NRA: One tough coroner

NRA: One tough coroner January 11, 2013

Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist; pp. 111-113

Chapter 6 begins with a quiet scene. Buck Williams relaxes after breakfast as he plans Sunday’s service at New Hope Village Church:

Buck sat bleary-eyed at the breakfast table, his ear stinging and his rib cage tender. Only he and Loretta were up. She was heading to the church office after having been assured she would not have to handle the arrangements for Bruce’s body or for the memorial service, which would be part of Sunday morning’s agenda. Verna Zee was asleep in a small bedroom in the finished basement. “It feels so good to have people in this place again,” Loretta said. “Y’all can stay as long as you need to or want to.”

Taken on its own, that’s a capable little portrait of ordinary life at Loretta’s house in the Chicago suburbs.

But coming after the previous five chapters, this scene is stark raving bonkers.

The previous chapters don’t allow any possibility for ordinary life in the Chicago suburbs. The previous chapters seemed to blow ordinary life to smithereens. Yet Jerry Jenkins carries on as though nothing has changed, catching readers up on all sorts of mundane details about the accommodations at Loretta’s house, the plans for Bruce’s funeral, and Buck’s joy over his new “deluxe universal cell phone.”

This is one of many places in this book where I had to stop reading and flip back to double-check what I’d read earlier to make sure I hadn’t imagined it all.

Isn’t World War III going on? The red horse of the apocalypse? And didn’t the Antichrist just destroy Chicago with nuclear weapons?

Flip flip flip. Hmmm. Yeah, it says that’s what happened. But like so many things in these books, it both happened and also didn’t happen. It’s as though everything we just read in the previous chapters was all a dream.

“We’re grateful,” Buck said. “Amanda may sleep till noon, but then she’ll get right on those arrangements with the coroner’s office. Chloe didn’t sleep much with that ankle cast. She’s dead to the world now, though, so I expect her to sleep a long time.”

Buck had used the dining-room table to put back in order all the pages from Bruce’s transcripts that had been strewn throughout the back of the Range Rover. He had a huge job ahead of him, checking the text and determining what would be best for reproduction and distribution. …

Jenkins’ tone is so blandly matter-of-fact that we can almost be lulled into following along. He seems to have so utterly forgotten World War III that its tempting to forget it ourselves.

But then we keep tripping over all the impossibilities Jenkins lays out in front of us. Such as Amanda making “arrangements with the coroner’s office.”

The coroner’s office is in downtown Chicago.

Downtown Chicago was just struck with multiple nuclear missiles.

PUBLIC NOTICE: Due to the nuclear assault on the city Tuesday, Wednesday’s regularly scheduled trash collection will be postponed until Thursday. All city and county offices will be open Wednesday. All city high schools will have a two-hour delay. Elementary schools will remain closed due to disintegration of all pupils 19 months ago.

It seems unlikely that the coroner’s office would be open today. Amanda might as well be trying to call the coroner’s office on Alderaan.

But OK, let’s try to get past that. We’ve been told that these nuclear missiles are some kind of special, non-radioactive weapon. Let’s interpret that to mean that these bombs are really small, such that maybe multiple such non-atomic atomic explosions in downtown Chicago left the coroner’s office intact.

So let’s just make a huge leap. Let’s just assume that the coroner was not killed in the attack, that the coroner’s downtown office was not damaged, that Bruce’s body was transported there without delay or incident despite the bombing, that the phone lines and power for the office continue to function as they did before the attack, that the coroner himself and all of his staff managed to make their way through all the debris and devastation to get to the building and that now, today — one day after the Antichrist’s military nuked the city of Chicago — the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner is open for business during regular office hours.

That’s a huge leap, but we still have problems. Bruce Barnes was killed in the first brief wave of conventional bombing, in which dozens of other people also died. That single mass-casualty incident at the hospital in Arlington Heights would be enough to completely overwhelm the coroner’s staff for weeks to come. But again, that single incident was followed just hours later by the nuclear destruction of O’Hare International Airport, and then still later by the non-radioactive nuclear attack on downtown Chicago mentioned above.

So even if we make the huge leap to say that the coroner is alive, that the coroner’s office was not destroyed, and that the office is now open for business with working electricity and phones, it still seems unlikely that anyone there would be willing or able to answer those phones. They may be a little too busy dealing with the million or more casualties in the area that have occurred since Bruce died.

That context also makes everything we’re told there about “Sunday morning’s agenda” at the church seem utterly wrong.

The events that have just occurred are not the sort of thing that one should plan to address in the upcoming Sunday service. It is, rather, the sort of thing that means you need to get your butt to the church, immediately, to start coordinating all the search-and-rescue, grief-counseling, blood donation, bandage-rolling, information sharing, vigil praying, candle-lighting, food and water distributing, etc., that anyone connected with that church will and must be doing for several days without taking any breaks for Sunday services or sleep.

It simply doesn’t occur to Buck, or to the authors, that anyone from the congregation other than Bruce might have been killed in World War III. They keep reciting that bit from Revelation 6 about the horsemen of the Apocalypse now riding forth — “And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword …” — but it seems that power was not given unto them over the fourth part of New Hope Village Church.

This is partly yet another example of the authors’ general principle that non-named characters do not matter, but I think it also has to do with some weird notion that I can’t quite grasp having to do with the city and its suburbs. The effect of the nuclear strikes on Chicago seems to have confined itself to the city limits. NHVC is in the suburbs, and therefore is unscathed — not because it’s further removed from the blast radius of the attacks, but because the suburbs, by definition, cannot be harmed by an attack on downtown.

Since New Hope is a suburban congregation, Buck is not worried that anyone from the church might have been harmed in the bombing. And I suppose the suburban people of New Hope have only suburban friends and suburban relatives. So Bruce’s is the only funeral they need to worry about. And they can let those downtown, urban churches deal with the recent unpleasantness in the city itself.

Yes, yes, you’re surely thinking, enough already about the millions of people killed or injured in the bombing. What about the really important stuff? What about the phones? What happened to all those cell phones Chloe bought just before the attacks? Were they damaged in the crash?

OK, maybe you weren’t thinking that. But Jerry Jenkins seems to think we all were, so he takes pains to reassure us:

[Buck] laid out the five deluxe universal cell phones Chloe had bought. Fortunately, they had been packed in spongy foam and had survived her accident.

Phew. Countless people are dead, but the phones are OK. Better than OK — they’re deluxe.

He had told her not to scrimp, and she certainly hadn’t. He didn’t even want to guess the total price, but these phones had everything, including the ability to take calls anywhere in the world, due to a built-in satellite chip.

After Loretta left for the church, Buck rummaged for batteries, then quickly taught himself the basics from the instruction manual and tried his first phone call.

The call is to his old friend Ken Ritz, the charter pilot we met back in the first book. He hires Ritz to fly him to Israel, because now that Bruce Barnes is dead, he needs to go pick up Tsion Ben-Bruce’s replacement.

If I were Buck, I wouldn’t buy a round-trip ticket. He should have moved to Israel 18 months ago.

Tim LaHaye’s premillennial dispensationalist “Bible prophecy” timeline is cobbled together mostly from the books of Daniel and Revelation. The two books are the same genre — they’re both apocalypses — but the PMD effort to mush them together into a single narrative doesn’t really work.

Granted, one imperial tyrant who sets himself up as God is pretty much the same as any other imperial tyrant who sets himself up as God, and Daniel and Revelation are both about life under such tyrants. But Daniel is about Israel struggling under the reign of one regional empire while Revelation is about the church struggling under the reign of a global (to them) empire. Treating these two different stories about two different communities under two different empires as all one big “prophecy” produces some strange results.

Thus we get LaHaye’s timeline, in which the Antichrist establishes a one-world government, ruling over all the world with an iron fist … except for Israel. Israel can’t be part of the Antichrist’s OWG because LaHaye’s prophecy also says that Israel has to make a peace treaty with the Antichrist. The signing of this treaty, LaHaye says, marks the beginning of the seven-year “Great Tribulation.”

LaHaye says that the Antichrist will break this treaty and betray Israel exactly half-way through those seven years, but he says until that betrayal, the treaty guarantees peace and prosperity for Israel. In other words, during the first three and a half years of the Tribulation, places like Chicago will experience the tyranny of the Antichrist along with war, pestilence, famine, locusts, etc. But for those three and a half years, Israel is sitting pretty.

War may be riding forth on his red horse, but according to LaHaye’s timeline, he can’t ride forth on Israel yet — the only sovereign nation remaining in the world has got another couple of years still left on its treaty.

Buck shouldn’t be planning a quick trip to Israel, he should move there, for at least the next two years.


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  • P J Evans

     So I hear. It’s like – was there a point to all that carrying-on in the story, buried somewhere in there?

  • Lori


    While Hell’s library will be Borges’ “Library of Babel”, a completely
    unindexed collection of every possible sequence of characters.  It’s
    loaded with everything that has ever/will ever be written, but you can’t
    find it.  

    If there’s a hell and I’m going there then I hope this is an accurate description. Browsing is damn near a sport for me, so I can think of far worse fates.

  • Splitting Image

    They certainly understood the idea, but they didn’t really have a good idea of the scale involved. Their numbers simply didn’t go up that high. They understood that the sun is bigger than the moon because the moon is obviously in front of it during an eclipse, but they had no way to tell how much further away the sun was (and hence how much bigger it is). That’s why Anaxagoras’ guess about the size of the sun was so far off.

    As for the stars, Aristotle recorded that Anaxagoras and Democritus believed that the Milky Way was made up of faint starlight (which is exactly correct), which implies that they both understood that stars looked smaller and fainter the further away they were, which also means that they understood that they would be bigger if you saw them up close.
    Aristotle himself didn’t believe it, and I don’t think he quite understood what they were getting at. Again, neither Anaxagoras nor Democritus could have really appreciated the scale involved, but it seems like they certainly understood the concept.You can find the Aristotle reference here:

  • P J Evans

     As long as we get to index it along the way…

  • Buck’s joy over his new “deluxe universal cell phone.”

    There’s an app for cell phones that makes the phone into a vibrator. It’s not very good, according to reviews, but I think we should all pitch in and get it for Jerry Jenkins. (Not really. But it’s tempting.)

  • This is like Lucius Malfoy taking the Dark Mark from Voldemort

    Lucius Malfoy had more moral sense in his pinky than Buck has ever showed. Lucius Malfoy was evil, but Buck is just… nothing.

    But wouldn’t that have been interesting? Buck has to join the Antichrist because he’s thought Nicolae was on the right side all along, so Nicolae expects it. And though Buck’s eyes have now been opened, he still sort of thinks Nicolae was sort of right about all that peace stuff… and anyway, if he doesn’t join the Antichrist, Buck’s family and friends (if he had any) will suffer. Buck would have to care about other people at all for this to work, but it would be a great way to get him close to the action while creating sympathy for him.

  • Joy is a peculiar emotion; it hurts when it’s here

    O_o. Not that I needed this to show me that C.S. Lewis and I are very, very different people, but wow. I have never been hurt one bit by joy. I have sometimes longed for it when it’s gone when I’m specifically upset by its lack, but I don’t spend my normal days longing for joy. I know it will come again, and right now I’ve got other stuff to do. Like type comments about how deeply weird C.S. Lewis was, and how annoyed I am that he apparently thought everyone else was just like him.

  •  “I don’t want either heaven or hell for steady. Wish a man could have ’em mixed in equal proportions.”

    “Isn’t that the way it is in this world?” said Valancy thoughtfully–but rather as if her thought was concerned with something else than theology.

    “No, no,” boomed Abel, striking a tremendous blow on a stubborn nail. “There’s too much hell here–entirely too much hell.”

    ~ L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle

    I’ve never heard heaven described in any way that doesn’t sound deeply boring. Perfection is static, unchanging. There’s no destruction, but there’s no creation either. No thanks.

  • Rae

    Yeah – I’d suspect that after the nukes, they’d just accept anyone’s ID in their pockets as suitable identification, and if someone wanted to claim a body they’d just be like “OK, just make sure you bury it deep enough.” 

    Which actually leads to the point that, in such chaos, they could’ve run around stealing ID’s from anyone who looked similar and was generally the right age.

  • Ken

    I have pondered what eternity would be like if we still have the capability to be bored.  It sounds more like a horror story to me.

    For example, the Library of Babel. Eternity means you have time enough to read every book in it – which by definition is every possible book – and still have all eternity ahead of you, now with nothing new to read.

    You could play every possible hand of bridge – every deal, every bidding sequence, every play of the cards – with every possible combination of the other people in heaven, and still have all eternity ahead of you.

    You could solve chess, playing through every possible sequence of chess games and determining whether the starting position is a win for white or black, or a draw.  And still have all eternity ahead of you.

    It makes look like a reasonable idea.

  • I suspect that the lack of anything new to read isn’t quite as horrible to contemplate when it has been a thousand years since the last time I reread my favorite novel. More generally, I doubt our desire for novelty is infinite.

    Even more generally, not everything worth living for is novel, even in the context of a few decades of life.

  • aunursa

    Which actually leads to the point that, in such chaos, they could’ve run around stealing ID’s from anyone who looked similar and was generally the right age.

    They do.  In the later books the Tribulation Force use a father-and-son operation who are described as masters of creating fake IDs and disguises…

    “Hey, Buck,” Z said flatly, putting his stuff away and slowly rising. “What can I do ya for?”
    “Need a new identity.”

    “Choose yer pick, he said, fanning the folders onto the couch.
    Buck sat and looked at each folder under the lamp. Z’s filing system must have seemed makeshift, but he sure knew where everything was. Each folder had vital statistics on white males approximately Buck’s size and age. “Inventory’s getting bigger,” Buck said.
    Z nodded, his eyes on the TV again. “These smokin’ horses are leavin’ bodies everywhere. You seen ’em suckers?”
    “Not yet. Sound scary.”
    “Yep. ‘Salmost too easy, though. All I got to do is get the wallets before the GC gets the body. Gives people a lot more to choose from.”

    from Book #6, Assassins

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Each ID folder represents a soul who died unsaved and is damned for all eternity. – aunnursa

    And if any of us ever doubted that nonchalant Buck is a heartless, soulless bastard…wait. If you’re soulless, can you be damned for eternity? Maybe that’s how the escape clause for Ellenjay’s RTCs really works.

  • I dunno… ever since I was a little kid, boredom has been one of the things I dread above almost anything else. When I was in the emergency room when my back went out, if I’d been given anything whatsoever to do besides lie there contemplating the pain, the experience would not have been the horror it was. I don’t need very much stimulation, but I need something. Even when I sleep, I dream all the time, and I dream to psychologically-painful excess when I haven’t written fiction in a while. I have to create, or go mad.

    But Christian heaven as I have ever seen it described is, by definition, perfection. And, by definition, perfection cannot be improved upon; and with God in charge, it certainly can’t be changed. The dead cannot create. Frankly it sounds like hell to me. 

  •  Yup, what you’ve just described — eternal stasis without the possibility of creation or change of any sort — sounds pretty awful to me, too.

  • aunursa

    Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven is heavily promoted on the Left Behind site.

    Here is Chapter 41: “Will Heaven Ever Be Boring?  An excerpt…

    On the New Earth, God will give us renewed minds and marvelously constructed bodies. We’ll be whole people, full of energy and vision. James Campbell says, “The work on the other side, whatever be its character, will be adapted to each one’s special aptitude and powers. It will be the work he can do best; the work that will give the fullest play to all that is within him.

    Because there will be continuity from the old Earth to the new, it’s possible we’ll continue some of the work we started on the old Earth. I believe we’ll pursue some of the same things we were doing, or dreamed of doing, before our death. Of course, people whose jobs depend on some aspect of our fallen world that will no longer exist on the New Earth — such as dentists (decay), police officers (crime), funeral directors (death), insurance salespeople (disability), and many others — will change their work in Heaven, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be unemployed. What’s now an interest or hobby may become their main vocation. Others, however, may continue with work similar to what they do now, whether as gardeners, engineers, builders, artists, animal trainers, musicians, scientists, craftspeople, or hundreds of  other vocations. A significant difference will be that they’ll work without the hindrances of toil, pain, corruption, and sin.

  • Chris

    While Hell’s library will be Borges’ “Library of Babel”, a completely unindexed collection of every possible sequence of characters.  It’s loaded with everything that has ever/will ever be written, but you can’t find it.

    Or worse, perfectly alphabetized.  That way, the only way to find something is to compose it.

  • Ken

     what they do now, whether as gardeners, engineers, builders, artists, animal trainers, musicians, scientists, craftspeople

    Some of those seem a little iffy.  Scientists, for example – is there a point to science when everything has to be footnoted “Barring a miracle”?  Or for that matter, when all you have to do is ask God for the answer.

    I’m also wondering about the engineers, builders, craftspeople, and maybe gardeners.  Do we have to make things in Heaven?  If we have to, then some people will have to work, won’t they? And won’t we eventually have enough of everything – without decay, houses, clothing, furniture, and cut flowers last forever.

    Do we have to eat and grow food? If so, we’re back to who does that.  And the idea that everyone will still be eating (with all that implies) but there is no decay, has its own special horrors.

    I guess the artists and musicians will still have something to do, assuming they don’t all fall into depression on hearing the angel choirs and seeing the glories of the City.  And will they be able to sing anything, or is there an approved repertoire?

    The whole thing reminds me of the afterlife of Parke Godwin’s Waiting for the Galactic Bus, or Robert Bausch’s Almighty Me. In both, there are infinite joys and glories available in Heaven, but most people can’t break the habits they learned on Earth.  So there are regions filled with little suburban houses filled with knick-knacks, and everyone goes to work every day, then comes home to sit in front of the TV for a couple of hours before going to bed.

  •  (shrug) I dunno.

    I certainly won’t argue that eternal existence can’t be boring… of course it can. I mean, our lives are ephemeral by comparison and we still get bored. Neither am I inclined to defend particular religious traditions’ accounts of Heaven, especially if it leads to nonsense like believing that our excreta never decay.

    That said, I’m not convinced that eternal existence needs to be boring. And I suspect that thinking about how eternal existence can remain interesting is more useful than thinking about ways it might be boring.

  • I give you Isaac Asimov’s The Last Answer.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

     Reminds me of the Church of the SubGenius’s vision  of post-Rupture (yeah) Earth:  Sort-of-benevolent aliens will have granted humanity near-infinite abundance and godlike technology, but since most Normals are idiots, they’ll end up using it to TORTURE themselves. 

    (Meanwhile, the paid-up Chosen of “Bob” will have boarded the Escape Saucers for a tour of the universe.)

  • GeniusLemur

     Well, The Sims is a simulated, greatly simplified ordinary life where you can load from the saved game if something goes wrong. But that hasn’t stopped millions of people from playing and enjoying it.

  • ScorpioUndone

    Flip flip flip. Hmmm. Yeah, it says that’s what happened. But
    like so many things in these books, it both happened and also didn’t
    happen. It’s as though everything we just read in the previous chapters
    was all a dream.

    What if it *is* a dream? Or at the very least, like a flash forward in ‘Lost’? It’s like, “here’s what Buck is doing now, but this will happen in a few weeks or months or whatever. Alternatively, LB-verse could be like ‘Requiem for a Dream’: as the tribulation gets increasingly crazy, everyone’s sense of time and propriety just goes downhill. Chloe will up wearing an Oscar de la Renta evening dress when she gets beheaded.

  • True, but could you play it continuously for all time?

  • Tricksterson

    Tad Williams take on Heaven is that the saved are eternally happy playing in the Elysian Fields but only because they’ve had most of their personalities and memories wiped away,  As a result Heaven comes off as better than Hell only by comparison.  Meanwhile the lower levels of angels definitely have personalities but are humans who have also had their memories wiped while their superiors use them to play Machiavellian games with both the forces of Hell and each other.  The constant refrain of “God loves you” as a greeting reminded me a lot of either “Heil Hitler” or “The Computer is your friend”

  • “Buck is deciding which parts of Bruce’s notes should be copied and distributed to the rest of the congregation.  This is a good idea, so why the hell didn’t he do that before printing off all 5,000 pages of it?”

    Because he finds it easier to read and edit on the printed page than on a screen? Some people do – I’m one of them. Any time I have a document to edit, I fire up the printer and grab a pen.