saying Daedalus the father and Icarus the holy spirit?  And if we are then 1) how are we defining our terms? 2) That means that the holy spirit can be a real jerk when not in the presence of the father.

    In spite of what people say I don’t think Joseph can be seen as Joseph, Deus Ex Joseph was a father figure, yes, but he was also a lying corrupt jerk who will shoot you in the back given the chance.

    I’m similarly wary of those who make a Paul-Paul connection.  Deus Ex Paul is JC’s older brother who learns the truth before him.  I don’t see that as fitting into a biblical narrative very well.  John the Baptist maybe, but I’d prefer to reserve that for Morpheus for reasons that defy rationality.

    Morpheus functions as a sort of prophet presaging the coming kingdom (you will soon have your God) and identifying JC as special.  Of course he doesn’t baptize anyone.  Unless you can say that he does it not in water but in information.  It’s all about the information, What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… sorry, I slipped into Sneakers there.

    Casting MJ12 out of the cathedral was clearly taking on the money changers, they took what should have been a house of prayer and made it into a literal den of thieves.  (Those who were dwelling there were only there to steal the gold.)  It’s just a shame JC didn’t have a whip.  He did have a prod though.  That’s sort of like a whip in an ox-goad kind of a way.

    I think I could make a connection between ambrosia and it is my blood/it is my body.

    The is a temptation to connect the saving of Sandra Renton to something in the bible, say the averted stoning, but it doesn’t really fit.

    And as for the greasels, they clearly represent…

    Ok, so Deus Ex-JC as gospel-JC doesn’t really fit, though I bet hapax could do a very impressive analysis.  (For anyone who hasn’t read her stuff at Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings in the Narnia threads, I recommend you do.)

  • Tonio

    I’m not familiar with Harris’ recent work, but my ideal Nicolae would probably have the personality of Michael Rosenbaum’s Lex Luthor – a charm that’s almost innocent in its seeming sincerity, concealing the devious and scheming nature of the evil that lies within.

  • Ken

    My argument wasn’t about the types of evil that would be within Nicolae’s ability.

    Upon reflection, Nicky is adequately staffed for a program of psychological torment.  I forgot that in L&J-world, there are only a half-dozen people that matter, and after the wedding most of them are relatives.  He’s got his own half-dozen, so it’ll work out.

    I just realized that the natural production company for the Left Behind movies would have been Cannon Films.  They were experts at “say it, don’t show it” – the heroes would talk about how dangerous the Yakuza organization was, with tentacles reaching into every corner of the globe, but in the final confrontation it was always three guys.  Or Roger Corman – there’s a man who knows how to make a crowd scene out of four people.

  • Lonespark

    Mmmm, yeah, those lines can be blurry without hindsight…but most people don’t get to do it on national TV.

  • Lonespark

    I tend to think of him as played by…someone playing Adrian Veidt.  Which is probably fair to nobody, but that’s how my brain rolls.

  • Mau de Katt

    I just had to make this when I saw the original picture.  (Complete with a quote from the “Official Bible” of the genre, naturally.)

  • WingedBeast:

    LaHaye and Jenkins don’t believe this about their audience, they know
    this about their audience.  And, they know this because this is how many
    Christians are taught, from birth, about the roles of God, angels,
    Satan, demons, etc.  It’s how the young Methodist me as taught from a
    very early age.  God is good.  Satan is bad.

    To clarify, I should say that the reason they can assume their audience knows all the shorthand and all the lingo is that L&J are, whether they ever say so or not, purposely aiming this book series squarely at already-converted RTCs, and not, as they sometimes attempt to hand-wave, at a broader spectrum of an audience.

  • Incidentally, I’ve updated my EoA review with material that’s germane to the whole “assume your audience” thing.