Soon: Chapter 16: I C Wut U Did

The underground salt mine RTCs listen to Straight tell the story of the most fascinating thing in the entire world: Paul Apostle.

They also take Straight at his word that the whole Paul-getting-his-sight-back was a miracle, even though, as we’ve discussed, it might well not be.  Seriously, Jenkins, these “miracles”…pics or they didn’t happen.

When Straight mentions the trip to Washington and “the figurative opening of Paul’s eyes,” Angela feels the need to chime in:

“[My sons and I left Washington] one step ahead of Bia Balaam, who was responsible for the killings following the blossom miracle.”

“Bia means ‘force’ or ‘might’ in Greek,” Straight said.  “In Greek mythology, Bia set up the torment of Prometheus.”

“That’s fitting,” said Angela.  “Her specialty is intimidation.  She masterminded my father’s death and a snake attack at the Asclepian Zoo, and now the latest atrocities—a Christian leader crushed in the machinery at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing…”

Wait, what??  Bia masterminded some guy getting crushed in a coin-press? 

Okay, I know that’s awful, but it also makes me giggle at little on the inside.

Yeah, I’m going straight to Hell.

Oh, and nice job, Straight and Angela, pointing out how fitting Bia’s name is.  It’s almost like she has that name on purpose, as though she was a character in a novel instead of a real person, and the author was trying to be all meaningful with her name…


“And Angela means ‘angel,’” Straight continued.  “Even though in the Bible, angels are often sword-wielding harbingers of doom, pre-Atheistopian popular culture portrayed them as gentle helpers of humanity.”

“That’s fitting,” said Angela.  “After all, I don’t seem to have any faults, and am meant to be all innocent and sweet.  Except maybe for falling for an abusive jerk, but I don’t think readers are meant to see that as a fault.”

“And your father’s name was ‘Andrew,’” Straight said.  “Andrew means ‘manly’ or ‘warrior’ in Greek.  In the Bible, Andrew was an apostle who was eventually martyred for his faith.”

“That’s fitting,” said Angela.  “Even though Dad left his shelter without a weapon, and even though he forgot he had a biochip in his arm that could identify him, just like we all have, he’s clearly meant to be a noble, martyred Christian warrior.  And it’s fitting that he’s named after an apostle, too—after all, Paul is supposed to be a direct corollary to the apostle Paul.”

“And Stuart is an Old English name meaning ‘steward,’” Straight said.  “A steward administers an estate.  And in the Bible, God tells Ananias to go to Straight Street to meet Saul of Tarsus, who becomes Paul.”

“That’s fitting,” said Angela.  “You’ve basically taken charge of Paul’s entire life, displacing even his wife, acting as though Paul is your own private estate over which you have complete control.  And it’s extra fitting that your nickname should just so happen to have a parallel in the story of Paul.”


Hat tip to himself taken care of, Jenkins gets his characters down to business—Straight is there to plead Paul’s case (without Paul’s knowledge or consent, mind you) as a double agent in the NPO, spying for the zealots.

Looks like Straight ignores personal space not only in the physical sense (touching people who have asked not to be touched), but in an emotional and professional sense, too.  Paul has certainly not volunteered to be a part of God’s Army of Super Secret Squirrel Spies.

Abraham, the older man, has some concerns.  And, refreshingly, he has concerns for Paul as well as for the zealots.  He cites the danger Paul would be putting himself in every day, as well as the chance that Paul might flip and reveal them all to the NPO.

Straight addresses the concerns for Paul’s safety about as you’d expect:

“I know him,” Straight said.  “I trust him.  I’m not a fool.  If I thought there was a chance in a million he wasn’t who I think he is, I’d never have brought it up.  We need help in high places.  You don’t get much higher than this guy.”

Wow, I can see that concern for your friend’s safety is really eating away at you, Straight.  You tool.

(Mind you, it’s not like I give a crap about Paul’s safety, either, but I’m not advertising myself as his only friend.  And btw, nobody is considering the danger to Jae and Brie and Connor if Paul becomes a double agent.)

I find it very odd that after more than 30 years in Atheistopia, the underground hasn’t found a way to place a double agent in the NPO.  Hell, they could have trained somebody from childhood to be their Secret Agent Man (you know they’d never send a woman) by now.  Honestly, it took them three decades to find someone?  Lazy asses, the lot of them.

But now Straight has found someone.  And maybe it’s just me, but his tone seems to convey that this was his plan from the moment he met Paul: to turn Paul to their side and then convince him to become their double agent.

Check out the way Straight talks about Paul:

“I’ve become involved with a very unusual convert,” he began, “one in a unique position to help us.  But there are also huge risks.  His father-in-law was one of the original big guns in the NPO.  The convert himself is an agent.”

He described how he had met Paul.  “The nurses had asked me to check on him.  His bitterness was interfering with his healing, and he had alienated his family.  But he was also listening to the New Testament on disc.”

Even ignoring the way Straight phrases that (it sounds like the nurses told him about the NT discs as a positive thing, although that does not seem possible), the whole thing reads to me like Straight had a master plan from the beginnning.  This plan appears to be:

1.  Devote all spare time to being hospital volunteer.

2.  Find NPO agent who is also coincidentally listening to the NT on disc.

3.  Sit around and wait for him (of course it’s a he) to become a Christian.

4.  PROFIT!!!

I mean, I’m glad everything is working out for the zealots and all, but this does not seem like the most organized bunch ever.  They have the luxury of designing plans that take years to come to fruition, and they settle for chancing upon an agent who just so happens to be one of the handful of people on the planet who are allowed to read the Bible?

But hey, who needs plans when you are true believers who get “such an obvious gift from God“? 

And that is what clinches it: Paul is a gift to them from God, so regardless of his consent, Abraham decides to meet with him and scout him out as their new pet spy.

You can tell that these RTCs are all about free will.



Posted on July 2, 2011, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Yeah, this is a nice introduction to his circle of friend. “Hiya, we’re really glad you converted, although we only bothered trying to convert you because we can use you. Screw everyone else in the hospital, right?” Seriously, this would probably feel like finding out your new fiancee doesn’t love you and only courted you to get her/his hands on your money or status (Hello Governator)

    • The emphasis does typically seem to be “God has a purpose for you”. Apparently, a very specific purpose. Perhaps they think that God’s love arises precisely out of “love” for an agent’s/artefact’s efficacy?

  2. You know, I wonder how the people in the book feel about being allegories.

    It’s one thing for an author to create a completely separate fantasy world, one without a Christ or Christian tradition, and then stage the Paul of Tarsus story allegorically in this new setting. (C.S. Lewis liked doing this, of course; “Till We Have Faces” is a fantasy re-telling of the Cupid and Psyche myth.) But what we have in Soon is a symbolic version of the Paul story, in a setting where the Paul story already happened in-universe.

    Paul, and the people in his orbit, are just paper dolls being put through a note-for-note recreation of stuff that happened 2000 years ago. Having read Acts, they know this. Do they ever comment on it in any notable fashion, other than a bland “Gee, God sure works in mysterious ways”? Do they feel any sort of existential horror that their lives are just faded copies of other, more historically significant people? Are they concerned that their God appears to be deeply lacking in imagination? Do they feel anxious about the status of their free will? Do any of them consider the possibility of reincarnation or a cyclical cosmos, which although Eastern doctrines and therefore heretical, are actually fair hypotheses for the data of their own lives?

    • Paul comments once or twice on this in Soon. Jae, when she starts reading the Bible in the next book, Silenced, also comments on the parallels. And she comments on the whole Straight/Straight Street thing, too, JUST IN CASE WE DON’T GET IT.

      Yeah, kinda annoying.

      It’s the kids’ names that are bugging me today. Brie and Connor. Pretty popular names right now, but is that the only reason Jenkins chose them?

      This is the problem–once you have six or seven characters with symbolic and/or anagramic names, you’re ripped right out of the story (such as it is) because you’re trying to figure out the symbolism and anagram for EVERY name.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Paul, and the people in his orbit, are just paper dolls being put through a note-for-note recreation of stuff that happened 2000 years ago.

      “All events in history appear to happen twice. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
      — Karl Marx (from memory)

    • The idea of the characters being, and more importantly *recognizing* themselves as being, the reincarnations of these early Christian personages — either reincarnated in actuality or even symbolically — and that they are fated to re-enact those events, could be an incredibly powerful story. As each character recognizes what has happened before, and what will happen again (Cylon What I Did There?) and that like it or not this is what’s going to happen to them, the tragedy and comedy could run fast and thick and make for amazing character development. It might even make for some startling recognition of what Jesus went through in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading with God.

      How much more sympathetic would Paul Stepola be, as he realizes he’s been a tool and more than that is fated to be one put-upon sunofagun, and fated to reinaugurate the New Church. What awful responsibility! What titanic requirements! What crushing inevitability! Dear GOD take this cup away from me! It may even be he is not up for the task entirely — that he will still be a jerk, and even more than one, and KNOWS it, even as he struggles to make a good and whole Church according to precepts he was never born with, struggling against the temptation to put himself before God…. What amazing character development that could be!

      Say it with me know: “But that’s not what Jerry decided to write….”

  3. Wait, there are several books? (Actually, I think I knew that, but it’s only just hit me).

    The story of Paul takes a few pages in the Bible, his letters are far longer. How do you spin that out to multiple books?

    I mean, I can kinda see it, great authors can take a very thin premise and write entire, very good, series on them. But a modern version of Paul doesn’t really need that, does it?

    Man hates Christians. Man is blinded. Man regains sight. Miracles convince man that Christianity is correct. Man becomes fulcrum of church.

    You could fit most of that into a newspaper headline, nevermind multiple novels.

    • Yep, there are three books: Soon, Silenced, Shadowed.

      The rest of Soon and Silenced can also include the headlines: Man Prays for Horrible Judgments to Befall the Atheists Who Could Count Them as One of Their Own Two Weeks Ago, and Man Lies to Wife for Months about Change in His Religious Views.

      So, we can look forward to that. 😀

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Yep, there are three books: Soon, Silenced, Shadowed.

        And I’ve got a fourth S-word to describe all three.

        “You Have To Write A TRILOGY…”
        — title of a filksong many-many years ago, about F&SF publishers always requiring trilogies.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Question, Rubytea:

        Does Soon (and presumably Silenced) end with a “To Be Continued”?

        Nothing like slogging through 500+ pages only to find the book ends with “To Be Continued”. I’ve still got a dent in my wall from when Harry Turtledove pulled that with his first Worldwar novel.

  4. Choir of Shades

    “You don’t get much higher than this guy [Paul]”

    No, you don’t get much higher than Paul’s father-in-law. Paul himself is a field agent because despite his extensive studies, he lacks even the basic knowledge of his foes to be in planning or operations management. Honestly, if I were going to re-write this thing, and for some reason had Paul get a Ph.D in Religious Studies? Paul would be in crypto. He’d be taking the biblical code-names that the Atheistopians got after bugging the mine, and carefully charting out the likely inter-personal dynamics of the group on the basis of their names.

    And btw, nobody is considering the danger to Jae and Brie and Connor if Paul becomes a double agent.

    Actually, I think the Christians themselves pose the biggest threat to Paul’s family. As religious zealots, and desperate religious zealots at that, they might well try to take the family hostage as a bargaining chip against Ranold. From the opposing perspective, Ranold has too much power for the government to officially suspect any of them. The worst that the Athiestopian regime is likely to do to them is forcibly remove them from Paul, which, on balance, probably not a bad idea even ignoring the whole religious zealot thing.

    I find it very odd that after more than 30 years in Atheistopia, the underground hasn’t found a way to place a double agent in the NPO.

    If this were a competent dystopian government, I would be surprised if they HAD gotten someone in. Given that this government is has absolutely no concept of how to run proper despotism, I’m lead to believe that the Underground Zealot movement has the collective intelligence of belly button lint.

  5. Bia masterminded some guy getting crushed in a coin-press?

    Sure. He was drawn and quartered.


  6. This ‘make an example’ thing is weird. This is bloody Atheistopia, where being a Christian is outlawed and no one seems to mind. We’ve seen how a SWAT team wipes out an entire Bible Study Group, and the swallowing-up by God thing is the only objection we ever hear. Why are they staging ridicilous accidents, that (given the lack of intelligence in the zealots) might actually get them to think they were accidents, if you can apparently publicly execute them, or have them shot resisting arrest, or pin any ‘miracle’ on them.

    I have a horrible image of Jenkins actually getting off on writing grizly death scenes and figures he needs to wait a while before he can get God to do it for him, so hey, next best thing.

  7. “The nurses had asked me to check on him.”

    Wow. The nurses must have known about Straight, since news of patient-touchers who were told not to touch must get around. So this pretty much confirms they wanted Paul to be miserable.

    It is pretty stupid to take on a brand-new secret agent with a loyal atheist wife and two kids, not just because they don’t know when he might decide when their lives outweigh the Salt Brigade’s, but also because if this supposedly-Orwellian society were any more Orwellian, they’d be a danger watching out to report their family members. (Does Angela even know about Jae at this point, anyway?)

    • No, Angela does not know about Jae. Being a Good Christian Girl, I don’t think there is any way Jenkins would have her be interested in a married man, even one whose marriage is as miserable as Paul and Jae’s.

      • Is he setting Angela and Jae up to be some sort of icky Madonna-Whore dichotomy? =P That would be just the skeevy icing on the awkwardcake.

        • Not quite. Much like our own Dr. Isis Proserpina McDonald (Go Isis!), he’s just setting Jae up to be Stepfordized.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy

          Is he setting Angela and Jae up to be some sort of icky Madonna-Whore dichotomy? =P

          Remember Chloe & Hattie (the Hottie) from Left Behind

  8. I guess that if your entire worldview requires the existence of casual miracles, you won’t look too closely when someone presents you with evidence of one.

    There has been some interesting writing about nominative determinism (e.g. the way surprisingly many surgeons are called Butcher or Cutter), but not in this book.

    No, of course Paul will be happy to volunteer. He wants to pay God back for the restoration of his sight, doesn’t he? (See The Gift of Fear, “Loan Sharking”.)

    I reckon the Underground has probably put agents in the NPO before, but once they come off the rice-and-beans diet and start to be able to think clearly again they get better. (Either that or, with the usual subtlety shown here, they turn up at NPO headquarters and say “hoo, boy, can’t wait to get on with persecuting some Christians today! Which way to the torture chambers, guys?”)

    Hmm, sudden realisation of a retroactive problem – surely Paul wouldn’t have let anyone know that he was listening to the NT? How would he even have got hold of the audiobook?

    If they expect the end of the world Real Soon Now, shouldn’t they be avoiding long-term plans?

    Ivan, I agree with you – it would make much more sense, if the government had a covert programme as well as the overt one, to make Christians look bad rather than to try to scare them. As for example in Babylon Rising: “This church blew up ‘cos they were making bombs in it, oh those dangerous Christians. If you know one, report him!”

    wild anon, I’m sure that after Paul’s treatment of the nurses (all right, I have to assume this, but he’s treating everyone badly at that point) they were happy to send Straight to annoy their least favourite patient.

    • Firedrake: Hmm, sudden realisation of a retroactive problem – surely Paul wouldn’t have let anyone know that he was listening to the NT? How would he even have got hold of the audiobook?

      Paul requested the audiobook in the hospital, and Bob, his boss, got it for him. Jae knows about it because she tried to help him set up the disc player.

      (btw, given our current audio technology, PLUS Atheistopian technology (Paul has the disc player tuned into his skull phone, so he’s not even using earbids), why are discs even necessary? Shouldn’t it be kinda like ordering an audiobook online–no need for discs, just pipe the sound into Paul’s skullphone?)

      Anyway, even with the idiotic premise that the NT is contraband, Paul still leaves the discs lying around, so Straight can see them right there on the table. Presumably, that’s how the nurses saw them.*

      *Presuming, in turn, that Straight meant that the nurses had told him about the NT discs, not that he meant “The nurses told me he was alienating his family. Also, new thought, I saw that he was listening to the New Testament.”

      • Choir of Shades

        Logistical stupidity of not streaming aside, think about the legal stupidity.
        Remember that in Atheistopia, Bibles are so thoroughly contraband that unauthorized possession of one carries with it the death penalty to be administered at the law enforcement official’s soonest convenience.

        Paul is a relatively high-ranking law enforcement officer with the added privilege to information of a Ph.D. scholar, so I GET that Paul is authorized to read the thing. Wanna guess how many OTHER people in that hospital have the clearance to read/hear the thing?

        In other words, Paul is leaving out something that were a random stranger to pick it up, he would be justified under law to summarily execute them. Am I the only one who thinks “Bullcrap” that Paul isn’t having to go into a special secure facility with a dozen security checkpoints to read the WMD books?

        • He’d absolutely need some weird sort of DRM VPN thing with his SkulFone. Leaving disks around would be so Stepola, though; he already has demerit-inducing levels of not caring about playing by the rules.

  9. But Straight know he’s married, and he probably knows (perhaps from Angela) that pre-conversion Paul screwed around a lot. So he knows his new agent is married to a woman who a) was unhappy with him (that is obvious) b) who Paul was unhappy with (untill he became an RTC obviously) c) knows she’s been cheated time and time again by Paul d) will probably pay close attention to see if he seems to be hiding something from her e) an atheist and f) daughter of one of the supreme commanders of the Atheistapo.

    But no worries, she’s his wife so he’ll beat her into submission show her his newfound faith and how it makes him totally faithfull and loving to her, which will make sure she doesn’t use the ample means, motives and opportunities to rat him out.

    Since Firedrake brought it up, and since I can’t get enough from saying it even though it’s such a long time ago it’s been posted: The writers, and the Evil Conspiracy, could’ve fixed so many problems that they admitted themselves (Talon musing how the bombing wouldn’t hold up for long under investigation, and them relying heavily that the first instinct of the police and public to assume the RTCs are guilty) if they’d only slightly changed their first effort. Instead of Talon painting the windows of the UN to read JOB316, he should’ve placed bombs and incendaries on the exact same windows. When they blow, you have JOB316 showing up in flaming letters on the UN building.

    Not only is this ten times more awesome to see in universe and to read about for us, but if it injures or kills a few people, and he uses the same explosives as he left in the church, the anger and persecution and immediate assumption that the church was making bombs instead of being the victim of a bombing makes much, much more sense. Which may be why the writers didn’t. God forbid we make it sound like those evil heathens might be genuenly worried about RTCs. We all know they love persecuting RTCs just for the kicks.

    • Choir of Shades

      Paul is a dick with a flimsy reason for joining and either he’s so stupid and oblivious to his own damn job that he doesn’t realize the danger this puts his family in, or too callous to care.

      I looked back over Paul’s journey thus far. His conversion lacks any mention of the single greatest piece of evidence he has. Not all of the “miracles” were just “miracles” The oil fire? That’s plausible. The sakura dying? Again, plausible. The earthquake? Almost. The earthquake itself is…unremarkable. If that were all there was to it, I’d say purely coincidence. However…a freaking fissure opened in the ground. Popular images of earthquakes aside, they really don’t involve fissures. I don’t care if Paul was STANDING ON THE FREAKING FAULTLINE, there is not going to be any damn fissures spontaneously rupturing the earth. It’s much smaller in scale, but its plausibility in terms of our current scientific understanding is roughly on par with Left Behind’s failed nuclear assault on Israel.

      In other words, Paul has something that he cannot explain. For which divine origin is as good an explanation as any. And it doesn’t even occur to him when he converted. And this conversion is only serving to make his family more miserable.

      Paul Stepola’s ego is so big, Seto Kaiba just says “Damn.”

      P.S. It IS technically possible for a fissure to open up, but it would involve some other geologic event a well. Like mass wasting (for those less geologically inclined, mass wasting is like a mudslide on steroids: it basically is when an entire mountain/mountain face collapses into a mudslide). Of course, if that had happened, then since Paul tumbled downhill, he’d be buried by a few tons of rock. I’d think we’d be hearing about that.

      Anyways, just venting about how Paul is an idiot. Carry on.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Paul Stepola’s ego is so big, Seto Kaiba just says “Damn.”

        Are you sure Paul isn’t an Author Self-Insert?
        Like Eragon or Bella?

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Seriously, Jenkins, these “miracles”…pics or they didn’t happen.

    Seems Buck Jenkins, GCAAT, has about the same grip on the concept of Miracles as he does on the concept of Dystopia.

    Oh, and nice job, Straight and Angela, pointing out how fitting Bia’s name is. It’s almost like she has that name on purpose, as though she was a character in a novel instead of a real person, and the author was trying to be all meaningful with her name…

    And a similar grip on the concept of Character Naming.

    Such a directly-symbolic name WOULD work in a full Allegory; there Obvious Deep Symbolic Character Names are part of the genre. But this is a “Ripped From Tomorrow’s Headlines” dystopian thriller. Once more Buck Jenkins has rejected the power of myth and allegory to be “realistic” and “relevant”, leaving him with nothing of power to substitute in its place. Leaving this narrative without power or depth.

    Good thing it’s a CHRISTIAN (TM) novel, and (like Left Behind) the target audience is required to read it as an Act of Faith (as well as a substitute consolation prize for not being permitted to read secular (TM) stuff).

  11. So at this point, it looks like Jenkins is setting Paul up to be the religious equivalent of the Mighty Whitey.

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