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.
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.
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.