Monthly Archives: February 2010
And now for something completely different…
A likeable character.
Impossible in a LaHaye novel, you say? Well, in the long term, sure. And that’s what is so depressing. But for right now, I find myself liking Isis Proserpina McDonald so much that I have created a new tag for my reviews:
Actually Not That Bad
Dinallo takes his time introducing us to Isis before she even starts interacting with Murphy. She is a world-renowned philologist (language expert) who works at the fictitious private institution called the Parchments of Freedom Foundation. Why are they parchments of freedom? What is the purpose of the organization? Damned if we know, but it doesn’t really matter.
Isis is tearing apart her office, looking for a misplaced paper. It is a credit to Dinallo’s writing that this actually doesn’t read as “women are flighty and forgetful.” It is just part of Isis that she gets so wrapped up in the intricacies of long-dead languages that she forgets where she put stuff. Plus, her assistant (also female) is the one to figure out where the paper is. And then we have an actual instance of human beings treating each other nicely, as Isis thanks the assistant for her help. Awesome. Really.
And then, oh. Sigh. Because she is wearing a tweed skirt and “shapeless fisherman’s sweater,” (again, awesome), “it was easy to miss the fact that Isis Proserpina McDonald was a stunningly beautiful woman.”
Dammit, Dinallo. Dammit, dammit, dammit.
They’re setting her up to be with Murphy once Laura’s out of the picture.
Because remember, folks, it doesn’t matter if you’re the most brilliant philologist in the world, if you don’t have a big strong man to take care of you. And you don’t get to be with a big strong man like Tim LaHaye Michael Murphy if you’re not stunningly beautiful.
However, this disappointment is somewhat mitigated by the fact that when Isis was described as a petite redhead with a fiery temper, I started to picture her as a young Joanna Whalley from Willow. (I did this because I am a nerd.)
And on that note, back to the good part.
Isis flashes back to her childhood in the Scottish Highlands. Her father not only named her after two goddesses, but instilled in her a love of mythology and the ancient world. She has a collection of clay goddesses from around the world, given to her by her father, who was (of course) an eminent archeologist:
“For my own little goddess, worshipped and adored above all others,” he’d said when he’d presented her with the big, square cardboard box done up with ribbons. To her thirteen-year-old eyes, the little figures, some missing an arm or a little hand, all grooved and pocked with dirt and dust of civilizations long disappeared, were better than any Barbie doll.
Okay. Not sure about the ethics of gifting archeological finds to your kid, but you know what? I’ll go with it. It’s cool.
At the little Highland school it had been Issy or Posy, both of which she loathed. Why couldn’t she be a Mary or Kate or Janet like the other girls? In the museum, in the haven of her office, at least she was able to insist on Dr. McDonald. But with friends it was a little trickier. Which was perhaps one reason, she supposed, she really didn’t seem to have any.
Okay, Dinallo, I’m picking up what you’re putting down. I like this whole set-up: Isis partly embracing her individuality, yet simultaneously wishing that she could just be like everyone else.
It’s interesting. It’s real character-building.
And get this! When Murphy calls, she doesn’t want to talk to him!
I love Isis McDonald!
Professor Michael Murphy had seemed something of an oddball. Very concerned with Biblical prophecies. Babbling on about the Book of Daniel…
Okay, this is also kinda cool, seeing Murphy through someone else’s eyes (at least, someone who doesn’t worship him like poor little “research assistant” Shari).
And okay, I know this will be ruined. I’ve listened to the rest of the series, and the transformation of Isis is as sad as it is inevitable (as it must be: this is a LaHaye series).
But for now, I’m just going to enjoy the first likeable character this book has to offer.
And you get all the credit, Dinallo.
As for you, LaHaye: I’ve seen the portrayals of women in your other novels. So you get nothing.
Nada, zero, zilch, zip!
/Al from Quantum Leap
Go Team Isis!
Book 3 in the Babylon Rising series!
Got it today as part of a bag-o-books sale.
Thrill as Michael Murphy chases chicks and tries to find the handwriting on the wall!
I didn’t think I would be glad to get back to Michael Murphy and his harem, but geez, the serial killer and media mogul are so boring.
Murphy is about to unroll the now-hydrated papyrus scroll from the tube from the necklace of the lion. Murphy didn’t wait around for his wife before the taking the first step in the process, but apparently he’s waiting for her now.
Laura Murphy is an archeologist too, but left archeology to be the student counselor at the university. She saves the archeology stuff for living vicariously through her husband’s adventures, and writing a book on the weekends.
Laura muses about her work for a few minutes, simultaneously congratulating herself for being sympathetic, and coming across as incredibly condescending:
…while today’s young men and women seemed to find it harder than her generation had adjusting to the big, bad world, she didn’t judge them harshly.
Nor, apparently, does she judge her husband harshly, despite her self-described role as “unpaid diplomat in his frequent brushes with authority.”
You know, Laura? After awhile it’s less about being the cool lone wolf rebel who thumbs his nose at The Man, and more about being an arrogant asshat who thinks that the rules should apply to everyone except him.
Laura is described as “the university’s student counselor.” Thus, apparently, the only one. Yet she has no background in psychology, counseling, diagnostics, or social work. The woman’s an archeologist. I confess I don’t get it. Especially when…
…a formerly suicidal English major she had helped was able to get a book of her poetry published and then start her own creative writing seminars, helping others channel their inner emotional turmoil into something positive.
An archeologist. Was counseling. A young woman. Who was contemplating suicide.
And all that would be more than enough, but there is an undercurrent of something else here. An assumption that this career change is the correct and only thing for Laura to do. Not because she wanted to change careers and considered counseling her true calling or anything like that, but because it is best for a married woman to let her husband take the spotlight in their mutual field, for her to bow out and be his helpmeet and his “diplomat” and oh, if she must work, to work in a “helping” profession. The authors themselves seem somewhat torn between admiring Laura’s work, and agreeing with Laura’s father that all she’s doing is “listen[ing] to some acned teenagers ‘whining about their grades.’”
Finally over at Murphy’s lab, Laura “knocked smartly,” and walked in.
She gave his hand a squeeze, said hello to Shari, and turned her attention to the hyperbaric chamber.
Good thing Laura knocked smartly, or Shari wouldn’t have had the chance to jump off Murphy’s lap.
But I kid Murphy’s harem.
And we’re about to add to the harem…
Murphy unrolls the scroll, and is able to figure out that it’s written in Chaldean, and refers somehow to the Brazen Serpent.
Here’s the Wiki article on the Brazen Serpent. To make a medium-length story short, God was a jerk and sent snakes to bite the Israelites, because they had the audacity to complain that they had no food or water. So Moses complained to God, and God told Moses to make a bronze snake, and looking at the snake cured the snakebites.
But when Murphy cannot quite get the rest of the scroll’s message, he knows someone who can:
“I know someone who practically speaks Chaldean in her sleep.”
Laura folded her arms and gave him a stern look.
“Not,” he added quickly, “that I know from personal experience. In fact, I’ve never even met her.”
“Relax, Murphy, I know you love only me—and anything that’s been lying in the ground for two thousand years.”
Second, I wouldn’t feel so secure if I were you, Laura.
And third, the woman’s name is Isis Proserpina McDonald.
In the next chapter, we will meet Isis. And frankly, you might just be surprised. I know I was.
Media mogul, multi-millionaire, and employee of The Seven (they’ll stop at nothing!) Shane Barrington is standing on the balcony of his penthouse, surveying his kingdom and stuff, when a falcon flies by with a message for him. The bird, of course, is under the direction of the evil Talon, and this bird is amazing.
First, he flies over to Shane’s balcony with binoculars clutched in his claws. Then he waits until Shane “registers” the fact that the bird is carrying binoculars, before dropping them. Then, on his flight back, he unfurls a banner from its claws (the same claws, presumably, that he was using to hold the binoculars). The banner is, of course, perfectly visible to Shane, and says, “Endicott Arms, 14th Floor, 12 Minutes.”
(Okay, what I know about falconry can fit comfortably into the head of a pin. But…this sure doesn’t seem like it should work. But if anyone knows differently, please let me know.)
So Shane, at this point merely “curious,” picks up the binoculars and checks out the window of the Endicott Arms apartment building, which is just “diagonal” from his own. And in the window, he sees Talon holding a knife to his son’s throat.
Shane understandably dashes from his penthouse suite over to the apartment building.
What is not so understandable is that he doesn’t call the police.
When Shane gets to the apartment, he finds that in the few moments it took him to get there, Talon has removed Arthur from the window, laid him out on a bed, and hooked up the now-unconscious young man to a breathing mask connected to “a rather complicated machine that was lit up and beeping.”
Yeah, medical equipment sure is complicated, eh, LaHaye? And probably controlled by demons, too.
Shane: Who are you and what are you doing with Arthur?
Talon: I am the man the Seven told you would be contacting you, Mr. Barrington. I don’t believe they mentioned my name, however. I go by many different identities, as my work requires, but you can call me what the Seven call me: Talon.
Shane: Talon? What kind of name is that, a first name or a last name?
Um, Shane? Buddy? Not sure that’s the hot issue right now.
Talon explains that the Seven are giving Shane a test: the test is to make sure he will do anything they ask, even if it seems insane. So here’s the test: let Talon kill Arthur, or Talon will kill both Shane and Arthur.
Boy, Talon sure is making a lot of assumptions, isn’t he? Good thing Shane doesn’t have a gun, otherwise he could shoot Talon and free Arthur (Talon is armed only with his razor-finger-thing). Good thing Shane didn’t call the police on his cell on the way across the street, telling them that a madman was holding the son of a ba-zillionaire media tycoon hostage. Good thing that Shane is apparently such a wuss that Talon merely grabbing his arm stops him “instantly.”
And by the way, how the heck did Talon manage to snatch Arthur and get him into a strange apartment building without anyone noticing? And when and how did he manage to get all the medical equipment up there, again without anyone noticing?
But, I guess Talon’s assumptions were correct, since Shane just stands there and lets his only child die.
And boy, there was room for some interesting stuff here. Would this literal life-and-death situation raise conflicted emotions in Shane? Would he regret the time he spent away from his son, and his more recent ill-treatment of him? Would he, in fact, prove himself the cold-hearted villain by not really giving a damn? Well, neither really. In fact, the whole exercise is more an excuse for Talon to pontificate than anything else.
His only child dead, Shane wanders back to his own apartment. What is he feeling and thinking right now? Damned if we know…so I suppose it’s not really important. We don’t even get so much as an, “I love my dead gay son!”
Holy crap…for a chapter about a ruthless killer letting someone slowly die while his parent is forced to watch, this chapter sure was boring and stupid.
Next in our Teenage Crusade movie series: Teenage Testament.
I briefly mentioned Teenage Testament when I visited Teenage Christmas over the holidays. Like Teenage Christmas, Teenage Testament answers a vital question facing every teenager, to wit: Is it okay to proselytize when you’re working at your aunt’s business, even when it drives away the customers, and even when the income from the business is supporting you and your sick mother?
The answer, unsurprisingly, is: Yes.
Two teenage boys are working in Gertie’s Malt Shop. A significant close-up of the radio reveals that the lame elevator music is not the soundtrack—the characters can hear it too.
The two boys are Roy and Chuck. Exposition reveals that Roy is staying with his aunt, Gertie, and his cousin, Chuck, while his mother is in the hospital. Gertie is delighted that Roy is “really pulling his oar” in the malt shop, though Chuck laments that Roy can’t stop “putting his oar where it doesn’t belong.” (Saaaaaay…)
Nah, all he means is that Roy just can’t seem to stop proselytizing to the customers.
In fact, while his aunt and cousin are expositioning, Roy is busy proselytizing right now, to one of the regulars—cab driver Josh, who is suffering from an ulcer. Josh is cranky about it, but in a sort of lovably curmudgeonly way. Though Josh does not ask for help in any way whatsoever, Roy feels obliged to tell Josh about a friend of his, who got rid of an ulcer by “getting on the right diet, the right food for his body and the right food for his soul.” Wow, subtlety is really Roy’s strength, isn’t it?
Josh immediately says that he doesn’t want a sermon, but Roy just can’t STFU, and tells Josh that his problem is that he’s “mad at the world.” First, it’s always nice (not to mention winsome) to tell someone “what your problem is.” Second, cool that Roy managed to get a medical degree at the tender age of sixteen, eh?
Gertie rushes out to break up the conversation and send the boys off to school. As they leave, Josh is actually incredibly nice about the whole thing, and basically apologizes to Gertie for “being hard” on Roy. Because telling someone that his proselytizing is not welcome is being hard on him. However, at least Josh has enough spine to say that Roy should knock it off and stop alienating customers, given all that Gertie is doing for him. Turns out Gert isn’t just taking care of Roy, she’s paying all of Roy’s mother’s medical bills. Josh also informs Gertie that a new malt shop may be opening only a block away, and that Roy’s preaching is going to drive the customers right to the competition.
At school, the persecution starts against poor Roy before he even walks in the door, as a couple of “wise guys” ask Roy to pray for good grades for them. Wow, it’s really just like Jesus, isn’t it? And Roy takes it so stoically, too (“There are always people who think being a Christian is a joke.”), though Chuck warns him that he brings such comments on himself because he doesn’t “act normal.”
After school (wow, that was a quick day!) Roy is working alone in the malt shop, and young Marian all but jumps him as they rejoice about the awesomeness of their youth group.
Local barber Ed shows up. Ed’s character bit is that he has a sick wife. Unlike mean ole Josh, however, Ed has taken Roy’s proselytizing to heart, and is planning to read the Bible and meet Roy’s pastor. He asks Roy’s help to find a verse, but Gert overhears and later gives Roy a talking-to.
“But Ed was asking for help!” Roy whines.
“Maybe. But Josh wasn’t.” Gert points out.
It’s well worth pointing out that Gert is entirely correct here, but Roy plaintively whines that he didn’t think he was “really bothering Josh.” I guess Roy is so used to people’s complaints that he literally doesn’t hear them—words like “lay off” and “I don’t want a sermon” don’t really mean that the listener wants Roy to lay off and stop sermonizing. Brat.
And no, he still won’t shut up, listen to his aunt, and let the issue drop.
Roy: Aunt Gertie, if a guy came in broke and hungry, wouldn’t you feed him?
Gertie: That’s entirely different.
Roy: *long significant pause, leans back, eyes Gert condescendingly* Is it?
I have to say, Gert is extraordinarily patient with Roy, pointing out again and again and again that he should just please listen to her, since it’s her damn business, thank you very much, and she has an obligation to do something when loyal customers like Josh complain about service.
The next day, Roy finds a new ear to whine to—the ever hopeful Marian. Marian (and I know you’ll be shocked at this) is firmly on Roy’s side, pointing out that, as Christians, “Aren’t we supposed to witness whenever we can?” Yup, even if it drives business away from the person and place that are supporting your sick mother. Asshat.
And then, Roy goes home to proselytize—to Gertie! Gertie is worried about the new malt shop, and Roy tells her that “I know the Lord would help you and Chuck…if you’d only let him.” Yeah, it’s your own dumb fault, stupid woman who’s taken me in and is paying for my mother’s medical care!
Ah, the fifties. Josh’s ulcer is still bothering him, and “the sooner they drop the bomb, the better.” Ha!
Roy starts to give Josh an actual apology (!) which Josh takes with a laid back fugedditaboutit. Now, the smart thing to do here would be to let the whole issue drop, but as we’ve learned by now, nothing can stop Roy’s mouth once he’s started. “I wasn’t preaching,” he whines at Josh, “but man can’t live by bread alone.”
Josh: “I’ll eat what I want, see?”
Okay, Josh rocks.
So once again, Gert has to yank Roy out of the malt shop and give him a talking-to. (She’s actually starting to get pissed now. And good for her.)
“I didn’t mean to upset him!” whines Roy.
Gert is about as sick of Roy’s antics as I am by now, and she actually lays down the law: no more religious talk to anyone while he’s working.
Roy once again finds Marian to whine at her. (I’d say they’re trying to pad out the film, but the film is only 29 freakin’ minutes long anyway!)
“You’re sure in a spot,” Marian commiserates.
“I just don’t know the answer…I can’t change the way I feel,” whines Roy.
Hmmm…this is a difficult problem. Let’s see, on one hand, you proselytize to people who don’t want to hear it, thus alienating them and driving business away from your aunt’s shop, the income of which provides the only means of support not only for your aunt and your cousin, but also for you and your sick mother. On the other hand, if you don’t proselytize while you’re working, you…um…feel bad?
Surely, this is a puzzle for the ages.
Roy prays about it, asking God to help him “know what to do.”
God: ROY, JUST STFU! YOU’RE A WHINY BRAT AND VERY DISRESPECTFUL TO YOUR AUNT, WHO’S BEEN SO GOOD TO YOU! ALSO, YOU’RE A DIMWIT IF YOU DON’T REALIZE THAT THE BRUNETTE CHICK WANTS TO RIP YOUR CLOTHES OFF!
Okay, that part didn’t happen. Still, it would be cool if it had…
Later, Ed the barber shows up. His wife isn’t any better, but he talked with the pastor, and thanks Roy for his “help.” Roy, trying to be obedient to his aunt (bit late to the party on that one, bud), rudely brushes off the thanks and runs away like a toddler. Brat.
Ah, but that’s not what this is really about, is it? See, Roy is right and Gertie is wrong! The proselytizing is helping people! Fuck Josh and his ulcer!
The next day, the malt shop is hopping! But there’s trouble afoot—the two guys who were persecuting Roy about his faith at school are there…to persecute him again! They ask Roy to bless their malts (okay, I admit it—I snickered), and then snatch his New Testament from his breast pocket! They sarcastically ask him to preach, but then calmly sit to listen when Roy (shockingly) jumps at the chance. Yeah, boy, that’ll sure teach him—letting him take the floor.
Roy whines out a little speech:
I suppose you think it’s pretty funny, my carrying my Testament around with me.
This book has the only answers as to why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to do with our lives.
Methinks Roy is just a tad unfamiliar with the world’s other religious texts.
That book says, “These things are written that you might believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life through his name.”
Quick proselytizing tip for Roy: quoting the Bible doesn’t mean a lot to people who don’t actually think it’s an authoritative source.
And Roy petulantly stalks out of the malt shop, never to be heard from again.
Hours later, Roy has not yet returned, and thus succeeded in worrying his aunt and cousin out of their minds. Gertie takes it as her own fault, because she “sounded off.” Yeah, Gertie, how dare you run your own business the way you want to! Bitch.
They’re just about to organize a search party when Roy wanders in, with no apology for worrying anyone. What a nice, considerate guy Our Hero is, eh? Roy has decided to martyr himself and leave his aunt’s home (Really, pal? And where do you think you’re going to go?). But Gertie has other ideas: “Chuck and I are the ones who should change!” See, Roy’s magical proselytizing has worked!
The Finale: Roy and Chuck are giving the malt shop a fresh coat of paint, while Gertie plays hymns on the radio. Josh walks in and comments that he’s not there for hymns and sermons, but for food. “Well, you old coot, from now on you’re going to get food for your soul!” declares Gertie.
Nice job #1, Roy: You’ve managed to turn your sweet, patient aunt into someone as obnoxious as you are.
And Nice Job #2, Roy and Gert: I’m sure Josh won’t take his business to the new malt shop. Or express his opinion on the merits of each malt shop when the customers of his cab ask for his recommendation.
So I guess that’s today’s fun lesson, kids: Preach at the customers, whether they want to hear it or not, until you have successfully driven them all to the competition! Because if you don’t, you make Baby Jesus cry.