Monthly Archives: January 2016

TEC: Chapter 4: Back…Again…with Bob

So Chapter 4 is Murphy getting his pastor, Bob Wagoner, up to date on what happened in the last book.

Hey, anyone wanna guess what Chapter 4 of The Secret on Ararat was about?

Yup, Murphy has lunch with Bob at the same diner, where they eat the same food served by the same “waddling” waitress.

Then a weird thing happens: See, in Ararat, they establish that it’s been six months since the events in Babylon Rising.  And now, in Europa, we’re told that it’s been a year and a half since Laura’s death in Babylon.

Which means that the events in Ararat took a year, or Murphy has waited months to tell his friend and pastor about finding Noah’s ark.

So apparently Murphy makes quite a habit of ditching people he allegedly cares about for months at a time.

Murphy relates the basics of the events on Ararat, and Bob is “absolutely spellbound by the tragic story,” and that’s before Murphy hits the punchline that they actually found the ark.  If anything, Bob seems relatively uninterested in the greatest archeological find in human history, one that proves that their god is indeed a dickhead who drowned millions.  So uninterested that after talking about the ark for 36 seconds (yes, I times myself reading the dialogue because I am a nerd), he changes the subject to Murphy’s love life.

Murphy talks about how attracted he is to Isis for less than 30 seconds (timed myself again), then he changes the subject to the plates (that were bronze in Ararat but have now inexplicably changed to brassthat fell into the sea in Ararat.

Bob, of all people, comes up with the pretty good plan to get a mini-sub and follow the route of the ship they took until they find the plates.  But Murphy ditches Bob (why, I don’t know) without so much as a thank you for the idea.

Damn, I’ve missed you, Murphy.



TEC: Chapter 3: Laura…er, Shari

Let’s pop right to Chapter 3, as Murphy returns to work after the canyon escapade, since it’s super-short.  In fact, the chapter is just barely over one page long, but that’s long enough to reinforce the extremely creepy way that Murphy equates his 21-year-old research assistant with his dead wife:

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Methuselah, does it?” [asked Shari]

Her words sounded just like something Laura would say.  Ever since Laura had died, Shari had taken over the job of worrying about him.

Yeah, we know:

With Laura gone, Shari had taken up the post of chief worrier on his behalf…

This is also the chapter in Ararat in which Murphy worries that his constant lying to Shari will get him “in trouble” with her.

I also mentioned back then that there are sound psychological reasons why poor, friendless orphan Shari would cling to this surrogate father figure, no matter how much he lies to her and belittles her and pawns off responsibilities onto her (like those puppies from Ararat, that are never seen again after Shari adopts them).

And I’m sure Murphy has his own reasons for treating Shari (and thinking of her) like a surrogate wife (without the sexual component, natch).  Emotionally, it’s a lot “safer” for him to think of Shari that way, than it would be to build a relationship between two equal adults.  The power imbalance in their relationship, both professional and religious, means Shari will never challenge him or argue with him the way Isis, for example, might.  So Murphy gets the comfort of thinking of Shari as Substitute Laura, without having to actually act like a partner in an adult relationship.

Oh, and the only other thing that happens is that Substitute Laura gives a message to Murphy: Pastor Bob Waggoner wants to have lunch with him.


The Europa Conspiracy: Chapter 2: The Return of Daniel

Following the precedent established by Greg Dinallo, Phillips intersperses Michael Murphy chapters with Bible stories.  In Babylon Rising, it was all about King Neb and his dream.  In The Secret on Ararat, it was, of course, Noah and the ark.  Here, we pop right into the story of Daniel and the lions’ den.  Which is a bit odd, since it was at the beginning of Babylon Rising that Murphy did battle with a lion.

And Daniel doesn’t even battle a lion, but we’ll get to that.

Here is the story of Daniel in the lions’ den, in case anyone would like a refresher.

To be fair, Europa sticks pretty closely to the skeleton that is the Bible account, with some details thrown in for drama.  For example, the satraps have “body odor.”  Which I’m sure at that time was only a problem for those particular evil guys, and not for anyone else.

They also have the problem of only being able to say nice things about their enemy, just like The Seven did back in Babylon Rising.

“He is not a man who can be bribed or corrupted.  He is too honest.”

“His dedicated religious faith can be twisted and used against him.”

And so it is, as the satraps convince King Darius, who’s apparently not the brightest penny in the jar, to randomly make a law…that will be effective for only one month, that nobody gets to pray to anybody or anything except Darius.

That has to be one of the stupidest laws ever.  Why only a month?  Why not outlaw praying to anyone except the king forever?

But don’t worry—we know that it’s just because Darius is an idiot, since he’s short and chubby.

“Proving again that slightly unattractive people are evil!”

-Crow T. Robot, MST3K, Jack Frost

So Daniel is caught praying to his god, since said god would never, ever understand Daniel holding off, or praying silently, for a whole entire month in order to stay alive.  He is thrown into the den of lions, and they’re smelly, too!  Just like the satraps!

Within minutes, Daniel realizes that the lions aren’t going to attack him.  So, he sits around and starts thinking about how he first came to Babylon.

So, look forward to a flashback within a flashback!


The Europa Conspiracy: Chapter 1, Part 2: Cut the Cable

So having been told by the utterly pointless character Tyler Scott to go to a specific spot in the canyon and “look for the cables,” Murphy does so.  He finds a section of the gorge about 150 feet wide, with “two cables spanning the void attached to large trees on either side,” one higher than the other.  We’re also told that the cables are one thousand feet above the river.  So it’s very clear that LaHaye and Phillips have seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom multiple times.

A manila envelope is attached to the upper cable, halfway out.

So Murphy does the sensible thing: he detaches one of the top cables and retrieves the envelope.

HA!  Almost had you there for a minute, didn’t I?  Nope, Murphy just heads right on out over the pit of doom that Methuselah has set up, feet on lower cable, hands on upper cable, wincing and sliding and stepping out right to the middle, a thousand feet off the ground.  This process takes him fifteen minutes.

Murph doesn’t really think these things through, does he?  Knowing that he was going on an “adventure” to the Royal Gorge, it apparently did not occur to Murphy to bring along any mountaineering gear, even gloves (his hands must be ripped to shreds on that cable, which is basically holding up his whole weight!), or a harness to save him just in case he slipped

And knowing there would be cables involved, he didn’t think to bring anything to work with cables like, oh, say, SOMETHING TO CUT THEM WITH.

(Hilariously, there is a Home Depot only fifteen miles from the Royal Gorge.  I think it would be cool if Murphy gazed at the death trap for a moment, hopped in his car, went and bought some cable cutters, and simply disabled the trap.)

But no.

So when he actually gets there and stuffs the envelope down his shirt and starts on his long trek back (damn, but he’s stupid), Meth calls out to him from some unseen vantage point, “almost causing Murphy to lose his balance.”

Reason #72 why you don’t head out there, hanging by your own two hands from a cable, without some kind of safety gear.  Reason #87 why you should have gotten cable cutters in the first place.

And hell, this is stupid on Meth’s part, too.  It’s been established in the previous two books that Meth actually intend for Murphy to succeed in these little tests.  He just wants to make his little puppet dance a bit first.  So when he sees that Murphy has taken the stupidest and deadliest path to the prize, why startle him and potentially get him killed, when you don’t want him dead???

But I guess now Meth does want him dead, because he cuts the foot cable.  Murphy sensibly  swings his legs onto the top cable, so now he’s hanging onto that one by both hand and foot, but then Meth cuts the top cable, too.

And Murphy immediately slides right off the cable and plummets to his ignoble death.

HA!  Yeah, right.  Murphy is an action hero, so he hangs on to a cable as he falls 75 feet and doesn’t let go or slide off.

Damn, LaPhillips, I thought you guys watched Temple of Doom.  At least there they wrapped their arms multiple times before falling.  I mean, it was still ridiculous, but that made it slightly less so.

Also, Indiana Jones has way more cred than Murphy.

Murphy has “moments” before he hits the wall of the canyon.  (Really?)  And he is “able to hold on.”  (Of course.)  But then he slips about 20 feet down the cable, and “his hands were shredded.”  (I told you so, Murph!  Wishing you had brought those gloves now, aren’t ya?)

He climbs the cable up the canyon wall, then finds a little ledge where he has some water and a power bar, then has a nap.

This ledge is five feet by four feet.  And it’s a thousand-foot drop.


I thought you weren’t supposed to fall asleep in a sky cell.  Bad things can happen.  (Pic from Game of Thrones Wiki)

Then a page is spent telling us how Murphy makes prussic knots out of his belt and knapsack, and uses them to scale the rest of the wall to the tippy-top.  So sounds like his shredded hands healed right up.  This passage is clearly meant to make Murphy seem resourceful, but it again just makes him look stupid for not coming prepared.

At the top, Murphy finds that Meth has left a scale that I don’t care about, and a note that says, “BABYLON–375 METERS DIRECTLY NORTHEAST OF THE HEAD.”

And he finally remembers the envelope, which contains crushed plaster.

And I’ve officially given up on understanding Meth.  I mean, the lion in the warehouse, I got.  He had some measure of control there.  But the cave?  Much less control.  And here?  Well, Murphy’s own stupidity obviously contributed, but unless Meth strung up an invisible net we don’t know about, he seems to have been just fine with Murphy dying whenever.

Guys, I just don’t get Meth anymore.

The Europa Conspiracy: Chapter 1, Part 1: In Media Fall

As those of you who have been with me through the previous two books in the series know, the books always begin with Michael Murphy in the middle of some amazing adventure.

In the first book, he was falling down a hole in an abandoned warehouse.

In the second, he was rescuing puppies and nearly drowning in a cave.

In this one, he is suspended on wires over a gorge.

In a rather shocking departure from the mini-chapters of the Underground Zealot series, LaHaye and Phillips have here opted for a super-long expository opening chapter, cutting back and forth (and back and forth AND BACK AND FORTH) between Murphy at the gorge and Murphy some time earlier, following the clues that would eventually lead to the gorge.

Done right, this would be a cool way to drag out the suspense.  But the “clues” are so boring and stupid, and Murphy is such a bad detective, and so self-righteous and annoying, that it’s just a chore.

So I’ll give it to you straight: first, Methuselah sends Murphy a poem.  I am going to reproduce it in its entirety below, because I hate it so very much:

A gorgeous sight,
A Royal delight.
Travel not at night
But in the daylight.
He’s looking for you to come!

Beyond the gates
He there awaits.
He’s looking for you to come!

For he to you, he cannot go.
For him his time is slow.
He’s looking for you to come!

His name has been caught.
It is Tyler Scott.
He’s looking for you to come.

Use your brain, don’t be a blunder-head.
The Spanish name it for the color red.
He’s looking for you to come.

So Professor Mike and Shari begin to pick apart the poem:

“Well, he does mention ‘He’s waiting for you to come’ five different times.  That must be significant.” [said Shari]

“It must be a key thought.” [said Murphy]


Shari immediately discerns that Colorado is the “Spanish name is for the color red” part, even though you would think many things are named for the color red.

Then Murphy immediately susses out that the rest of the poem is referring to the Cañon City Penitentiary, by which I assume he means one of several prisons in the Cañon City area.  Now, he properly knows this because he visited with his parents when he was a kid and they “spent almost a month touring the state.”

Hot damn.  What did his parents do for a living that they could both take a month off?  No wonder Murphy takes his work responsibilities so lightly.

But Murphy goes on from there.  And thus begins the most annoying aspect of this book (yes, even more annoying that bad poetry): Bob Phillips’ reliance on Wikipedia to write his book for him.

At too many times in the book to count (not that it’ll stop me from trying!) a character will just STOP and expound on a subject to a hapless listener for minutes on end.

So even though it has absolutely nothing to do with anything, Murphy goes on and ON about the prison, talking about historical gas chambers and names of wardens and famous prisoners.  Then he finally gets to a point:

“Near Cañon City is the Royal Gorge…get it?  A gorgeous sight, a Royal delight.”

And the point is quickly obscured as Murphy rattles off exact statistics about bridge heights.  Because being smart only means you have instant recall of obscure numbers.

So all this poem is for is to show Murphy that there is a prisoner at the Cañon City prison named Tyler Scott.  And ever so coincidentally, it’s Spring Break, so Murphy can fly out to meet him!

Like he wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t a break.


At the prison, Murphy visits with Tyler Scott, a young man in prison for holding up a convenience store.  Even his parents have stopped coming to see him due to their disappointment.  And despite the fact that Methuselah visited him several MONTHS ago, Tyler proves to have remarkable recall, even using the same words Murphy has always used to describe Meth:

“His voice was different.  He sort of laughed and cackled when he talked.  Kind of spooky, if you ask me.”

Thanks, Tyler.  He also remembers in exact detail the instructions he was to give Murphy to get him to the Royal Gorge, which Murphy already knew from the poem anyway.  Which brings up a point: why the hell did Meth go to all this trouble to get Murphy to the Gorge?  In Babylon, Meth gave Murphy directions over the phone.  In Ararat, Meth sent Murphy a map.  In this case, Murphy has to dissect a poem just to get to the go-between guy who’s going to give him directions to the final destination.  Meth has involved a middleman, when he never has before.

Now, you guys and I all know that this is just a time-wasting technique on LaHaye & Phillips’ part.  But Murphy doesn’t know that.  You might, in fact, assume that young Tyler Scott has some significance.  Why, out of all the people in the state of Colorado, did Meth choose him to deliver a message to Murphy?  Is Tyler important to Meth?  His son, nephew, some kind of associate?

Um, no.  None of the above.  This was all totally random.

But hey, it filled up a few pages!

Plus, it gives Murphy the chance to spread the faith: he leaves Tyler Scott money and a Bible, to “help you create a new life for yourself.”

Plus plus, it gives him an opportunity to think superior thoughts:

What a great time I had [in Colorado] with my dad.  If Tyler Scott had had a caring dad, would his life be any different?

Okay, I know Tyler’s dad hasn’t visited and is disappointed in him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a caring parent before.  Maybe this armed robbery was the last in a long string of huge criminal acts and assorted screw-ups on the part of his son, and Dad is finally resorting to Tough Love.

Speaking of the man, where is Murphy’s dad these days?  Remember, he didn’t show up at Laura’s funeral in Babylon Rising, yet Murphy has also never alluded to his dad being dead.  Yeah, real caring guy, I guess.

Murphy also doesn’t spare a thought for his mom, who was also along for the Colorado jaunt.  I guess wimmins don’t matter, at least when it comes to turning out non-criminal children.

Next time, the Gorgeous George Gorge!

Fireproof: Real-Life Firefighting

Before we jump into the horror relief that is The Europa Conspiracy, we have our third and final installment of Inquisitive Raven’s expert additional critique of the firefighting in Fireproof.  (I forgot to post it sooner because between a Wintermas cold and Kirk’s obsession with hot chocolate, I guess I banished him from my thoughts!)

If you’d like a refresher on Fireproof, here is the completed critique.  The scenes that Inquisitive Raven will be focusing on can be found here.

So without further ado, I’ll hand it over to Inquisitive Raven!

Now for the third and final installment of my Fireproof critique. Today we’re going to cover the fire call, and let me tell you that it is a textbook example of how not to run a fire scene. Now while our hostess’ criticisms of the protagonist’s actions are spot on for his actions inside the building, in the context of the entire incident, he comes off much worse. How can this be? Well, before I get into that, let me introduce you to the Incident Command System.

In short, the ICS is a system for determining who’s in charge of what in an emergency response, especially one involving multiple agencies. Using the fire call in the movie as an example, the responding agencies would be the fire department (two companies), EMS, and one hopes, the police department. Now each of the fire companies is presumably headed up by a captain, and in the absence of a battalion chief, one of them would be the Incident Commander. Protocol dictates that the one who arrives on scene first is in charge until someone with higher seniority, e.g. the battalion chief, arrives or the IC explicitly transfers command to someone else. Caleb is the captain of his company. I’m sure most of you can see where this is going.

I’ll follow up on that later, but for now, let’s start the play-by-play. The filmmakers don’t set this call up the way they did the vehicle rescue. Instead, they go directly from horsing around in the bunkroom to reacting to the dispatch:

“Engine 2, Engine 1, Aerial(?)1, Battalion 1, Respond to [incident location], structure fire, residence. Time out XXXX.”

Apparatus Identifiers.png

Note that I’m not sure if the dispatcher is saying “Area One” or “Aerial One,” but in context, I think “Aerial One” makes more sense. It could easily refer to the ladder, and calling the ladder “Aerial One” makes more sense than calling it “Battalion One,” especially since the ladders are listed as “[x] feet aerial” on Albany’s Apparatus Page. Now, if the dispatch is being sensible instead of internally consistent, then “Battalion One” might actually be referring to the battalion chief this time. With two companies being dispatched, they’ll need a unified command and that’s the battalion chief’s job.

Our hostess makes a point of mentioning how all the firefighters in the company are men, but in fairness to the filmmakers, I feel I should point out that firefighting is still a male dominated occupation. Case in point, a complete roster of full time firefighters in my sister’s town is available on the department website, and out of forty-five firefighters, at most three are women. I say “at most,” because one of them has a given name that could go either way. That means that out of four shifts, at least one has no female personnel on it. Similarly, when I joined Manoa, there was exactly one woman with firefighter qualifications, and that was the case when I checked Manoa’s website to research these articles. By the time I left, a few more women had qualified as firefighters,but the male firefighters and EMS only women still outnumbered them.

At any rate, the apparatus rolls, and when our hero (I think I’ll call him Dolt) notifies dispatch that they’re responding, dispatch tells him “Please be aware we have received numerous calls regarding this structure fire.” Yep, another useless transmission from the dispatcher. A better message would have been something along the lines of “Please be aware that we have received several reports of flames visible,” which at least gives some idea  of the seriousness of the situation. A report of smoke visible would also provide some information, although, unlike flames, it’s no guarantee that there’s actually a fire (If people want to find out how I know that, ask in the comments).

When they get to the scene, Dolt calls the dispatcher to notify them that he’s arrived and takes command as first on scene. This is important. Again, I note a distinct absence of cops. They should be doing crowd control.

While talking to the residents and their next door neighbors, they find out that the residents’ daughter is still inside. Dad freaks out and attempts to run back inside only to be stopped by Lt. Christian. This only works because distraught dad runs right past the guy; otherwise, I have no doubt he’d be able to outrun the fittest person in firefighter turnout and wearing an air pack. Having put one on, I can assure you that they are not lightweight objects. A couple of cops would be better suited to the job.

Now we get to the part that our hostess covered in detail. She writes:

For all his talk (even in the truck on the way to this very fire) about sticking with your partner, Caleb…crawls into the house on his own, looking for the kid.  Everyone else sticks at the front of the house and are separated from Caleb when some of the roof caves.

So, Caleb is trapped in a back bedroom with the kid, but without his partner.  Because he left his partner.

Oh, and for reasons best known to himself, Caleb deliberately set down his walkie-talkie before heading into the house.  So he has no way of letting anyone know exactly where her is.

Now I wanna know why he goes in to rescue the girl. Doylisticly, it’s to show him being a hero, but IRL terms, he’s just abandoned his post. Keep in mind that unless he hands the job off to someone else, he’s the Incident Commander. As such, his job is directing the other firefighters, not going into burning buildings to rescue little girls. Lt. Christian is busy restraining Worried Dad and the rookie is operating the pumper, but there’s two more firefighters in his company and however many from the second company that he can send in. That’s their job. His job is to give the orders because someone needs to be in charge of the scene. I would add that as people are scrambling to prep for entering the building, no one seems to be. That also makes his leaving his walkie-talkie behind even more reprehensible. Later on we see a different officer giving orders. Since he has a red helmet, I’m assuming that he’s the captain of the second company, but whether he’s the second captain or the battalion chief, he’s doing the job Dolt was supposed to be doing, but isn’t and didn’t formally hand off. At least there was no sign of him doing so onscreen. Note: Rank and file firefighters wear yellow helmets; the known officers wear red helmets. Based on my experience, I’d expect the battalion chief to wear a white helmet, but I don’t know for sure that zie does, and we never see any helmet colors except red and yellow.

Okay, rant over. Does everyone understand why I consider this guy’s antics much worse than our hostess did, when her opinion was quite bad enough?

Now, I am about as far from being an expert on firefighting as it is possible to be, but is it really advisable for Caleb to take off his oxygen mask and his firefighting jacket, and put them on the unconscious kid?  Doesn’t Caleb need them more at this moment?  I mean, I keep thinking about being on an airplane—secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.  Because if Caleb is injured or collapses from smoke inhalation, they’re both screwed.  Isn’t it better, instead of wasting time fumbling with the gear, to get them both out as quickly as possible so the kid can get medical attention?

There’s not much I can actually add to that, but we’ll see what I can do. One correction first, those tanks contain compressed air which is only about 20% oxygen. That’s because you don’t want pure oxygen anywhere near open flames.

As for taking off the mask and the turnout putting it on the kid… Remember Rule One, “Don’t add to the number of people needing to be rescued”? Yeah, this is a violation. You look to your own safety first, because if something happens to you, it’s not just that you’re both screwed. It’s that now people need to expend effort on your behalf that could’ve been used to help the original victim. Like I said in my previous post, the entire first day of EMT class was spent on this.

Also, the reason I have experience wearing an air pack is that one of the firefighter drills I participated in was the proper use of same. The training officer rather pointedly told us not give the mask to any anyone we found inside a burning building. So, yeah, Dolt shouldn’t have done that.

In conclusion, that fire scene is a fine example of how not to handle incident command and how not to rescue an entrapped fire victim. It would have been entirely appropriate for Dolt to called in front of a review board regarding his conduct at that fire.


The Europa Conspiracy: Foreward: Fascinating, Captain


So I figured, after being up to our ears in Paul Stepola and Kirk Cameron these past few months, that we could all use a little break.

So I’m going to be critiquing The Europa Conspiracy, by Tim LaHaye and Bob Phillips.

Yep, Michael Murphy is going to be a break from our past few “heroes.”

If there’s one thing we can always count on in this world, it’s Tim LaHaye’s infatuation with his own work:

In this fascinating book Murphy goes through hair-raising events to stave off the work of Talon (who may be the most vicious terrorist hit man in fiction history) and the Seven for whom he works.

My book is so fascinating!  Buy it today!

Also, is it really possible to be a “terrorist hit man“?  I mean, a terrorist kills to instill terror, and a hit man kills for money.  Isn’t a hit man’s whole job to work for whomever pays him, regardless of what the boss’s goals are?  You could be a terrorist and a hit man at the same time, I suppose, but not all the time.  Otherwise, you would just be a terrorist.

As such, it’s kinda silly of LaHaye to call Talon “the most vicious terrorist hit man in fiction history.”  So, taking each piece, I think we can all agree that Talon is neither the most vicious terrorist nor the most vicious hit man.

The dedication is “To all those whose study of Bible prophecy has made them anticipate the revival of the old Roman empire,” and LaHaye mentions said empire again in the Foreward.  Yet another book about Daniel’s prophecies, this time with a focus on the European union.  As those who have followed the Slacktivist know, unity and common purpose are Very Bad Things:

What these European leaders [who are cooperating with each other] do not realize is that they are playing right into the hands of evil conspirators out to take over the world, or at least, prepare for a world takeover predicted by the prophets of both the Old and New Testament.

Speaking of conspirators, then you write your book, you should always do your best not to sound like a fictional conspiracy theorist.

LaHaye is very into superlatives.  He then calls the Seven “the most ruthless group ever assembled,” with only one man (the Antichrist, natch) “more evil than themselves.”

Of course.

But it’s okay, everyone, because…

Fortunately for humanity, Murphy knows and is primed for action.

What a relief!