Thursday, December 21, 2006

If a Sparrow Falls,
The Trib Force Sees It

The Mark: The Beast Rules the World, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Read by Frank Muller, Recorded Books, LLC, 2000

The most notable change in this new book in the series is that long-time reader Richard Ferrone has been replaced by Frank Muller who actually manages to provide the Antichrist with an accent that actually sounds middle European. In fact, everyone who should have an accent has a decent approximation for a change, only now some names have greatly altered pronunciations. Used to Ferrone’s “Zion” for “Tsion,” it took a few hearings to realize that Muller’s “Te-seeon” was the same name.

The Devil going apeshit on earth, the Trib Force are rightfully scared. Their safehouse in a suburb blown, the Trib Force, all together at long last in the same room after what read like real time flights around the globe, move to an abandoned skyscraper in Chicago. The city has been completely abandoned due to widespread belief that radiation has poisoned the town after Carpathia nuked several American cities. Turns out, not so much radiation after all. Better living through atoms, friends.

No sooner are they ensconced in this latest home, then, you guessed it, Rayford takes off in a new helicopter, flying off on some further mission. In Buck’s first general scene by himself mostly, his son says to him, “Daddy, bye bye” and Buck tears up. Yes, he too will soon be flying somewhere else I’m sure. And you should be too. These real men can’t sit around and raise children or romance their women, they’ve got air miles to log.

What’s a bit strange, a bit ethnocentric in and of itself, is the basis for setting so much of the novel in America. How can these six people in the Trib Force matter so much in the history of the world when most of what they do involves flying back and forth rescuing various friends of theirs? There’s all these converts who are supposed to be setting up churches all over the world who are probably of more value than Rayford Steele saving Hattie Durham yet again. Seeing as how all the important things are going down in the Middle East and Europe, this constant hopping back to America seems merely self-important baloney. They save other believers, those whose function seems to be providing them with fake IDs and various airport clearances and access to planes, all so they can later fly to save same individuals. It’s some kind of vicious holy circle.

But what we finally and definitely get to is one of those basic, bedrock ideas associated with the end of the world Christian-style everyone knows and recognizes—The Mark of The Beast. Rockin. No one can buy or sell without The Mark.

The Mark, when it finally shows up, anticlimactically turns out to be a kind of UPC barcode, taking us back to conspiracy theories of the past, but it’s teched up with a biochip. This, of course, gives Jenkins free rein to write more about technology he doesn’t understand. Ho hum. Have I ever mentioned how easily these authors can bore your tits off with what could be dynamite material?

What’s strange about this is that taking The Mark joins the list of two sins for which there is no forgiveness. The first is denying the existence of the Holy Spirit; apparently the second is taking The Mark of The Beast. Take it then repent, well sorry buddy, you’re screwed. As the books progress, ultimately what we’re discussing here is winnowing down the world’s population to a very few. God has set a plan in motion and the plan is apparently to make billions of people but only to keep millions of them, and sentence the remaining majority to eternal agony. Because he loves us. Woo-hoo!

Then some new kind of malarkey is started up with the counter-mark. While the Antichrist plans to put his mark on everyone who pledges loyalty to him, it turns out the true Christians have a mark of their own. Earlier, the Trib Force and all believers discovered that they had a mark on their forehead that only true believers can see. (It’s a cross, in case you couldn’t guess). This had a small role previously, but now it gets big big play, which seems fitting. Strange enough, the good mark can only be seen by true Christians, yet they constantly worry that non-believers will find out about this, though exactly how they might is never made clear. Every time someone meets a stranger with the good mark, there is a whole bunch of “let me rub your head” and “that isn’t dirt is it?” business which personally I found hilarious. Somehow LaHaye and Jenkins don’t find this funny and fail every time to milk this business for some laffs.

Surely this info about the good mark could be discovered through torture, but the constant worry is out of proportion to its likelihood. What makes this worry doubly laughable is that Chloe has been working to set up a worldwide food and supplies co-op which apparently is prepared to work with “tens of thousands” of people (not the “billions” reading ben Judah’s website, oddly). Surely this little tidbit, where people without The Mark of The Beast are getting their vittles, might be a little easier to tumble on to rather than finding out who has invisible head crosses.

The characters themselves do a bit of their business, moving the plot along from point A to point B. The general bulk of the texts, probably somewhere in the upper 80% range, serves this function. . For instance, the last book was The Indwelling and we managed to make it to that point, where Satan enters the dead Antichrist’s body and raises him to life; this book is The Mark. We just make it to the point where the first mark is given and — bang! — we’re done.

Much like in The Indwelling where we learn about the number one website on earth, in The Mark, we discover that Buck’s cyber-news-zine is the second most popular website on the planet. Providing the Straight Dope about the Antichrist and world events, Buck’s a huge huge celebrity, yet he manages to single-handedly break all of his stories through fake mustaches and wigs and whatnot. Slightly strange in all this is that the biggest bulk of interest for readers worldwide is in this new Christianity, yet supposedly the bulk of the planet remains firmly in Carpathia’s pocket. Strange how those numbers work out. It’s much like the persecution complex suffered by right wing fundamentalist Christians of today, who also believe that their belief system is shared by most of America. Most everyone thinks like us, but we’re oppressed by a superpowerful minority. Uh huh.

Near the book’s end the emotional climax occurs as the first martyrs who refuse the mark are beheaded watched by Buck and an associate (because nothing can happen in the book without a believer watching it, LaHaye and Jenkins being strangely unable to write in the omniscient style, possibly because that’s reserved for the deity).

This begged the question as to what might be the action-packed climax, which to my thinking would probably be the killing of a major character for refusing The Mark. It’s a long-standing tradition to at some point snuff one of your majors; just as Rocky Balboa has to get his ass kicked before he can come back and whup the bad guys, the good guys have to take some serious hits. Unfortunately, no, I’m sorry to say, spoiling the plot for you.

The second question that came to mind after this was how they were going to make this film for the Christians. This book is chock full of chopped noggins. Granted, after this I guess there’s no amount of on-screen gore certain people can’t accept in the name of an ideology.

The plot climax instead turned out to be a plane crash as part of an escape ploy by believers on the inside as a way to avoid taking The Mark. Originally the plan had been to put it on autopilot and have it go down in the ocean. That would be wise. Instead, for reasons not made sufficiently clear, they choose to crash it on a deserted beach, which is plain dumb.. The black box flight recorder you always hear about in crash stories is virtually indestructible and will tell you what the plane did and what communications took place on it. Sinking it in an ocean provides for no human DNA near the crash site, loses the black box completely, and makes investigation nearly impossible. Land crashes are trickier to fake and leaves open too many possibilities to be caught out. But that’s what we go with, probably so Jenkins could type up some wicked cool explosions.

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