Thursday, December 21, 2006

Less Tricky than Dicky Nixon

The Indwelling: The Beast Takes Possession, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, Read by Richard Ferrone, Recorded Books, LLC, 2000

As beginnings go, it’s not so bad for this series.

We pick up our story with Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist, being shot in the head on stage at some kind of Global Community gathering. Pandemonium ensues, blood is spilt liberally, and yet, there’s some question, who did it? Who actually killed the world’s most powerful man?

Yes, it’s that time again, kids, time for another three book installment of the worst popular novel series of all time. Why, you wonder, pulling your hair? Ask Edmund Hillary.

At any rate, we begin with that strange paradoxical thinking that is one of the hallmarks of what passes for logic in the crazy, crazy world of Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins: knowing that the Antichrist has to be assassinated before he can be resurrected and go on to dominate the world, why do the believers go to so much trouble to kill him? Why do they go to any trouble at all? Granted, the divine plan, as this confusing welter of events is portrayed, is already in motion and the authors would no doubt argue that nothing could halt the end of the world as foretold from the beginning etc. etc., but it still seems like the characters are bringing trouble on themselves by getting involved in the assassination attempt.

I know the Lord is supposed to help those who help themselves, but can anything in these books happen without the fingerprints of a major character being all over them? I mean, wouldn’t someone else try to kill Nicolae Carpathia anyway if it was all foretold?

Shortly after the assassination, the stand-in world leader, Nicolae’s number two, Leon Fortunato, orders a shut down of all satellite communications as a way to keep the Trib Force isolated. Ah, that’s foxing them. Apparently this has a negligible effect on renamed UN Global Community phones and television broadcast, nor does it paralyze the entire world and wreak untold havoc globally. Why not? Well, because, that’s why.

Yes, in the five years since the first book in the series hit the shelves, our authors haven’t bothered to slow down for a second to reflect on the consequences of the book’s actions. Much like in earlier volumes when giant meteors strike the planet or when the oceans turn to blood or the amount of sunlight reaching the earth is cut by 66% and there are merely small, manageable ecological concerns, shutting down all satellite communication hampers no one’s air travel, entertainment, or military considerations. And you know that never crossed the minds of the authors, because little actually ever does cross their minds that reflects reality.

And, of course, we are still in the world of terrible, terrible similes and metaphors. Perhaps my favorite quote of all time is this gem about deep thinking:

As Rayford allowed that to rattle around in his brain, he realized that if he pursued this, turned it over in his mind like the marshmallows he had tried browning evenly as a child...

I am not making this up.

At this stage, there’s really not much point in nitpicking the larger absurdities of the series. They’re patently manifest, and the pulpit hucksterism that allows for people — apparently functional enough to hold jobs, make money, buy books and read them, and so on — to read these things and not just shake their head and toss the whole thing aside is a serious and odious evil in the world.

What I love about these books is listening to each one for the most absurd on its face plot development, the most egregious misuse of culture, the clunkiest high school creative writing mishaps, and the overall just wrongness of it all. If it weren’t for the authors’ apparent sincerity, you’d almost have to believe it was a long-running, extra-baroque in-joke of the Andy Kaufman variety.

I mean, how is it possible that all these Antichrist signs in the Bible are missed by everyone even when they are so bold and in your face? The whole of the world fails to notice (with the exception of our heroes, the Tribulation Force) the perverted version of the Our Father the globe is instructed to direct toward Carpathia, “Our Father, who art in New Babylon” and so on? It’s not like these are cleverly hidden references.

And there are all these Grampa-like addled references to technology. Seriously, two middle aged men who think cellphones have “caller ID buttons” shouldn’t be talking about technology more advanced than a wheel. Yet they take on characters like David Hassid, computer hacker/genius extraordinaire and never look where they’re going. Hassid works for the Antichrist, one of the good guys on the inside, while at the same time handling all tech issues for the Trib Force such as their wordy sermon website written up by Tsion ben Judah.

Now, color me skeptical, but a website that is constantly and repeatedly described as getting “over a billion hits” a day would seriously need a hands-on, full-time care taker. It’s sadly obvious you’re dealing with people who haven’t the foggiest idea what they’re talking about because wouldn’t it be terribly easy to find the Trib Force’s secret layer where they keep the rooms and rooms full of hard drives to support this endeavor? Wouldn’t their electrical bill be pretty high? Wouldn’t it be damned simple to track down the ISP in this case?

And this billion daily readers figure strikes me as overly optimistic in other respects. Based on figures sewn throughout these novels about how many are raptured, how many killed by disasters as a result of the rapture, how many killed in the variety of disasters following as part of the prophecy, how the fuck are there still a billion people left on the planet to begin with? And a billion who believe in Jesus, all with Internet access? Please.

Further, even though the Trib Force has Nicolae bugged out the yin-yang so that he can’t even take a demonic dump without Hassid listening in, the bad guys never once consider putting a bug put on people close to Carpathia and company, his inside circle. Hell, this lack of paranoia you couldn’t even say about Tricky Dick Nixon. And if the Antichrist isn’t half as clever as Nixon, then what chance did he ever have? If a Jew and a Wasp newspaper duo can take down the President of the United States, the Antichrist ought to have been toast three books ago.

But there’s prophecy that’s got to be followed, so as badly written as these books are, a schedule is a schedule.

Never mind that one of the authors is supposed to be a Biblical scholar, never mind that there is a Talmudic expert turned Christian who studied the New Testament for years before his conversion. Never mind all that. Because when this character, Tsion ben Judah has a dream that borders on plagiarizing the book of Revelation, he doesn’t even recognize the material.

Here’s the Bible:

A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman 2 clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. 3 Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, 4 with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. 5 She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne.

And after having a dream that is exactly like this, here’s ben Judah’s first thought after he finally, at long long last makes the connection:

Scholars were divided on who the sun-clothed woman was, the one who wore a garland of stars and used the moon as her footstool. Clearly she was symbolic as no woman was that large or had a child in space.

Ya think? Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up.

After this nitwit is apparently chosen by LaHaye and Jenkins’ warped god, ben Judah hallucinates a conversation with Michael, the archangel. I mean, really. Just when you think to yourself, this can’t possibly get any kookier, it does. It actually does.

Yet for all its kookiness, this book is probably the dullest of the lot as a good seventy percent of the text involves characters Cameron “Buck” Williams, the Inspector Clouseau of newspaper investigating, and 100% all man Rayford Steele, ex-pilot and guilt wracked leader of the Trib Force, flying from one place to another before hopping another jet to yet somewhere else. You’d think they were in a frequent flyer miles competition, the air time these fellows log. Just as one shows up to see the Antichrist shot, the other flies out to rescue some dumb broad, then the other rides out to find other scattered Trib Force members, while the other flies to get near the scene when Carpathia rises from the dead.

And strangely, or rather not so strangely, since the book is populated by dolts, even after the Trib Force understand that Carpathia’s funeral service will be broadcast globally, they still wonder why he hasn’t risen from the dead prior to that moment. How they could ever outfox the GC and the Antichrist I’ll never quite understand as they fail to grasp even the most basic fundamentals of marketing and publicity, let alone consider the possibility that the Antichrist would rise after three days in a mockery of the Christ story.

So what the book consists of is dumb major characters and an assortment of minor characters whose sole function is to move us from one scene to the next, to provide what inside information or utility they can to the Trib Force, before dying off. There was little doubt in my mind that Rayford’s position as spy in the Antichrist’s camp, once taken over by David Hassid, existed merely to get us into the room where the story was and once that was no longer necessary, Hassid would bite the bullet. It apparently never occurred to the authors simply to follow the omniscient track of storytelling rather than limited third person.

But what’s possibly the hardest thing to understand throughout the series is the public love for Carpathia, which is curious to say the least. Outlawing religions, as he does, went over so well in Communist nations, you can see that’d bring love like no other. Earlier in the series, he publicly murder two prophets on television which also kindof strikes me as unlikely to be well-received by most of your target market. Moving UN headquarters to Iraq and nuking large parts of America might gain you support in some quarters, but I rather doubt one would automatically be a beloved, wept-over martyr after such a thing. And after his death, the rapidity with which it is likewise globally accepted that Nicolae was a supernatural emissary of God on earth, currently looking down on us from heaven, is just ridiculously hard to accept. Like most everything else.

But if you think his popularity was something, the book ends with the man rising from the dead, no longer merely just the Antichrist, but now Satan incarnate. And if that doesn’t get the love a-flowin’ I can’t imagine what will.

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