Monthly Archives: November 2010

Soon: Musings on Themes, the Cover, and the First Few Pages

Where to begin, where to begin?

I had it easy with Babylon Rising.  It was, in its way, recognizably bad, in the way that readers of Slacktivist, Apocalypsereview, and Mouse’s Musings know all too well–unlikeable heroes, bad theology, and a rather warped perspective on such subjects as love, family, friendship, and being a good person.  They take place in a vague “not too distant future,” though still very much our world.

Not so with Soon.  Jerry Jenkins actually did some world-building here, and built himself a world set precisely in 2036 (more on the dates later).  A world in which religion has been outlawed.  It’ll be slow going over the first chapter or two, as I will attempt to address what Jerry Jenkins thinks such a world would be like.

But oh, that is only the beginning of the insanity.  So, things may jump around a bit for the first few posts of Soon-critique, as I get my feet wet.  I was first introduced to Soon via book-on-CD on a long car trip, and I must have been a sight to fellow drivers, my face taking on the following expressions at regular intervals:

Hey, at least it made the trip go by quickly.

I noticed these themes along the way.  Keep your eyes open–good for drinking games, too!

1.  This World Rocks: Okay, before anyone gets any ideas, no, I am not saying it is a good idea to outlaw religion.  In fact, I feel quite the opposite.  Yet Jenkins cannot seem to help portraying this atheist-run world as fun and interesting, not to mention replete with great scientific and technical achievement.  It’s very, very odd.

2.  If You’re “Nice,” You’re a Christian: Has a new character introduced him/herself?  Does he/she seem abnormally friendly and open-hearted?  Why, you’ve probably met an Underground Zealot!  (Please note: my definition of “nice” and Jenkins’ definition tend to vary on certain particulars.  In at least one case, the Kind and Noble Christian simply strikes me as Pushy (really pushy) and Self-Absorbed.  Readers of the other RTC-literature blogs I have mentioned may recognize this phenomenon.)

3.  It’s Not Okay When Atheists Do It: Actions and attitudes of people and organizations that would be considered perfectly fine coming from Christians are decidedly Not Okay and Also Evil when coming from atheists.

4.  But It’s Okay When Atheists Get It: As with the Left Behind books, the pain and suffering (not to mention the TORTURING FOREVER) of atheists will be dismissed with the smallest of shrugs, while the paper cuts of believers are matters of life and death.

5.  The Acronyms, Oh, the Acronyms: Jerry Jenkins loves his anagrams. 

I use a lot of anagrams in my books.  Paul Stepola’s last name is an anagram, as are others in the Soon series.  I do that for my own amusement, but it’s fun when readers notice.  Sometimes I’ll give hints, but I never come out and tell them.

 -Jerry Jenkins, Writing for the Soul, p. 104

While listening to the CDs for the first time, I was unaware that “Stepola” is an anagram for “Apostle.”  So our hero’s name is Paul Apostle.  Subtle.

But now that I have the book, it is obvious that Jerry Jenkins has vastly underestimated my ability to access anagram sites on the heathen intertubes.

I really can’t stand anagrams.

And last, but most certainly not least:

6.  Paul Stepola Is a Horrible, Horrible Man: Given that Paul Apostle is a Jenkins hero, this almost goes without saying.  After all, this is the man who brought us Rayford Steele and Lionel Washington.  His longtime writing partner is the man who brought us Josh Jordan, love-bombing Abigail Jordan, and, of course, Michael Murphy. 

Paul Apostle may top them all for sheer asshattery.  Seriously, there is no portion of this man’s life in which he is not a complete tool.  Lousy husband, lousy father, lousy coworker, lousy friend.  And he only gets worse after his conversion.

Oops.  Hope I didn’t spoil anything there.  😉

Okay, okay, enough putting this off by talking about the big picture.  Let’s crack open Soon!

Ooo, wait, let’s check out the cover first.

The front cover has an ominous-looking city skyline, the big silver letters of SOON rushing towards us.  Soon: The Beginning of the End.  I actually kinda like the cover design.  It’s nothing we all haven’t seen many times before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not effective.

The back cover, though, is where things get decidedly wacky.  Picture of a smirking Jerry Jenkins, below this odd introduction to the story:

Before millions were left behind, they couldn’t see it coming…SOON.

If you say so, I guess.  What an oddly-structured sentence–just try saying it aloud.

Okay, now it’s time to open the book.

The first page quotes John Lennon: Imagine…no religion too.  Yeah, that’s cute and all, and I’m sure that Jenkins has no love for this great song, imagining as it does an eeevil socialist utopia.  No possessions, nothing to kill for…and no religion.  Somehow, though, I can’t work up too much sorry for Jenkins, given the number of RTCs in recent history who have either left that part out of the song or, worse, changed the lyrics to “and one religion, too.”

The next page has small sections of letters to Time magazine from 2002.  In response to an article in Time about the three Abrahamic religions, two people, one from Finland, one from England, opined that the world would be a better and more peaceful place without religion.  You can read the letters here, if you would like.

Okay, I am all for getting ideas for stories from interesting places, from a snippet of a letter, a few chance words in a conversation.  So far, so good.  But Jenkins sure has a task ahead of him if he hopes to convince me that a world in which religion is banned is right around the corner, given the number of people currently in this world who think that nonreligious people deserve not just to be silenced, but to be tortured forever.

Plank, eye, Jerry.  Just sayin’.

Next time: an introduction to the history of this future world, Legos, and PHONE PORN.

In the meantime, enjoy the genius of John Lennon:

Babylon Rising, Chapter 70 and Afterword

THE LAST CHAPTER!!!!

Crow T. Robot: Wow, I am on the edge of my seat!  I better scoot back a little…

Mike: Yeah, you’ve got a lot more room back there.

-MST3K

As I said two chapters ago, if this book made sense, Chapter 68 would be the last chapter, with the ending: “…the days ahead would present even greater challenges (than the death of a beloved spouse).  With God’s help and protection, [Murphy] would be ready.”

Instead, we end with The Seven debriefing Talon, with Talon rather whinily and defensively pointing out that Murphy was lucky and had MARINES and besides, Mr. The Seven Person, you told me not to hurt him!

The Seven appear only mildly put out by the loss of the Brazen Serpent, which everyone (including RTC Murphy!) was convinced had eeeevil magical powers.  But no, they don’t really seem to give a damn, and our final shot is of Talon, holding Laura’s root cross, and vowing vegeance upon the Murphster because…wait for it, it’s “personal” now.

Seriously, I’d give you more, but this chapter is barely one page long.

Afterword:

And we’re back with Tim LaHaye, who repeats his assertions from the “Message” at the beginning of the book about how much he loves it.  Oh, and even though he had Dinallo for this book, and a different cowriter for the next ones in the series, he phrases everything in the first person singular:

I am having a great time creating this adventure, and I can’t wait for you to read the next book in the series.  I’m in the middle of writing it now and I’m having even more exciting times working on the second book than I had on this first one,  And that’s saying something.

Well, LaHaye may not be able to wait, but we will have to, because next we shall explore Jerry Jenkins’ dark dreams of Christian persecution, because in Soon, THE ATHEISTS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE ENTIRE WORLD!!!

Coming…um, soon. 

Babylon Rising, Chapter 69

Huh-huh-huh-huh, she said “sixty-nine,” huh-huh-huh-huh.

/Beavis and Butthead

This chapter is just weird and jarring.  Logically, it should precede the chapter in which Murphy finds the Golden Head, because it is yet another italicized flashback to the time of King Nebuchadnezzar. 

The evil fictional high priest Dakkuri thinks angrily about how King Neb used to be insane, but has now traded in hanging out in the fields with the cows for a new type of insanity, following Daniel and his One True God.

(LaHaye and Dinallo get in a few nice little zings here, about how Dakkuri doesn’t really fer real believe in the multitude of gods, it’s just that being a high priest gets him good wine and pretty dancing girls.  Because only Real True Believers really believe, right?)

So Dakkuri keeps the Brazen Serpent for himself and his little inner circle of believers, and thus becomes (get ready for it) a devotee of the former angel of light who had rebelled against the Creator.  Dakkuri, the Chaldean, belonged to, and was a servant of, the dark angel Lucifer.

Wait, what?

How could he…when did the…who thought…wargyuiftjnkfkl…

Sigh.

Yeah, they’re Luciferians.  Sure they are.  I don’t even get how that works, but you know what?  I’m not going to stress about it, because LaHaye and Dinallo sure didn’t stress about this chapter, which should come before Murphy discovers the Head so we all get the significance of what he’s found, and so that the ends can neatly be tied up at the real end of the book.

Then Dakkuri tells us a bunch of stuff we already know, about how he’s going to write treasure clues on the pieces of the Serpent and leave them buried all around the desert so in a couple thousand years, a smug archeologist can find them and then find the Golden Head.

And then, Dakkuri, like any good nonbeliever, admits that he knows Daniel’s God is real and that Daniel speaks the truth, he is just Mad at God and also Evil and so must fight him by breaking a bronze sculpture into three pieces.  Then, to top it all off, Dakkuri agrees with any good RTC that everything that has happened in the world, and all of their lives, are entirely meaningless because it is all just about the lead-up to the second rising of Babylon and the taking over of the world by the Antichrist.

Were LaHaye and Dinallo afraid that their readers would forget what this whole expedition of Murphy’s was about, and what he believed?  Why are they trying to back-build their story now, in the second-to-last chapter?  Except for the head-desking “Luciferians” part, this chapter tells us nothing we haven’t been told at least three times already.

Oh, well.  At least we’ll end the book on a high note…with The Seven!

They’ll stop at nothing.  After all, they have the world’s greatest squadron of attack falcons.

Babylon Rising, Chapter 68

Well, this is it for Michael Murphy.

Don’t get your hopes up–it’s just that even though there are three chapters left in Babylon Rising, this is the last one in which Murphy speaks.

But we open with something arguably just as distasteful as Murphy being smug and illegal…his research assistant, Shari, being “cute.”

Shari tugged at Paul’s hand.  It was still weak from his long hospital stay.

“Hey,” he protested, “the plaster came off only yesterday.  You’re going to pull it out of its socket.”

“Stop fussing,” she said.  “Dr. Keller said too much sympathy wouldn’t be good for you.  It would impede the healing process.”

Yeah, Paul, WTF is your problem, you whiny baby, expecting people not to yank on your post-cast limbs only a day after you got out of the hospital after being knocked into a coma by a bomb?

Wuss.

I want to smack Shari so much.  She must have been taking classes in friendship from Levi Abrams.

And here is the really sad part, at least for Paul–Shari not only delights in putting him in pain, but it is in the pursuit of seeing Michael Murphy.  She has dragged Paul, one day out of the hospital, from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., so they can meet Murphy when he arrives with the Golden Head.

Paul!  Buddy!  She is Just Not That Into You.  You are convenient, and just her current conversion prospect.  She thinks it’s cute to hurt you!  Get out now!

I’m going to skip around a bit in the chapter, so we can get the full Shari-Murphy-Paul story, and come back to the Golden Head in a minute.

…Murphy and Shari hugged.  Paul could feel the wordless communication passing between them.

Ew.

Poor Paul.

A few minutes later, the scholarship for Paul is brought up.  Paul says that Shari has been “a great help” (in helping him pick a course of study). 

He blushed, and Shari poked him hard in the ribs.

WHY DOES SHE KEEP HURTING HIM WHAT IS HER PROBLEM WHAT AN EVIL, NASTY GIRL!!!

*pant pant*

“Go easy on him, Shari,” Murphy said.  He’s still a young man.  It will take him a while before he realizes he’s got to turn most of his life decisions over to God and a good woman, in that order.”

She wagged a finger.  “Professor Murphy!”

Aww, isn’t she just the most adorable little sprite?  *gag*

Murphy’s statement reminds me of nothing so much as the guy who once told me that he loved God more than his wife or children.

And, that’s it for Shari and Paul for the book.

But what of Isis, you may ask?  Well, Murphy gives the petite redhead with elfin features credit…credit, that is, for “putting the weight of the Parchments of Freedom Foundation…behind [the expedition].  You know me, I’m not very good at playing nice with bureaucrats.”

Wow, it’s hard to unpack all of the arrogance and self-congratulation and complete lack of respect for everyone that is in that sentence, but I’ll try:

1.  All of Isis’s research and time and effort and skill as one of the greatest living philologists in the world just pales beside her…employment at the PFF.  It’s not what you do, but who you know, right, Murph?

2.  Yeah, good thing that Isis was able to throw the weight of the PFF behind you, since your expedition was illegal.

3.  Why is it a mark of pride with Murphy that he doesn’t play nice with bureaucrats?  I mean, I know it would be so much nicer and easier for Murph if he could just travel to any country he wanted and plunder their ancient treasures, but the world doesn’t…oh, wait, the world actually does work that way for Murphy.

Oh, Isis, we hardly knew ye.

So, everyone there is just tickled pink that the Golden Head is in the States.  And I am shocked.  And I wonder if Dinallo is shocked too, since we have just jumped from finding the Head, to watching the Head land in Washington.  The only explanation we get as to how and why the Iraqis allowed such a priceless artifact to leave their country is…

Murphy grinned.  “It wasn’t easy.  We had to persuade a lot of people it was the right thing to do.”

Oh, do I even need to say it? 

It’s Just That Simple!

Oh, and you know what else is Just That Simple?  Converting Muslims to RTC-ism!

Murphy calls this conversion “an even greater reason for celebration” than the Golden Head arriving in the States.

Next on the hit parade (and wow, are LaHaye and Dinallo trying to wrap up a bunch of threads in one little chapter!), is Dean Archer Fallworth of button-article fame.  Yanno, the guy who tried to get Murphy kicked off the faculty for being involved with a church bombing.  (I would have tried to get him kicked off for never being at the university, but that’s just me.)

Fallworth gives a little not-pology for “our little misunderstanding,” and Murphy ponders that “he would settle his account with Fallworth when the time came.”

Yeah, revenge is such a Christian thought, Murph.

So Murphy directs the unloading of the Golden Head, and makes a speech in front of a microphone.  (I amused myself by imagining that his audience consisted solely of Shari and Paul, Isis and Jassim, and Dean Archer “Buttons” Fallworth):

“Ladies and gentlemen of the world, there is much to tell about this great find (like how we went into Iraq illegally and got a bunch of Marines to dig it up for us), how we came to discover it (by falling into a hole), to reclaim it (illegally), and understand its significance (Murphy was Right All Along). … I want to thank God for His strength and guidance throughout the entire process.”

Murphy spares a thought for his dead wife and the guards at the PFF (though not, unsuprisingly, for the victims of the church bombing).  Then he muses that Talon is “still at large,” though he does not seem at all concerned about the fact that he had a clear shot at Talon, and let him go.

And finally, in a plug for the next book(s) in the series, Murphy imagines that as eventful as the last few weeks had been, the days ahead would present even greater challenges.

It certainly is eventful when your wife is murdered, but there are greater challenges to face.  Stay classy, Murph.

Whew.  Lots in this chapter.  Thus we bid farewell to Professor Michael Murphy.   Two chapters remain, in which we will have our final visits with King Neb and The Seven.

Babylon Rising, Chapter 67

Oh, man, this chapter sucks.  It’s like Tim LaHaye realized there was an intelligent, competent, interesting female character in this story, and ordered that a stop be put to that kind of nonsense, but QUICK!

Since the loving presence of her father had departed, [Isis had] lived her life in hiding.  Her academic studies had been a way of avoiding all the things in life that scared her, and her little office buried at the Foundation was really a kind of bunker from which she had successfully kept the outside world at bay.

Hey, Alteration Retcon!  Retcon!!!  RETCON!!!!! 

RETCON!!!1!!11!!ELEVENTY-ONE!!!!!

Yeah, so much for the brilliant philologist, renowned by experts the world over for her skills, having chosen her profession because of a lifeling love of the myths and worlds of the past.  So much for the conflicted child, loving her individuality even as it kept her apart from her peers. 

Back when we were introduced to Isis, we were given a very clear picture of her background.  Nothing about “hiding from the world.”  Just someone, an eccentric and interesting someone, but not a scared someone, who happened to love her work.

This sadly calls to mind Lyz’s not-infrequent observation, over at the awesome And You Call Yourself A Scientist!, that in the movies, beauteous female scientists are only allowed to choose scientific careers because of personal tragedy.

Because a woman being passionate about a challenging field of study is just silly, isn’t it?

Grrrr…

Sigh.

Anyway, who has time to worry about the retcon of Isis when there are MARINES around?

Colonel Davis runs right up to Murphy and introduces himself.  And completely ignores Isis and Jassim.  Seriously, he doesn’t even address them.  But, hey, Isis is a woman and Jassim is a Muslim, so it’s not like they matter.

Oh, and just in case we might have any doubts that Davis is a Marine, he wears aviator sunglasses and has a bone-crunching handshake

So, we’re sure. 

A sonar sled has just been left at the site.  Apparently just sitting out in the hot sun for months, because “the fellows who cleaned this place out left a couple of items they couldn’t find a use for on the black market.”

Hey, bonus!  And, holy crap, this is just like when Buck found that bicycle sitting on the post-Rapture Manhattan sidewalk!

Now, I Googled sonar sleds, and it appears that they are used primarily for underwater exploration, not under-sand exploration.  If anyone knows differently, please feel free to correct me.

In the meantime, it strikes me as odd that Murph and Jassim can just drag the sled, a lightweight plastic oblong the size of a child’s mattress–slowly across the rockslide while Isis watched the images forming on Murphy’s laptop computer screen a few yards away

But after a mere thirty minutes, they see some sort of man-made object…perhaps a dozen feet beneath the surface…[that] wasn’t small.

It’s Just That Simple! 

And hey, guess what???  Colonel Davis has a bulldozer!

A Marine mans the bulldozer at Murphy’s direction for twenty minutes, then the following exchange takes place:

[Murphy] walked over to the area of newly excavated earth, then turned to Colonel Davis.  “Now all we need is a few shovels.”

Davis saluted smartly.  “Coming right up.  And I’ve got twenty men with plenty of experience digging holes, if you need ’em.”

WTF WHY IS HE SALUTING MURPHY AND WHY DO THESE MARINES HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO WITH THEIR TIME THAN DIG HOLES FOR THIS LAZY-ASS ARCHEOLOGIST WHO DID NOT EVEN THINK TO BRING SHOVELS???

Sigh.

Colonel David clearly thought out this whole archeological expedition much more thoroughly than the actual archeologist on hand.

The Marines dig until one of their shovels bounces off some bronze doors.  Gee, maybe this is why archeology is best done by professionals–so that shovels won’t bounce off priceless and fragile artifacts.

The doors are basically pointing towards the sky, because after an interval of three thousand years, the building has shifted from the vertical.

Because the doors appear to be sealed shut, a couple of Marines attempt to pry them open with shovels.

And again…why are people prying at ancient stuff with shovels when you could damage it WTF???

But they manage to open the doors.  And then Murphy grabs the Idiot Ball and starts to dangle himself over the edge of the doors that, as far as he knows, may lead to yet another bottomless pit.

And then (gasp! choke!) Murphy’s fingers slip, and he falls down the hole.

Idiot.

Time for another facepalm, this time from a fellow archeology enthusiast.

Meta-Isis facepalms, too.  But regular Isis just screams.  Because she is a girl.

And so, Murphy carries on the proud family tradition of accidentally falling down holes and discovering awesome things.

Because guess what????

Right there at the bottom of the hole which I guess is the far wall of the now-horizontal building…RIGHT THERE IS THE GOLDEN HEAD OF KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR WOW!!!

Yeah, when Murphy comes to after falling, he is staring right into King Neb’s golden face.  Because the building going from vertical to horizontal in no way damaged the Golden Head!

It’s Accidental Archeology at its best!

Way to be, Murphy.  You’re a credit to your profession.