Originally posted May 31, 2010.
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Tribulation Force, pp. 226-229
Buck Willliams is deeply offended after he gets off the phone with his boss.
Stanton Bailey, the publisher, seemed to think he was more qualified than Buck to make publisher’s decisions. And Jimmy Borland, the religion editor, seemed to think he was more qualified than Buck to edit religious stories. Buck decides he’ll show them:
His goal was to tie the religious stories together so neatly that Borland would get an idea how his job should be done and Bailey would get a picture of what he needed in an executive editor.
Buck didn’t want that job any more than he had when Steve Plank left and Buck had been talked into it. But he sure hoped Bailey found someone who would make it fun to work there again.
By “someone who would make it fun to work there” Buck seems to mean “someone who would acknowledge that Buck was not just the most gifted reporter and writer on staff, but also better at everyone else’s job too.”
There’s a useful boundary or metric here — a measure for discerning between Bad Author Fantasy and Very Bad Author Fantasy. In Mary-Sue author fantasies that are merely conventionally bad, the author-surrogate character will be portrayed as the best-of-all-time at a given pursuit. In such fantasies that are Very Bad, the author-surrogate must also be shown to be the best-of-all-time at every pursuit. No other character can be shown to be better than the author-surrogate at anything.
Thus we have Buck Williams who is not only a better reporter than all the other reporters, but also a better religion editor than the religion editor, a better sports editor than the sports editor, a better photographer than any of the photographers, a better programmer than anybody in the IT department, and probably even a better administrative secretary than Marge Potter. This doesn’t mean Buck wants to take over all of their jobs all the time. He just wants them to acknowledge as they come to work every day that whatever it is they’re doing is second best, and would have been much better if it had been done properly as only Buck could have done it.
In Jenkins’ mind, this shows how awesomely awesome Buck is. He’d probably be surprised and confused to learn that it just makes his hero seem like kind of a dick. Buck comes across like the director who gives line readings and then, to make it worse, gets frustrated that his actors aren’t imitating his line readings properly, so he gets up on the stage, pushes them out of the way, and demonstrates for them the way they ought to be performing the scene. That guy. Actors hate that guy. (So do audiences. And playwrights.)
Now he was hoping all these things would break at essentially the same time. It was possible he was sitting on the direct fulfillment of centuries-old prophecies.
“Centuries” there may be a reasonable splitting of the difference. Daniel and Revelation are much older than that, but Darby’s decision that they constituted this set of “prophecies” is much younger. (Last year marked the first centennial of the Scofield Reference Bible. This would probably have been a bigger deal except that the fact that the earth is still here 100 years after it’s publication is a bit of a sore point for its readers. Celebrating 100 years of saying the Rapture might occur “this very day” would seem awkward. This is also why there was no 20th anniversary commemorative edition of Edgar Whisenant’s 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.)
Cover stories or not, these developments would have as much impact on the short remaining history of mankind as the treaty with Israel.
It’s almost compulsive, this preoccupation Buck/Jenkins has with cover stories. I’m picturing the GIRAT trying to get a piece published in The New Yorker: “Tradition, schmadition, Remnick — I only write cover stories. …”
Buck is certain that his collection of “religion beat” stories is worthy of being a cover story because they will have a big affect on “the short remaining history” of the world. It hasn’t yet occurred to him that he’s also “sitting on” — in more than one sense — an even bigger story: The remaining history of the world is short.
It seems to me that having proof the world is going to end in seven years is somewhat newsworthy. Maybe even a bigger story than who gets to fly in Air Force One.
In any case, Buck hasn’t been on the telephone for four whole paragraphs, so:
Buck called Steve Plank.
That’s our Buck. When he got off the phone with Bailey he had been angrily muttering to himself that he might as well “just accept Carpathia’s offer to manage the Chicago Tribune and be done with it” rather than continue working where his comprehensive genius was so unappreciated. But he didn’t really mean it. So now he’s calling Steve to tell him, yet again, that he doesn’t want the job but isn’t turning it down either.
“Any word yet?” Steve said. “Anything I can tell the secretary-general?”
“Is that what you call him?” Buck said, astonished. “Not even you can call him by name?”
“I choose not to. It’s a matter of respect, Buck.”
That’s a reasonable answer from Steve, but Buck — and the authors — find such a thing “astonishing.” It makes sense for Steve to call Nicolae “Mr. Secretary-General” for the same reason that everybody who works in every White House calls the president “Mr. President.” It’s a sign of respect for the office, which is to say a sign of respect for the rule of law, which is to say a reminder that power is limited and constrained. We refer to the president as “Mr. President,” in part, to remind him that he is not a king.
LaHaye and Jenkins don’t see any need for any constraint on power other than that of virtue. To them, an evil all-powerful leader like Nicolae is a Bad Thing, but a virtuous all-powerful leader would be a Good Thing. That’s not a Madisonian view. Nor is it a Pauline view (or an Augustinian or Niebuhrian view, for that matter).
A frightening indicator of how widespread this misunderstanding is right now in America is the creepy preference for the title “commander in chief” rather than “president.” This has become increasingly widespread, inexplicably, among people not in uniform who thus don’t have a commander in chief. What those people do have, it seems, is a need or a desire to be commanded. And that doesn’t bode well for a democracy.Steve continues:
“Even Hattie calls him ‘Mr. Secretary-General,’ and if I’m not mistaken, they spend almost as much time together off the job as on the job.”
“Don’t rub it in. I know well enough that I introduced them.”
“You regret it? You provided a world leader with someone he adores, and you changed Hattie’s life forever.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Buck said, realizing he was dangerously close to showing his true colors to a Carpathia confidant.
I think he’s about three steps past “dangerously close.” In the event that you ever should find yourself in Buck’s situation, living under the reign of an all-powerful global despot, may I suggest that you don’t telephone his chief lieutenant and rudely inform him that you’re not enthusiastically loyal.
“So what’s the story, Buck?”
“I’m no closer to a decision today,” Buck said. “You know where I stand.”
If you’re still undecided, then how is he supposed to know where you …? Oh, nevermind.
Buck segues from hinting about his dislike for Steve’s boss to hinting about his dislike for Steve: “I’m a journalist, Steve, not a public relations guy.” (I can’t help reading that in my best DeForest Kelley impersonation, although really that would be “Dammit, Steve, I’m a journalist, not a …”)
Steve takes this as fightin’ words and the two friends trade digs for another page or so, leading to this:
“This will be the most widely covered event in history.”
… “The U.N. signs a peace treaty with Israel and you think it’s bigger than the disappearances of billions all over the globe?”
“Well, yeah, that. Of course.”
“Well, yeah, that. Of course,” Buck mimicked.
And that’s all they have to say about that subject, quickly moving on to discuss the big news about Air Force One. Seriously. One sentence on “the disappearances of billions all over the globe” and then directly back to Air Force One.
I suppose I should be grateful for even this one-sentence mention of the Event, as callously casual and off-handed as it is. And we should give Jenkins some credit for finally correcting the “millions” underestimate he’s been using up until now (even the back cover of the book says “millions”). And it’s nice to see the GIRAT seeming to recognize for once that every other news story would seem trivial compared with the Event.
But then they’re right back to discussing the trivia in the very next paragraph, changing the subject without ever mentioning the biggest fact of all: The children.
Yes, millions of adults were also among the disappeared. Perhaps even hundreds of millions if LaHaye is in a generous mood when offering one of his wildly varying estimates of the wheat/tares ratio. But the overwhelming reality in the aftermath would be that the children are gone. All of them. Every single one.
The world has no children. This story takes place in a world without children and yet it is not the story of a world without children.
That simply doesn’t work. In a world without children, no other story can be told. Jenkins tries — he tries to tell us stories of airline promotions, of secretive diplomacy and of mistaken-identity romantic blunders, but none of those stories seems possible in a world without children. None of those stories can be reconciled with the supposed setting of a world without children.
The occasional comment from Buck or Rayford can’t make up for the fact that 99 percent of the plot, dialogue and description of this book simply forgets or ignores that the world of Tribulation Force is a world without children.
I mention this often, but I can’t say it often enough. It is a fundamental mistake that infects and destroys everything else in this book and in the whole series of books. It’s a screechingly dissonant note that drowns out every other chord. It becomes as pervasive, constant and insurmountable an obstacle for the reader as it would be a pervasive, constant and insurmountable fact for every parent, every non-parent, every survivor in the story.
It doesn’t matter who the character is or what the words might be that Jenkins has given them to say. The words are wrong. The words are out of character. The conversation shouldn’t be happening. It doesn’t matter if it’s Chaim, Hattie, Bruce, Steve, Alice, Verna, Marge, Earl, Stanton Bailey or Jimmy Borland talking. Anything they say, anything at all, other than “My God, the children — the children” is the wrong thing to say. Any other topic is the wrong topic. Any other conversation is the wrong conversation.
LaHaye & Jenkins want all of these characters to simply move on, continuing with their lives as though nothing has changed. They need characters to behave this way because the End Times check list requires it. But it is impossible and unimaginable. And that means the End Times check list is, itself, impossible and unimaginable.
So much of the rest of these books is laughably wrong in a whole host of ways, but those mistakes are all overshadowed by the absence of the absence of the children.
The main subject of Buck and Steve’s conversation here, for example, is the United Nations’ impending peace treaty with Israel — a plot development premised on a vast misunderstanding of the U.N., of peace treaties, and of Israel. Dozens of objections and questions arise. How would such a treaty be ratified? Why isn’t Russia — portrayed in these books as uncontrollably hostile toward Israel for no apparent reason — vetoing this? Whatever happened to the security council? Was the U.N. previously at war with Israel?
The Air Force One subplot offers its own array of howling errors and inaccuracies. Every chapter — nearly every page — of this book is a minefield of such mistakes, misapprehensions and misrepresentations.
But none of them can compare to the gigantic ever-present wrongness underlying and dominating everything else that happens here: This story is set in a world without children, but this is not the story of a world without children.