Soon: Chapter 8: TEXAS!!!

When we last left Paul Apostle, he was recovered from his encounter with the innocent Christian group/”bomb factory”/miracle from God, and preparing for his next assignment in the Zealot Underground task force.  This week on Soon, Paul is being sent to Gulfland (formerly “Texas and five nearby states” (that apparently don’t matter nearly as much as Texas)) to investigate an allegedly-miraculous pillar of fire in an oil field.

The chapter kicks off with more obsessing about the height of male characters:

Paul had always been privately amused by the Gulfland NPO bureau chief.  Most of the chiefs Paul had met were fairly buttoned-down bureaucratic types.  Lester “Tick” Harrelson was about five-foot-six and 140 pounds.  He had a shock of dry hair through which he was constantly–and ineffectively–running a hand.  His tie was loose, and he had trouble keeping his shirt tucked in.  But he was a pro, and his people worshipped him.

Okay, I get the point Jenkins is trying to make–that Tick’s sloppy appearance is unusual for a chief.  But that odd non-sequitor about height and weight makes it sound like Paul is amused by a shorter guy being in charge, not by a mussed-up guy being in charge.  Sticking that little sentence right there makes it sound like Paul is thinking, “HAW HAW HAW!  The guy is under six feet tall!  And he’s in charge!  It’s funny!”

Also escorting Paul around Gulfland is Donny Johnson (Don Johnson?  Really?), president of Sardis Oil.

Sardis, eh?

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  I know your deeds: you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up!  Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.  But of you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.  They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white.  I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

-Revelation 3:1-6

Given what is to come in the next two chapters, this is actually a pretty cool passage.  But apropos though it is, it raises the question: why would an oil company founder in Atheistopia name his oil company “Sardis.”  There are towns called Sardis in several U.S. states, but the reasoning behind the name of the oil company is never explained.

But hey, it’s symbolic, right?  No need for a real explanation!

Oddly, though Paul speculates on Tick’s height and weight (as he did with Coker), he doesn’t with Donny, except to note that he is a “big man.”

Donny and Tick take Paul out to the pillar of fire in a stretch limo, because they’re evil and decadent atheists.  It is also worth noting that Paul was dumb enough to wear a wool suit to Houston in March, because apparently Atheistopia doesn’t have wunderground.com.  (I just checked.  It’s going to be in the 70’s all week there.  Took me all of ten seconds.  Paul is such an idiot.)

A few interesting things in the men’s conversation:

“A miracle, they say–which is what they’re callin’ my well fire now and gettin’ folks all worked up.” [Donny said]

“Who’s calling it a miracle?” [Paul asked]

“That’s for you to tell us, mister.  Not even forty-eight hours and it’s already out over the Internet.”

I admit I laughed.  Donny thinks 48 hours is a short amount of time for something to appear online?  Hell, I’d be surprised if it took 48 seconds to get skull phone pictures of a giant pillar of fire onto Atheistopian YouTube. 

[Donny continues]  “And when you find ’em’–” he clenched huge fists–“I’m fixin’ to beat their brains out.”

“Figuratively, of course,” Tick said.  “Religious activity alone is punishable by law.  Sabotage–”

“By law?”  Johnson said.  “We have our own ideas about law in Texas.”

Wait a sec?  Texas?

They’re in Gulfland.  Texas, as such, hasn’t existed for 36 years.  Now, if this comment was explored, it might be an interesting glimpse into the USSA, and pockets of people who resisted the new labels and tried to preserve their old culture, even the old names.  But the way it’s inserted, it just seems to be playing to the idea of the stereotypical Texan, while forgetting that they’re not actually in Texas anymore.

As they drive to the pillar of fire, Jenkins bores me once again by talking about how Houston is the third most populated city behind L.A. and New York, and I roll my eyes because I just don’t give a damn about these stupid population factoids because they have no bearing on the story and WHY DOES JENKINS KEEP BRINGING THEM UP???

Then they blather on about different kinds of wells and how geomagnetics helps them find oil without the help of a lot of roughnecks, like in the olden days, and I still don’t care.

Then Donny veers off into Racismville:

“Sometimes the fire is set.  Like now.”

“You seem sure.”  [Paul said]

“The Mexicans were behind it.”

“Let’s say it was a foreign faction,” Paul said.  “How would they do it?”

“Not just foreign–Mexican,” Johnson said.  “They work up here, learn our technology enough to sabotage it, thinkin’ that’ll help their sorry little oil business.  Or maybe the A-rabs put ’em up to it.  Those boys would just love to see us go back to the Middle East for oil.”

So, not only is Donny violent (and, as we all know, violence is only okay if God is using it, or people are using it on God’s behalf), but he’s a bigoted jerk, too.  And there’s nothing wrong with making a bad guy into a bigot.  But it might be more interesting if bigotries had changed a bit after 36 years and an outlawing of all religion and a near total revamp of the world map.

I’m also kinda surprised that Jenkins is making this Atheistopian bad guy a bigot, instead of a spouter of anti-RTC concepts like tolerance and acceptance.  You would think that the evil one-world gubmint would be all about brotherhood and harmony with international neighbors.

The guys arrive at the well fire, which turns out to be highly toxic.  It’s a white-hot column about 18 inches across and hundreds of feet high, and it’s spewing smoke and fumes into the atmosphere.  Of the three men, Tick is the only one to express concern about the human and environmental damage the fire could cause.  I find myself liking Tick for this, and then I remember that concern for the natural world is generally considered a negative in RTC-think.  After all, Jesus is coming soon to destroy everything anyway.

Now, maybe I’m off-base when I giggle at this, but Donny talks about the added security around the other oil wells since the pillar of fire.  This security includes “electrified razor wire.”

I don’t care if people do do it in real life, electrifying your freaking razor wire still strikes me as overkill.

But then, I’m not a Gulflandian TEXAN oil tycoon.

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Posted on March 29, 2011, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Ah, back to Soon. During the break, I went ahead and read the entire ghastly novel. I admit, I enjoyed it more than Left Behind but only because reading it wasn’t like swimming through molasses. Now I have to read the rest of these things.

    Thank you for the brilliant mockery of Soon. It also stood out to me that Donny would be ranting about Mexicans. I thought that would be more likely of the intended audience. Did Jenkins think Mexicans would be reading his book?

    At least the white pillar of fire would be impressive to see in real life. I can’t deny it would look amazing. Something like that would really be an environmental disaster though.

  2. What does it mean to have dry hair anyway? Isn’t hair normally dry unless they just washed it or something? Why is it of all the things wrong with Jenkins’s work I am focusing on one niggling detail?

    • I think ‘dry’ as opposed to ‘used-car salesman greasy.’ Or maybe he’s thinking of really dry, brittle-looking hair.

      If he wanted to, he could have made this into an interesting characteristic. Like, brittle, dry hair that looked like it would crumble to dust in a harsh wind.

  3. In another, better, book, Paul might actually like the guy – or indeed not like him. Some sort of human reaction. But no, he’s just privately amused. I suspect he feels that way a lot.

    Even if Atheistopian weather control could give Texas a livable climate, the Texans would just reject it.

    The population thing isn’t even particularly amazing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population puts Houston at #4 in the 2010 census. So why would we care?

    Rabukurafuto, since Mexicans are all Catholic they’re Double Super Secret Unsaved. Very much outside the target audience.

    • I made the same mistake at first, reading Rabukurafuto’s comment. But he(?) meant that the ranting would fit the audience, not the Mexican-ness. Once you re-parse it correctly, it makes sense.

      • KarMann, if I parse you correctly you’re saying that because Johnson is a Bad Guy he ought not to be saying something the target audience will be agreeing with?

        I think I have an answer to this. In L&Jworld there are really only two sorts of people: Proper Americans and Godless Effete Liberals. Since a GEL would never lower himself to do manual labour, Johnson must be a Proper American even if he hasn’t found God yet.

        (I assume the idea of a female oilman – even a stereotyped butch dyke – would just be too far outside the authors’ imaginations. Sure, Those People are unnatural women, but they’re still women so they can’t possibly be doing men’s jobs…)

    • “The population thing isn’t even particularly amazing – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_cities_by_population puts Houston at #4 in the 2010 census. So why would we care?”

      Exactly. And that’s the thing with the population statistics he gives us–even San Francisco wasn’t far off, and California was supposedly decimated by a tidal wave. The stats might be interesting if they were different than would be expected becuase of WWIII…but they aren’t.

      • Or even if they related to something the reader’s not likely to know. I put up with Dan Brown’s Wikipediaesque infodumps about Paris and environs on the grounds that a reasonable percentage of his target audience aren’t going to be up to speed on French urban geography and thus need to know how many miles Fontainebleau is from the Louvre, or whatever, to get what’s going on in the story. But presumably Jenkins’ target audience are Americans, and thus pretty familiar with the size and general characteristics of their own cities?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Remember, guys, this is the same Jenkins who wrote about those marathon treks across Manhattan AND cruise ships on the Jordan River.

  4. I’m surprised that oil is still a big deal in this Rockin’ World of Tomorrow. I would’ve imagined that everything ran on hydrogen cells and cold fusion, and the notion of invading countries for petroleum would by now seem as quaint as the 17th century’s nutmeg wars and tulip bubble.

    I’m not at all surprised that the former Texans still say “Texas”, though. If anything, I’m impressed that they acquiesced to be renamed “Gulfland” at all, as opposed to “Texas and Five Nearby States That Don’t Matter Nearly as Much as Texas.” I can only assume that they judged the latter too hard to fit on a license plate.

    Lester “Tick” Harrelson was about five-foot-six and 140 pounds. He had a shock of dry hair through which he was constantly–and ineffectively–running a hand. His tie was loose, and he had trouble keeping his shirt tucked in.

    Writing protip: Character descriptions shouldn’t read like a status screen from Dwarf Fortress. All we’re missing is a notation about Tick’s earlobe length, his favorite foods, and his fondness for cows for their haunting moos.

    • As a feedstock for plastics, oil is irreplaceable. (Cellulose can substitute a little, but it’s much less flexible.) Not that I imagine Jenkins thought of that.

    • He menaces with spikes made of spikes.

    • Choir of Shades

      This is a Steel oil well. All craftsammuricanship is of the highest quality. It is studded with Steel. It is encircled with bands of Plastic and polar bear leather. On the item is an image of Worge Gashington the Ammurican and Stoseph Jalin the Godless Commie in orthoclase. Worge Gashington is smiting Stoseph Jalin. The artwork relates to the smiting of the Godless Commie Stoseph Jalin by the Ammurican Worge Gashington. The item menaces with spikes of Godless Commie bone.

      I may have been binging on this game recently. And oh god this is giving me horrible ideas for a mod (Ammurican Fortress). Or if it’s a mixed fortress, I think the Jenkinites will fit right in dwarven society. I’m just not sure where they’d fit in comparing relative “intelligence.”

  5. Actually, reading this somewhat uncharitably, I’m not surprised that the Big Oil guy is spouting dogwhistles. After all, some of the best God-fearing Americans have been Big Oil boys! Yessiree!

    Okay, that might be reaching a bit. But clearly, between him saying ‘TEXAS’ (and not Gulfland) and how they handle law down there, and spouting bigoted dogwhistles, it wouldn’t surprise me if Donny isn’t a closeted Christian (he just hasn’t admited it to himself yet.) I bet he has a big ol’ Stars and Bars in his den, too. I suspect he is a stereotype writ large for sympathy rather than mockery: a big, loud, (supposedly) likable character who shoots his mouth off about everything the reader (and author) agrees with, just to point out and say, “Look, even though he’s not that bad a guy, it’s not like we’re acting like HIM, you know?”

    That being said, electrified razor wire sounds kinda cool, actually. *writes down another band name*

  6. (Sorry for the very late addition to this comment, but just found this and catching up. Apologies in advance if you caught this in a later post that I just haven’t gotten up to yet.)

    “But apropos though it is, it raises the question: why would an oil company founder in Atheistopia name his oil company “Sardis.””

    Probably for the same reason that someone in San Fransisco named there restaurant the Smyrna Sole Emporium, except missing the double points for the oh-so “subtle” soul pun.

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