Monthly Archives: August 2010

Babylon Rising, Chapter 59

In order to drag out the suspense (like we’re really wondering if Murphy is really MORTALLY WOUNDED), we switch gears and cut to Shane Barrington’s office, at night, where he is putting the moves on ace reporter Stephanie Kovacs.

The authors take pains to let us know that although Stephanie is still beautiful and confident, her eyes were now the eyes of someone who’d sold her soul, and she looked like someone who’s already lost the most important thing she has.

This makes no sense.  Sure, Shane sent her on a mission to uncover nefarious dealings of evangelical Christians, but why should this bother her more than any of the other assignments she’s gone on for the nefarious Barrington Communications in her career?  She’s not a Christian, and, more importantly, she has no reason to think that there is some vast global conspiracy behind it all (even though, of course, there is). 

All she says is that she’s sorry the church bombing story didn’t pan out, because the FBI has gone “all cautious.”

You know what would be a cooler story?  If Stephanie was a Christian, perhaps even one “in name only,” who had lapsed but still believed, deep down.  She takes the assignment from Shane, both because she must, for the sake of her job, and because she is trying to prove to herself that she can be unbiased, even when it comes to her Christian roots.  Maybe she also becomes romantically involved with Shane (as she does here), but comes to soul-search and eventually regret her decision over the course of the series…

Anyway.

Shane brings out the champagne, toasts the future with Stephanie, and offers her real power.”  She accepts, and actually does it in a pretty cool way:

She walked over to him and together they looked down over the city.  After a while an image from her recent bout of Bible study came into her mind.  Satan and Jesus on the mountaintop.  Hadn’t he offered Him the kingdoms of the world if He would just bow down and worship him?

She leaned her head on Barrington’s shoulder.  Well, she was smarter than that.  Mr. Barrington…Shane…wouldn’t even have to ask her twice.

Now, I would kinda like to see this scene from Shane’s point of view, because Shane the Interesting Character (as opposed to Shane the Cardboard Cutout Villain) keeps trying to poke his head out.

Hmm…meta-Steph and meta-Shane, anyone?

New movies…and a vote!

In the continuing Adventures of Ruby at Used Book Sales: I now have these new movies to add to my growing collection of Christian films:

The Second Coming of Christ (Featuring Dr. Tim LaHaye!)–part of Jerry Falwell Ministries’ Biblical Journeys Video Library.  One Dr. Ed Hindson goes through the Book of Revelation, then LaHaye does a two-part section on the second coming.

Bibleman Jr., Volume #4: God’s Beautiful World

Bibleman Jr., Volume #3: God Loves to Laugh.

(I knew of the existence of the Bibleman videos, which look like a Bible-toting superhero, but these Bibleman Jr. videos kinda look like Barney the Dinosaur Does Sunday School.)

All of which leads me to an idea–it’s been some time since my last movie review, and I think I will ask my loyal readers (all three of you 😉 ) to vote on the movie.

Here are your choices. 

1.  My new Bibleman Jr. videos (if it matters, these are VHS, which means no screenshots)

2.  Second Glance (an It’s A Wonderful Life rip-off by the Christiano Brothers, who brought us The Pretender)

3. Another venture into vintage Christian Youth films with Teenage Witness, in which clean-cut Terry evangelizes to poor unchurched Rod, who would go on to play Major Don West on Lost in Space.

Vote in the comments!

Babylon Rising, Chapter 58

We cut forward a minute or two, and know that Murphy and Isis have a plan.  We don’t know what that plan is, but they have it.

Murphy grips Isis by the shoulders, “almost shaking her,” to make sure she is ready.  He’s a Manly Man, that Murph.

Isis stays put at the entrance while Murphy crawls into the room.

He blamed himself for leaving his competition bow back at the hotel.  Who knew he’d find himself interrupting a human sacrifice in a medieval sewer, but by now he should have learned to expect the unexpected.

Okay, I hate to belabor this point, but there’s not too much chance that a competition bow would help one guy win against three guys with long knives.  Especially since it has been established that Murphy is a target-shooter, and rarely even hunts.  I also question whether Murphy would be able to shoot anyone with his bow, given the moral/psychological implications.  Heck, I played a contact sport, too, but I have no illusions that my training would enable me to kill someone.  Even in a medieval sewer.

Moreover, Murph was in the Army.  Shouldn’t he be wishing for a gun, not a bow?

To Murphy’s credit (at least for the moment) the thought of the girl gives him the courage to keep going.  Of course, he then negates that by wondering if Isis would be able to follow through. … having been catapulted out of her academic cocoon, he was afraid she was on the edge of a total emotional collapse.

Murphy pauses to ruminate upon the plan (we still don’t really know what it is), and just as he seems to be considering moving the timetable forward without telling Isis, Isis has her Awesome Moment of Awesomeness:

Framed in the hole in the tunnel wall where he had last seen Isis, a ghastly apparition now appeared, as if the heathen chanting had summoned up a demoness.  Lit from below by the flashlight, her corpse-white face seemed to be emitting an unnatural glow of its own as it floated unsupported in the darkness.

As he’d hoped, the three men were now on their feet, gesturing toward Isis in horrified silence.  They didn’t seem to notice as he stumbled past them and toward the pole and the glowing Serpent, but who knew how long they’d buy Isis’s circus act?

Okay, so Murphy gets points deducted for thinking of the Serpent before the girl, but the points are reinstated when he attends to the girl first…sorta.

He shakes the little girl awake (she is not restrained, just unconscious), then immediately turns his attention to the Serpent.  He just leaves her there.  I guess rousing her was enough, eh, Murph?

He reached up and with trembling fingers began untying the hemp cords securing the bronze segment to the pole.  Murphy held it in his hands and marveled at the weight of it, which seemed to perfectly match the feel of the tail.

Um, Murph?  Little girl lying on the slab there?  Human sacrifice?  Oh, and your colleague acting as a distraction?  WAKE UP, ASSHAT!

Fortunately, the girl’s self-preservation instincts are stronger than Murphy’s empathy or common sense.  The kid makes a break for it, distracting the men from Isis, but then their attention is re-distracted by Murphy holding the Serpent.

Well, that’s what you get, Murph.

They advanced on Murphy, grunting with rage, knife blades raised…

Murphy was out of ideas.

So, what do we do if the knife-wielding Serpent-worshippers see you?

I dunno.

DO YOU HAVE A PLAN OR NOT, IDIOT??

So, Murph stands there like a doofus, preparing himself to see Laura again, hoping Isis will run away, and then…

And then…

ISIS SAVES THE DAY!!!!

Yeah, you knew it was bound to happen:

He was shaken out of his reverie as the chanting started again.  But it was different now.  Higher-pitched.  A woman’s voice.  He looked over the shoulders of his attackers and realized it was Isis.  She was pointing an imperious hand in his direction and pouring out a stream of gibberish in a strangely commanding voice.  At least it souded like gibberish to him.  The three men had stopped in their tracks and were looking back in her direction, mouths gaping, as if they couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

Murph tries to run away, but doesn’t give himself enough space and is stabbed in his side.  So Isis saves his ass again, revving it up now, barking furiously and waving her thin arms in wide circles.

The men have fallen to the ground in fear, and Murphy and Isis make their getaway.

Okay, this is the coolest thing ever.  Check it out: Isis figured out the language the men were chanting, “A dialect of Terammasic.  Dead for a thousand years supposedly.” 

Isis learned the language at university.  For fun.  She thought someone ought to keep it alive.

You know, there is no second-place for the prize of Best Character Ever in a LaHaye Novel.  There is only Isis Proserpina McDonald.

Oh, and Isis made the men leave Murphy alone by informing them that she was their creation goddess, and that he was her “familiar dog-spirit.”

Oh, Isis.  You are just too good for him.

As they leave the sewers, Isis brings up the little girl.  (Oh yeah!  Her!)

Murph doesn’t really give a crap: “It looks like she made it out.  This is a bit of the dress she was wearing that was caught on a jagged edge of the handholds.”

Meh, yanno, the child is probably safe.

Okay, so the little girl, not older than ten, navigated the sewers and climbed up the one hundred foot hole by herself, after being kidnapped as a sacrifice.  That is fortunate for Murphy, I guess.  Glad he made it all the way out without sparing a single thought for the well-being of the kidnapped child.

But then Murphy faints from his wound.

This we should care about.  Not the innocent little girl who pretty much saved her own ass from being a human sacrifice.

Gee, I really wonder if Murphy will be okay.  I do.

Babylon Rising, Chapter 57

Okay, everyone, here we go on the mysterious trip into the sewers!  Danger lurks around every turn!

Actually, it sorta does.  What to do about that danger is, of course, the question of the day.

Murphy and Isis venture into the ancient sewers beneath the fictional town in Saudi Arabia.  Murphy yanks open a stone slab “door” with his bare hands, because that is just the kind of rugged, manly man that he is. 

This feat will become rather less impressive as the story unfolds.

He and Isis climb down a hole that “wasn’t quite a hundred feet” deep, using the little ceramic handholds that are still intact on the walls.  Which I guess is pretty cool.  After all, Serenity has more than a few ceramic parts in her.

Murphy and Isis actually work together pretty well for about a page, as they figure out which way they want to go.  Though I’m not sure why they couldn’t have sprung for two flashlights, instead of Murphy holding the only one they have and leading the way, leaving Isis free to bump into him every time he stops.  It’s additionally troubling because Isis is the one holding the map.

But then, they find footprints!  Lots of them.  Isis has some hesitation about following the tracks, but Murph actually makes a decent point that they are one of the few leads they have right now. 

(And here is where Murphy seems a bit less like a manly-man when it comes to the stone slab door.  If these sewers are full of so many people, it would appear the slab is moved pretty frequently, instead of having stayed in place for “several centuries,” as Murphy originally assumes.)

Like a girly-girl, Isis clutches Murphy’s arm at this point, which seems particularly unwise since they are currently wandering around underground, in the dark, with but one flashlight to guide them.

They hear chanting.  Murphy doesn’t recognize the language, but Isis almost does.  As they move forward, Isis has a nice little moment, as she comes to terms with the fact that she does not expect to survive:

Had she locked her filing cabinet, the one in which she kept her private diary?  Had she remembered to return her copy of Gilroy’s commentary on the Epic of Gilgamesh to Professor Hitashi?  Had she removed all the moustraps Fiona had insisted on putting down in her office?

They stumble upon a secret chamber.  It’s a secret chamber with secret rituals that is exactly as you would expect a secret chamber with secret rituals to be.  Skulls lit up with candles (no, I’m serious), shirtless men with knives chanting and swaying, a little girl as a sacrifice.

Isis gasped as she saw the long butcher’s knife each clutched in his lap, and Murphy clapped a hand over her mouth.

She took a deep breath and he slowly took his hand away, then pointed beyond the skulls.

On the end of a pole stuck in the dirt was a thick S-shape of gleaming metal.

The middle section of the Brazen Serpent!

The italics and exclamation point are in the original.  Not my additions.  That is what gets Murphy’s attention.  That is what is most important to him and to the authors.  Not the little girl, but the piece of bronze.  Okay, I know it’s why they came in the first place, but you would think a child in danger might take precedence, at least for the time being.

Murphy pulls Isis back into the tunnel.

Babylon Rising, Chapter 56

Talon has been summoned to see The Seven.  He is escorted into the main scary chamber by a blind footman.  Between the blind footman and the tongueless driver The Seven employ, it says either that they somehow incapacitate anyone unfortunate enough to work for them, so that the workers may never identify The Seven…or that they make a point to hire the disabled.

Talon immediately knows that Something Is Different, because he is allowed to see The Seven’s faces for the first time.  So he figures he has either earned their complete trust, or is about to be killed.

(Nice little line here, underlining Talon’s psychosis, as he wonders (in a very detached way) how he will be killed.  He suspected it would be efficient but also a little theatrical. … Could it be he was about to be flayed alive like St. Bartholomew, or broken on a spiked wheel like St. Catherine?  In fact, in a curious way, he almost looked forward to it.)

But, turns out Talon has gained their complete trust, and has proved himself most efficient and reliable.  Indispensable, even.

I must say that it is quite generous of them to forgive Talon for screwing the pooch by killing Laura.  But then, since Murphy is currently in Saudi Arabia with his replacement hot babe with expertise in ancient cultures, I suppose they figure no harm, no foul.

Talon turns over the tail of the Brazen Serpent to The Seven.  Then we get a sort of LaHaye Callback Moment:

Slowly Sir William Merton reached forward and pulled the foot-long piece of bronze from the bag.  As he held it to the light, Talon could see his plump hand was shaking.  Then a curious thing happened.  The air seemed to thicken, there was an audible crackle of electricity, and Merton’s hand steadied.  It must have been a trick of the light, Talon thought, but his eyes seemed to change color, from gray to a deep midnight blue.  And when he spoke, the English accent was gone, replaced by something deeper and harder to place.

“Soon you shall again be one.  As it was in the first days.  And sacrifice shall be yours once more.”  Then he closed his eyes and let out a long breath, and he seemed to deflate, becoming physically smaller.  When he opened his eyes, he looked once again like a portly English cleric.

Man, this sounds just like what happens in The Mark (Book #8 of the Left Behind series), when Leon Fortunato stands up, and, as if in a weird religious trance, spouts off a paraphrase of Revelation 13. 

As well, it certainly shows that LaHaye really does believe that the Serpent has magical powers.  It just strikes me as odd that RTCs believe in Really Real Magic and Spells That Work, but I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.  I’ve read Jack Chick.

The Seven lay out their plan (as such) that is pretty obvious anyway, that they wait until Murphy has both of the other pieces, then they grab them.  (Duh.) 

Merton (I keep wanting to call him Metron, like he’s a giant robot or something) confirms what we already knew, that he is indeed that cleric who was friends with Isis’s dad, saying with a leer, “Dr. McDonald and I might have an opportunity to reminisce a little.”

Yeah, Isis could totally kick his ass.  With her brain.

The Secret on Ararat: I Haz It

Ah, more of Ruby’s Adventures at Used Book Sales!

A lovely hardcover of Michael Murphy’s quest to find Noah’s Ark, aided (sorta) by Stepfordized Isis McDonald.  😦

Babylon Rising, Chapter 55

A plane travel chapter!  In a LaHaye novel!

Ah, but this is Greg Dinallo writing, so we are spared the step-by-step logistics of getting to the airport, checking in, hearing all about the plane, etc.

In fact, we skip right past the entire first leg of the trip:

The first leg of the flight had taken them from Washington to London Heathrow, where the plane was refueled and the crew was changed.

Wow.  Well, fine, then, Mr. Dinallo.  Just skip telling us about manly pilots and fully-loaded aircraft.  See if I care.  *sniff*

Now, I can’t decide if what happens next is a continuity error, or just a very weird attempt at charaterization.

Murphy and Isis are both carrying special carry-ons around the airport.  Isis has “a voluminus leather briefcase stuffed with books–rare first editions she simply couldn’t bear to check.”

Murphy has his “competition bow in its impact-resistant case.”

*snicker*

Sorry, I just…

Okay, this is a new level of arrogant delusion, even for Murphy.  Seriously, dude?  Seriously?  You’re bringing your competition bow to the Middle East to fight potential murderers?  Ummm, whatever you want, I guess.  *back away slowly*

Now, both of these character bits are weird for different reasons.  For one thing, I happen to know for a fact that even in pre-9/11 days (and this book was published in 2003), you were damn well not allowed to carry any weapons onto a plane, and that included competition weapons.  Murphy would have had to check it.

So, I went back to double-check, and turns out that they are flying on a private plane provided by the PFF.  (I couldn’t remember if it was the PFF’s actual plane, or if they had simply offered to pay for commercial tickets.) 

So, maybe the rules are different on a private plane.  Maybe Murph could indeed carry on his bow. 

But, then, if it’s a private plane, why was Isis concerned about checking her books?  (Especially as she has been established as having complete trust in PFF planes and security.)

Heck, if it was a private plane, why was Murphy concerned about checking the bow?

Gah…not…sense…making.

In fact, the silliness of wanting to bring the bow in the first place, combined with the obsession with how secure checked items would be on a private plane, is what prevents this chapter from being Actually Not That Bad.  Because there are a few nice moments of characterization here:

While they waited for their plane to refuel, [Murphy] paced Heathrow’s cavernous corridors and malls in silence, like a man trying out a new pair of shoes.  He wasn’t thinking about anything.  He was just getting used to his new life, his new existence: the one without Laura.

I like this.  Heck of a lot more subtle and show-don’t-tell than the Left Behind books ever get.

Then, Isis reads a book called Lesser Chaldean Apocrypha that she inherited from her father.  She thinks about how her father came to own the book himself, and it’s actually an interesting story.  The senior McDonald struck up a friendship with a young vicar in England, the two men bonding over their shared interest in ancient gods, a friendship they continued by correspondence.

But after a few months, her father had stopped replying to Merton’s letters, and it was clear to the adolescent Isis that something had deeply disturbed him.

Oooo, spooky.  But cool.  seriously.  This is a cool character bit.

She never discovered what it was.  But now, as she slowly turned the pages of Lesser Chaldean Apocrypha, she remembered that this was the very volume her father had been clutching when they found him.

Wha-huh?  Okay, 1) it is still odd to me that there was no hint in the first half of the book that Daddy McDonald was murdered, and now there is, and 2) how could you forget which book your murdered father was clutching when he was found?

Anyway, they finally get to Tar-Qasir, and Isis once again demonstrates her awesomeness–while Murphy is sleeping (again, since he slept the entire Washington-to-London leg), Isis does some research, and determines that the ancient sewers would be the best place to find anything that was buried in the past.

Now that Murphy is awake, she suggests they go to the local library to find out as much about the sewers as they can.

Murphy sighed.  A library.  Of course.  Where else would Isis suggest they go?

Yeah, Murph, surely libraries never come in handy for archeologists, right?  Ya stupid squarehead.

Murphy then compounds the asshattishness by being bitter about the fact that Isis has easily acclimated to the climate change:

Maybe being an ice maiden does have certain advantages, Murphy thought.

Oh, you sonova–what is your problem with women, Murph?  I want to know.  What is it that upsets you?  Is it that Isis didn’t throw herself into your married arms the moment she met you?  Is it that she’s smarter and more competent and better at her job than you are?

Oh, and speaking of which, Murphy, just who is teaching your class right now, hmmm?

While Murphy sits around at the library and does absolutely nothing, Isis charms the librarian with a bribe/donation to the library, in exchange for which the librarian produces a rare and priceless first edition history of the city, with illustrations of the sewers.

Can you imagine any female character in the Left Behind series doing this??? 

Isis, you are truly in a class by yourself.

Babylon Rising, Chapter 54

There has been some talk in the comments about how good (or bad) of a contract killer Talon is, and how much (or little) he uses his namesake-razor-finger-thing to actually kill people.  And so, I have made this handy list of Talon’s kills so far:

Talon’s murders so far:

1) Farley the window washer: Talon actually does slash his throat with his namesake-razor-finger-thing

2) Impliedly-Gay Arthur Barrington: suffocated by medical equipment (or something)

3) The cop who is trying to arrest Chuck Nelson: possibly not a kill, just a knockout…bashed with a two-by-four

4-7) Young Woman in Basement, Young Man in Basement, Jenny, and Some Unnamed Character on the First Floor of the Church: killed by the bomb

8 ) Chuck Nelson: actually slashed with namesake-razor-finger-thing 

9) Laura Murphy: strangled

And now, on to Murders 10 and 11!

Talon is breaking into the Parchments of Freedom Foundation, as Murphy and Isis are flying off to Saudi Arabia.  For people supposedly as powerful and rich as The Seven, the scheme of sending Talon to steal the tail of the Brazen Serpent seems ill-conceived on at least two fronts:

1) Isn’t the whole idea for Murphy to find all the pieces for them?  Didn’t they specifically order Talon not to “distract” Murphy?  So why not wait until he has all three pieces, then steal them?  Why risk “distracting” Murphy with the theft, when they want his energies to be concentrated on finding the other pieces?

2) Why is this theft assigned to Talon?  He’s not a thief; he’s a contract killer.  Despite the fact that they have apparently unlimited resources, they keep having Talon do everything: vandalize the U.N., bomb the church, and now, steal the tail.  I feel like The Seven need to get the Leverage team on this job.   Let’s steal ourselves a Bronze Serpent Tail!

Anyway, Talon decides that the best way to steal the tail is to dispatch the guards in as violent and weird a way as possible.  Because it would just be a silly idea to sneak in undetected and get the tail as far away as possible before anyone is the wiser, right?

Talon sends his falcon to rip out the throat of the patrolling security guard (no, really).  Then, when the other guard comes running, Talon signals his other falcon to slam into his back and break his spine. 

It seems to me that this would hurt the bird a lot more than the guy, but again, I know nothing of birding.

Also, I think it’s kinda odd to carry dead mourning doves in your pockets to feed your falcons in the middle of your mission, but again, I’m not into falconry.

What does it LOOK like I’m doing??  I’M FEEDING MY FALCON!!!

Fiona, Isis’s assistant, is working late and stumbles across the bodies of the security guards.  “Instinct” draws her to the vault, where she finds that the tail has been stolen, and a drawing of the snake has been carved into the metal shelf.  Don’t ask me why Talon wasted time on this, either.

Fiona knows that she has to contact Isis and Murphy, and make them turn back.

See?  See, The Seven??  This is what happens!  You are screwing up your own master plan!!!