Monthly Archives: May 2010
Time for action, folks! Time for the threads of Paul and Shari’s tentative romance/conversion attempt, the finding of the Serpent by the Murphy’s, and the evil plot of The Seven, Talon, and the erstwhile Chuck, all to come together in an action set piece.
Things start out with a bang (ha!) as Paul’s heart skips a beat when he shows up at Preston Community Church, “…and he was not sure it was because he was about to see Shari or because he was about to choose to enter a church for the first time.” (Emphasis theirs)
Do LaHaye and Dinallo know any non-Christians at all? I mean, I know Paul is quite young, maybe twenty or so. But it seems quite impossible to me that he has lived in the U.S. for his entire life, and never chosen to enter a church. Heck, I was raised in a secular home, and went to church for weddings, christenings, community events, etc. What the heck?
Making an utterly stupid decision that serves only to make sure that Paul is Where He Needs To Be, Paul decides not to go in the open front door of the church, but instead to track down the other door (that he assumes exists) that leads directly down to the basement, “to show Shari he was sincere about helping out with the clothing sorting.”
This is dumb on two levels. First, why does Paul assume that even volunteers should not go in the open front door? Wouldn’t he then ask to be directed to the basement to help? Dumbass.
Second, Paul turns out to be completely wrong, though I’m not sure if it’s his fault or Shari’s. Because clothing sorting is not going on at this time, and it appears from subsequent events that it was never planned to happen, at least not until the end of the meeting. Shari probably should have either explained this to Paul or planned to meet him in front of the church; but either way, there wouldn’t have been a problem if Paul had gone in the open front door.
So, he goes to the closed, steel door that leads to narrow wooden stairs. His eyes need to adjust “to the gloom,” so either there is no light switch, or Paul is too stupid to turn it on. Oh, and hey, genius, maybe you should go in the open door instead of the closed one that leads down stairs into the dark. Because maybe, just maybe, the fact that it is dark is an indication that the activity that is supposed to take place in that room has not yet begun? Maybe?
Damn, but Paul is a dumbass.
So he finally finds a light switch, and turns it on, and sees the boxes ready for clothing-sorting.
“Hello, I’m here to volunteer,” he called. “Where is everybody?”
They’re not there, you stupid, whiny child. They’re upstairs, where there was an open front door to let them in.
But, of course, Paul decides against backtracking and going upstairs. Instead, he decides to explore the gloomy, deserted basement, in the tradition of thousands of stupid teenagers before him who didn’t realize they were in a horror movie.
So, Paul trips over a body.
Color me shocked.
A young man is lying dead on the floor. Paul checks for a pulse and finds none. But, again, instead of going back upstairs (perhaps this time, running), “a single thought came to him with piercing clarity. ‘Shari!’”
Okay, I get his concern. Sort of. Though there is no real reason to think that Shari is down there, instead of upstairs on the first floor of the church, with everyone else, or waiting on the lawn or the parking lot, wondering where her dumb convert-prospect could possibly be.
Still, even if he thought Shari was in danger, wouldn’t it be better to go get help? Hell, there could be twenty guys down there. With sticks. And dogs. And Paul thinks he can take these twenty guys? Dumbass.
He stumbles around like a fool, and sees…another body. “A girl. But not Shari.”
Oh. Well, then I guess it’s okay.
Just as he’s checking her pulse (it’s there, but “faint”), Chuck Nelson accosts him. The two idiots banter back and forth for an entire page. “Have you got a cell phone?” “Gee, I think I left it at home.”
Then, Chuck speaks for the entire reading audience, telling Paul that “I’m getting a little tired of your whining.” Then Chuck (or possibly Talon—it’s unclear) knocks Paul out.
I have decided that I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to the authors, and assume that they mean for Shane Barrington to be a complicated character. I will not assume they are simply screwing up and don’t know what they want Shane to be or do.
Because this chapter, in which Shane breaks the news of his son’s death to the press, is full of Shane Barrington Characterization Not That Badness.
Not that stupidity doesn’t abound…but more on that in a minute.
As Shane breaks the news of Arthur’s death (at the hands of kidnappers, anonymous “heinous criminals“), he tries to distract himself from his own memories of watching his son die.
Yet, he also wonders if he should “try to manufacture a tear.”
So, there’s Not That Badness.
There is also stupidity, as follows:
1. Shane has been given “curt instructions” from Talon as to the story he will tell. Part of this story is receiving Arthur’s “dead body, horribly mutilated,” back from the kidnappers. Seems to me that no matter how mutilated the body, an investigation and examination would reveal that Arthur did not die as Shane is relating. This seems a danagerous game for Shane/Talon/The Seven to be playing.
2. Other than making Shane’s role as International Billionaire/Media Mogul even more visible than it was before, what purpose does this stunt serve for Talon and The Seven? Why not manufacture a scenario where Arthur was killed by Evangelical Fanatics, not Faceless Criminals?
Not that we should be worried about The Seven’s priorities. They have another One-World Goverment-n-Religion Diabolical Plan: forge a connection between media tycoon Shane Barrington and Paul Wallach, a random, whiny college student.
So, as you can see, all is well with the plans for world domination…
And now it’s time for some truly disturbing ideas about Hell and college counseling.
Laura Murphy is meeting up with Shari for lunch. Shari arrives in Talon’s rental car. Chuck is driving, but Talon is sitting in the passenger seat. Perhaps it is a sign of unsaved-ness to make the woman sit in the back.
We have a moment of real emotion here, as Shari steals a hug from Laura. Admittedly, Shari is caught in a pretty lousy situation here: her fresh-from-prison brother has moved in with her indefinitely, and is hanging out with some pretty scary people (Talon gives Laura the stink eye before they speed off). Despite Chuck not even letting Shari visit him in prison, he is now taking advantage of her good nature and Shari doesn’t have the spine or the heart to throw him out.
This is some decent stuff, here.
Which, of course, is all immediately spoiled by Laura’s reminiscing about how she first counseled Shari:
She thought back to the long sessions they’d spent in her office talking about the pain Shari still felt years after her mom and dad had died in a five-car pileup on the interstate, her dad at the wheel with half a pint of Wild Turkey inside him. How she’d tried to help Shari make sense of it all. Help her work through the anger she felt toward her dad and try to reconnect with the love that had once been there. Help her find a way of giving thanks for everything her mother had been and would always be.
Hey, that’s sweet and all, but let’s backtrack to Chapter 24 and remember something Shari told us:
They had never taken us to church, so I did not know Christ personally.
Shari’s parents were unsaved. Which means that all the time Shari was crying about how angry she was at her dad and how much she missed her mom, Mom and Dad Nelson were being slow-roasted in the burning pits of Hell.
I wonder how Laura helped her make sense of that.
And then, things start getting really messed up:
Chuck had been getting into mischief from the day he could walk, and by the time he was sixteen, the neighbors were no longer taking bets on how long it would be before he found himself in jail. Throughout his troubled adolescence, he’d treated both parents with everything from sullen indifference to outright contempt—and Shari was sure her father’s drinking was his way of numbing the hurt, while her mother’s heart quietly broke behind her ever-loving smile.
So, there you have it: if you get into trouble as a kid or have a “troubled adolescence,” and your father is an alcoholic, it is all your fault.
Honestly, do LaHaye and Dinallo even realize what they’re doing here? How they’re absolving Dad Nelson from guilt for causing a five-car pileup by driving incredibly drunk? How they’re blaming a child for his father’s alcoholism?
I’m just…there are no words. This is insane.
So, as Laura and Shari chat back and forth—she’s worried about Chuck getting into trouble, Laura worries that Shari’s not getting out enough—Mom and Dad Nelson are burning in Hell.
Which they never would have been but for the antics of their mischievous toddler.
Having wasted the first half of his class whining about Dean Fallworth and peddling his religion, Murphy now turns to the actual subject of the course.
Or at least, he rattles on about his latest pet project. Does he ever plan to teach anything about archeology to this introductory class? Not right now, that’s for sure–the closest he comes to talking about archeology is saying that he is “very close to digging up”…something.
Then Murphy talks about the four portions of the statue of King Neb, each representing…
“one of the only absolute world empires: first was the Golden Head, representing Babylon; next the silver chest and arms, representing the Medo-Persian empire, which consisted of the two countries that conquered Babylon; then came the belly of brass, which represented the Greeks; and they were followed by the iron legs of the Romans.”
And this is why I think this chapter should have immediately followed Chapter 30, where Daniel explained this to King Neb–this is Murphy elaborating on the point.
Murph then quickly backpedals to promote his religion once again:
“Prophecy, which is history written in advance, is one of God’s ways of proving that He exists. For example, the fact that God twenty-five hundred years ago revealed to Nebuchadnezzar that there would be only four world empires until ‘the time of the end’ is a miracle in and of itself.
“For, as all students of history know, there have been only four world empires since the days of the Babylonian empire.”
Well…maybe not. Especially since there happen to be conflicting interpretations, even among Christians, of which four kingdoms God meant. LaHaye’s view is a common one, but another claims that the four empires are Babylon, Media, Persia, and Greece.
So much for one literal interpretation of the Bible.
Then, Murphy invites students to his office hours. Not to discuss archeology, mind you, but so he can tell them all about why “there are more Biblical reasons to believe that Christ will return to set up His Kingdom in our lifetime than in any generation before us.”
And then, and then, Murph actually does something nice, and were it not for all of the preaching and bullshitting that preceded it, it would earn this chapter a place in Actually Not That Bad. He says…
“…I’ve called in a much smarter scientist than myself to try to interpret the next clues for me…”
Isis! He’s actually giving credit to Isis!
Well. I certainly didn’t see that plot twist coming.
Then Murph rambles on about King Neb’s personal history. How he “went mad worshipping himself,” then “recovered from being crazy,” (It’s Just That Simple!) decided to worship Daniel’s God, and destroyed both the statue of himself and the Brazen Serpent. All so the evil high priest could put a secret code onto the piece of the Brazen serpent, all so Murphy can “use the Serpent to find and dig up the Golden Head of the statue of Nebuchadnezzar.”
Wow. Murphy is getting way ahead of himself. He doesn’t even have the whole Serpent yet, or know where to look for the rest of it. And he’s already planning to find the golden head? No wonder he doesn’t have any time to actually teach archeology.
Time for another Michael Murphy lecture.
Murph starts the lecture by asking the class if they are living in the best of times or the worst of times. So, okay, cool, good way to get the ball rolling. The class splits about 50/50, but for a few abstentions. Murph has a problem with those students who didn’t vote, telling them “I’m going to give the rest of you who didn’t raise your hand the benefit of the doubt that you are not unsure about whether you’re alive at all.”
Or, gee, Murph, maybe they don’t think we are living in the best or worst of times. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, you know.
One gutsy student asks what the right answer is. Murph says that he is not going to tell them, “despite Dean Fallworth’s fears,” then proceeds to…tell them. Tell them that the Bible says they are living in dark times, with darker to come awfully soon, leading up to the end of the world.
(I am continually blown away by Murphy’s lack of professionalism. Do LaHaye and Dinallo really feel that even if you have a legitimate beef with a colleague, that it is proper to continually air that grievance in front of your students?)
Here’s how Murphy introduces Biblical prophecy:
“[Millions of people] believe the end is near not because of reading the entrails of a goat they have sacrificed in their yard, nor by calling the Psychic Hotline, nor by how their bunions feel in the rain, or secret signals from little green Martians…
Right. Because those things are just silly.
…but because of this book.” Murphy held up his Bible.
Oh yeah. That makes much more sense.
“That’s right, the Bible is not just a history of what happened back in ancient times and a compilation of lessons for how we should live our lives. The Bible is also filled with many prophecies that have already come true and many more prophecies that a huge number of people believe will come true. People who are not crackpots, I dare say. People like me.”
Yeah, Dean Fallworth is totally off base when he claims that Murphy is using his class to preach. Murph is completely right to defend himself against such claims. After all, he’s not pushing his religion. He’s just dismissing other ways of thinking about the world and stating that the Bible is true as a matter of fact and predicts the future.
I think Dean Fallworth is becoming my hero.
Back to Stephanie Kovacs.
You know, the chapter order in this book makes no sense. We just stopped in for an update with King Neb, and now we’re back with the reporter?
Here’s my theory: the order of these latest chapters and the ones to come should properly be: 30, 34, 32, 31, 33.
Here’s why: Chapter 30 is King Neb learning from David about the “only four empires on earth.” Chapter 34 is Murphy explaining the details of this very prophecy to his modern-day students. Building on a theme, past and present, right?
Chapter 32 is Stephanie Kovacs interviewing Dean Fallworth, the guy who has it out for Murphy. By putting it after the chapter in which we see Murph teaching to a rapt audience, the Dean’s criticisms will be seen as even more wrong, right? (Well, not really, but that would be the hope of the authors.)
Chapters 31 and 33 detail Talon’s plan to spread terror and tarnish the reputation of the evangelical community of Preston, NC. Which will show that the threat is not (as Dean Fallworth would have it) from Michael Murphy and the other evangelicals, but from the evil conspirators out to tarnish the innocent, persecuted evangelicals.
Sadly though, we do not have the chapters in this order. So now we have to jump from King Neb to Stephanie Kovacs and Dean Fallworth.
In other words, time for some more Mary Sue-proof that Michael Murphy is the embodiment of all that is good and strong and decent, and that anyone who does not like him is eeeevil.
Stephanie first reflects on the unfortunate fact that they have not yet found Farley the Fake Fanatic, or any further evidence to tie him to the U.N. paint job. I suppose that’s what Talon gets for framing a completely innocent, nonChristian man and not making a better conspiracy out of it.
Here’s a thought: The Seven have unlimited money, power, and resources, right? So why don’t they create their very own fake evangelical Christian terrorist organization? Pay people to violently protest. Create, and take credit for, crazy writings about hastening the arrival of the End Times. Then, when you vandalize the U.N., loudly take credit for it. Make the group as real, and as real a threat, as you can. Heckuva lot better than some fake lone nut job that has no real ties to anything, like Farley.
But that’s not what the richest and most powerful covert group on the planet decided to do. So now Stephanie is interviewing “one of the most boring men on the planet,” Dean Fallworth (he of the button article), and pumping him for information on evangelical groups on campus (Fallworth finds them “energetic,” and the perpetrators of “a lot of noise”).
Then she pumps him for info on one Michael Murphy. Fallworth unhappily recounts everything we already know about Murph–that he wants to authenticate the Bible, is popular with his students (even when he insults them), and is very athletic and “gung-ho.”
Stephanie notes Fallworth’s “paunch and pasty complexion.” Because the pale and slightly overweight have no business passing judgment on anything, even when asked to do so. See how awesome Murphy is in comparison to Dean Fallworth, everyone? Surely you would never know that you should like and admire Murphy, were it not for the fact that some pasty jerk like Dean Fallworth dislikes him, right?
Chuck Nelson, Shari’s dumb brother, is having a heckuva time. He only has a few bucks, and really wants a beer and some chili.
Cause he’s a criminal.
When he is thrown out of a bar for trying to scam drinks off some college students, he accosts a stranger and tries to take his wallet. Then a cop accosts him. Then Talon accosts the cop.
Then Talon kills (or at least knocks out—it’s unclear) the cop, and accosts Chuck, whom he them takes under his wing to teach him the tricks of the terrorist trade.
So, how did Talon know that Michael Murphy’s research assistant’s brother was fresh out of prison and ripe for manipulation for the purpose of disgracing the small North Carolina town’s evangelical Christians and thus furthering The Seven’s plot of a one-world religion and the downfall of Christianity itself?
And how did Talon know where that brother would be hanging out?
Um. I dunno. This puzzle left as an exercise for the reader.
Hey everyone, remember Nebuchadnezzar? I betcha forgot he was a part of this book, eh? Well, after a mere 24 chapters, he is back, along with his newest, bestest bud in the whole widest world, Daniel.
Daniel says the king dreamed of a statue, and Neb immediately knows that Daniel Speaketh Teh Truth. Daniel explains all about the statue, made of four different materials to represent the four different empires that are the only empires that will exist until the Latter Days. Neb is pretty psyched at this point, because he gets to lead one of the empires.
So, to show his gratitude for figuring out the dream, Neb gives Daniel “gifts and incense,” and makes him ruler of the province and Chief Number One Wise Guy.
That done, we can now sit back and wait for 21 more chapters before we see Daniel again.