Saturday, March 29, 2014

Terrible Handbooks

With this week, once again, Ellanjay try to create some tension about "OMG! Will Vicki make it?!" but as we all know, it fails miserably just like all the times before, because Ellanjay can't bear to have actual lasting harm come to their characters. Once again, I pity the RTC kids who got stuck with these books.

It is my understanding that people of Ellanjay's ilk tend to believe that the Rapture will happen within their lifetime and that these books are meant to serve as fictionalized handbooks for those left behind. In which case, Ellanjay do their readers a great disservice. There is nothing in here that would serve to help them should an evil dictatorship take over. Better to read The Hiding Place or even the first six chapters of Daniel (which Fred has already mentioned that they ignore).

Vicki's all "Why are we turning?" but Mark's like "Jim told us it was a good idea." I wish it would turn out that Jim was stringing them along, but I know it can't because it's already established that Jim has the Zod-mark so he can't be evil. Because Christians are never evil even though the vast majority of the Nazis identified as Christians. Yeah, I know I just invoked Godwin's Law here. Hopefully, it wasn't unnecessary.

Meanwhile, Judd and Lionel meet with Westin and they discuss Chang. Lionel wonders if Chang's a plant by the GC, but Judd believes there's more to the story: after all, Chang has the Zod-mark and you can't have that and be evil, like I said before.

Vicki goes to confront the truck tailing them but it turns out that the truck is being driven by Pete. For those of you wondering, "Who the Hell is that?" Pete's a trucker that Judd befriended following the Wrath of the Lambquake, but then again, all you really need to know about his character is that he's a believer. That tells you everything.

Pete tells Vicki he's been driving for Chloe's Co-Op and that he and a bunch of other believers are the ones responsible for diverting and destroying shipments of guillotines. Apparently Pete hasn't been as well-versed in the Tribbles ethos of doing nothing, because when questioned about stealing GC property, he gives this response:

“I guess you could call it that. I know some people might think it’s wrong, but I figure the only reason these contraptions exist is to kill believers. If I can do something to stop it, I will.”

Strangely enough, none of the YTF actually call him on this. I guess the "Do Nothing" ethos doesn't apply to characters that have been off-screen for 90% of the series.

The section ends with Ellanjay trying to set up the inevitable Vicki/Judd ship.

“No, what about Judd and you?”
Shelly rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t think anybody knows.”
Pete laughed. “Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see you two were meant for each other.”
Vicki blushed. “This isn’t anybody’s business.”
Pete playfully socked her shoulder. “When it’s my sister, it’s my business, you get me? You can deny it all you want, but just the way you’re reacting now tells me a lot.”
Vicki smiled. “Can we change the subject?”

Frankly given how boring and useless both Judd and Vicki are, it's safe to say that they deserve each other.

The chapter ends with Judd and Lionel finding out that Z-Van plans on taking the Mark. Shocker, I know.

Next chapter, Lionel follows Z-Van as he goes to get his mark, bravely demonstrating brave Christian witness by bravely saying nothing about how taking the mark damns you for all eternity. I know they've already tried to convert Z-Van but you'd think the brave martyrrific thing to do would be to try and try until they haul you off to the guillotine. Oh and Roy Donaldson makes another appearance. He's all keyed up to meet both Nicky (who will be present at Z-Van's marking) and Z-Van.

I keep digging around online trying to find out more about Roy Donaldson. Frankly he's made too many appearances to be just written off. I suspect either we'll have his conversion scene or he'll take the Mark. If the second one comes to pass, I'll feel a little sad because Roy so far has been nothing but a decent person to our heroes. But then again, according to Ellanjay, being good is meaningless unless you say The Prayer. After you've said the prayer, you can go on being the same person you were before then, but until you do, you're a hardened reprobate deserving of hellfire and damnation.

Meanwhile, it turns out that those believers Vicki wanted to rescue have already been taken into GC custody. But fear not! Our heroes have a plan.

Colin outlined the plan and everyone received their assignments. Pete would deliver the injector machines after dark that evening, while the others cut a hole in the fence outside the camp. Jim Dekker would put an order in from the fictitious Commander Blakely that all suspected Judah-ites be separated and left outside overnight. That would give the kids a chance to get their friends’ attention and free them. “Plus we don’t have to set foot inside the camp,” Colin said.

If you can't see several things wrong with this plan...Sorry I don't know how to properly portray just how dumb an idea this is. Whether it's dumber than Buck's plan to get Token Jew to Egypt is your call.

But there's a hitch in their plan. Turns out the place already has a guillotine and is just waiting on the injectors, which means that the YTF will have to go in earlier than expected. I suppose I should be grateful that they aren't just shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Well they're already believers so they'll go to Heaven so who cares if they die," but I'm not.

Vicki's section ends with Colin saying, "We need a decoy."

Next section, we get exciting reading action with Judd reading an email from Token Jew. Part of me keeps wondering if I should start a poll: Who is worse, Bruce "Useless" Barnes or Token Jew? Me, if forced to choose, I would have to give the edge to Token Jew. Not only does he make more appearances that Bruce "Useless" Barnes, but Token Jew manages to be a caricature of a culture that's already suffered more than enough persecution in its long history.

Anyway, Token Jew says not to fight Nicky and even Judd is like "WTF?" in response.

So, as worthy and noble a goal as it is to go on the offensive against the evil one, I believe we can do that most effectively by focusing on persuading the undecided to come to faith. Knowing that every day could be our last, that we could be found out and dragged to a mark application center, there to make our decision to die for the sake of Christ, we must be more urgent
about our task than ever.

That would be a noble task--preaching from the rooftops--that is if we ever saw the characters do that. So far, Judd has had ample chances to do so, but has wussed out every time. Something tells me the characters in the adult books don't do much better at this "Try to Convert the Heathens!" bit than the kids.

But Token Jew has good news. Wanna hear it?

I have good news for you. The Bible tells us that once one is either sealed by God as a believer or accepts the mark of loyalty to Antichrist, this is a once-and-for-all choice. … That tells me that somehow, when we face the ultimate test, God miraculously overcomes our evil, selfish flesh and gives us the grace and courage to make the right decision in spite of ourselves. My interpretation of this is that we will be unable to deny Jesus, unable to even choose the mark that would temporarily save our lives.

I'm reminded of that quote by Fred Clark that I posted last week about the appeal of martyr stories, how they reduce the hard struggle of Christian living down to a one question pass-or-fail test. It seems apt here, but since I posted it last week, I'm not going to post it again.

After reading Token Jew's epistle, Judd gets an email from Chang asking him to come meet him. Judd, not being completely rock-stupid, wonders whether it's such a smart idea and wonders what the Mark will do to Chang's soul.

The chapter ends with Lionel witnessing Z-Van take the Mark and if you're wondering, yes, he does bravely refuse to give Christian witness, knowing fully well that Z-Van's now damned for all eternity.

Lionel wanted to scream and tell Z-Van not to take the mark, not to sell his soul to the devil, but Lionel knew he was helpless. Z-Van stood spellbound by this enemy of God.

The chapter ends with Nicky turning towards the camera and saying "Who's next?"

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Nothing Separates Us from God

If any of my readers suffer from some kind of delicate heart condition that is triggered by the slightest excitement, fear not. Nothing happens in the first two chapters. I know I promised to stop complaining about boredom, but I still find myself amazed that after ending the previous book with a beheading, they don't even bother to ramp up the tension any more. I pity the poor RTC kids who got stuck reading these books.

Vicki is hanging out in the hideout, listening to the radio which recounts what we already witnessed with Zeke getting beheaded. This of course gets Vicki to wondering if she'd have the courage to die for her beliefs. Me, this little discussion makes me think of one of my favorite Left Behind posts by Fred: Martyr Envy

To quote Fred:

And here we come to the vicarious appeal of these books for American evangelicals. The perilous Tribulation that Bruce Barnes describes is frightening, yes, but at least it’s not as dull as the uninspiring sit-around-and-wait, do-nothing existence they’ve come to believe is their lot in life here in history.

Here in Left Behind they can reimagine the Christian life as an exciting adventure. It’s similar to the speakers we had on youth group retreats back in high school. They would tell these thrilling stories of Christians who were persecuted for their faith — first century believers or 20th-century Christians in China or behind the Iron Curtain. The stories would reach a crescendo where the persecuted faithful were forced to choose between denying their faith and certain death. “What would you do?” the speakers would ask. And then, with every head bowed and every eye closed, we were given the opportunity to come forward yet again to re-re-dedicate our lives to Christ.

I don’t know whether those speakers realized the secret envy we had when listening to those stories. The lives of those martyrs seemed so much more exciting and meaningful than our own did. Plus there was something weirdly appealing about a one-time, one-question, pass-fail test in place of the tedious day-after-day. In our imaginations, at least, the martyr’s egress sounded almost easier than the pilgrim’s progress (as somebody once said, the hardest thing in this world is to live in it.) We imagined that, like the grandmother in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” we could’ve been good kids if it had been somebody there to shoot us every minute of our lives.

Sorry for the bigass quote but Fred sums up the appeal of these stories so well that any attempt on my part feels lacking in comparison.

Plus, Ellanjay also forget that the deck is stacked for the characters in these books: they have seen irrefutable proof of God's hand at work. Most of his readers will have to go their entire lives without seeing something as awe-inspiring as God swatting aside nukes. Of course, maybe Bizarro-God took his place because ever since, He can't seem to witness to the people of Earth without killing them horribly.

Next section, well apparently Lionel is back from outer space or wherever the hell he's been these past few chapters because we finally hear from his perspective again. I'm guessing with Ryan dead, someone has to be the series' Butt Monkey. I'm surprised it wasn't Vicki given that she's a girl with girl parts, but then again she is identical to mini-Rayford aka Judd, so much so that I sometimes think of her as Judd-with-Boobs.

I have to admit: the Lionel section is fairly decent. Ellanjay actually eases off the narrative gas and allows Lionel some time to ruminate and think about his slaughtered family. It also contains an attempt at an Author's Saving Throw with Ellanjay trying to convince us that our protagonists are totally suffering even though so far their plot armor doesn't have so much as a single dent in it.

Lionel missed his dad more than he wanted to admit. They had missed so many things. With each birthday or holiday, Lionel ached for some kind of celebration, a cake, or some presents. But the truth was, the kids didn’t have time for things like that. Life was a constant struggle.

Natalie talks with Vicki basically again recounting stuff we already know about how the mark will damn you forever. I have to admit that I don't normally agree with Paul, that old Misogynist, but I feel that this verse, Romans 8:38-39, is apropos:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In other words, I fail to see how Ellanjay's "The mark will totally damn you for all eternity!" thing lines up with the Bible. I'd ask but they'd probably only reply with something about how the devil can quote scripture to suit its own ends, which is a paraphrase from Shakespeare, not the Bible.

Natalie says that first all the prisoners would be marked but then the GC employees will have to go through with it, leaving her to wonder what to do. My response: Either witness until they drag you off and guillotine you (which is what a true martyr like St. Stephen would do) or head for the hills. It's not a hard decision to make.

The chapter ends with Vicki receiving a message from someone named Kelly Bradshaw asking for help. Once again, I ask why is it that it couldn't be the GC pretending to be an RTC in need of assistance in order to bait them? Is there some law in the Satanic New World Order that forbids lying even in order to capture enemies of the state?

Next chapter, well, Judd and Lionel get tired of waiting and go to Chang's parents' apartment to ask about him. They find out that Chang's been drugged and dragged off to get the mark. They're like "We've gotta save him!" and Judd calls on the help of that peacekeeper, Roy Donaldson. For those of you wondering, Roy is that perfectly nice guy whom Judd was too much of a coward to witness to in a previous chapter.

Roy tells him that Chang already got the mark and the Judd-Lionel section ends with this conversation.

Judd shook his head and glanced at the employees waiting to seal their fates. They were like sheep being led to the slaughter, and they didn’t even know it.
Judd thanked Roy, and the Peacekeeper walked away clutching Z-Van’s autograph.
Lionel sat down hard on a bench. “I don’t get it. Tsion said God would give believers the strength they needed to resist taking the mark.”
“Maybe it’s not real,” Judd said.
“Maybe Chang came up with a fake that convinced everybody.”
“Maybe. But there’s another possibility.”
“What’s that?”
“Maybe Chang is fake himself.”

Nice to know that the YTF isn't completely rock-stupid in that they considered the possibility that all this talk about being opposed to the GC and in love with God was a fa├žade. But I'm still confused in that didn't they explicitly say earlier that Chang was drugged? So why the sudden attitude, Judd?

The chapter ends with Vicki meeting up with Jim again and they start discussing plans. We're on yet another road trip as the YTF head towards Iowa to rescue some believers. We do find out that apparently our brave double agents have actually done some double-agent stuff. It's small but I feel like celebrating every time the Tribbles do something smart.

“How do we know they haven’t already applied the mark?” Vicki said.
Colin shook his head. “Jim and Natalie diverted a shipment of injector machines. They were going to do the same thing to the guillotines, but for some reason ship- ments have been delayed in North Carolina, Florida, Iowa, and Tennessee. We don’t have any idea why.”

Vicki puts on a GC uniform and actually demonstrates some compassion by wondering what happened to the girl who previously wore it. The answer is, of course, that Zod killed her, but Vicki doesn't take her train of thought that far. We also get this slightly (by Ellanjay standards) racy passage with her thinking about Judd.

When Vicki had prayed for all the names and faces she could think of, she thought of Judd. She always kept him last. Sometimes she fell asleep praying for him and thinking of what he might be doing. She wondered if he missed her as much as she missed him. There were nights when she would dream of Judd standing up to Carpathia or telling strangers about God. Once she dreamed about his speech in front of Leon Fortunato at Nicolae High, and she woke up in a cold sweat.

Good heavens, Vicki! Next you'll be showing those ankles of yours at the next cotillion.

Pity, Vicki's images of Judd don't match up to the reality: that he's a scared little coward who talks big but lacks the nerve to do any actual witness. About the only thing in that passage that's accurate is that he did do a speech at graduation in front of Leon Fortunado, but since nothing happened to him (he was expelled and forbidden from attending college, but other than that, nothing), it's not really as brave martyrrific material as they make it out to be.

The chapter ends with Vicki also quoting from Paul. Her quote though is from a letter more popular with RTCs, Ephesians, if you're wondering, and yes, it's chapter six, more specifically the part about doing battle with wicked forces and putting on the armor of God. For some reason those verses are so much more popular than all that stuff about turning and offering the other cheek. I wonder why.

But then Vicki, in the middle of her reverie, notices that Jim is turning onto another road, and that's where I'll leave you for this week. Feel free to tell me in the comments section how I'm totally full of it. Or you can praise me as a genius, whatever appeals to you.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Man with the Plan

Okay so Natalie and Jim need to get the Shairtons, Maggie, and the new convert, out of a GC prison. Given what I've seen from the adult books, I'm not expecting top-notch thriller material; at this point, my expectations are so low, I'll settle for adequate. That said, here's their plan:

Jim invented a Commander Regis Blakely, who was stationed in Joliet. He e-mailed Deputy Commander Henderson a list of four prisoners he wanted to interrogate before the mark of loyalty was given. If Henderson bought it, Colin Dial would become Commander Blakely and retrieve the four.

So apparently all you have to do to get prisoners released to you is put "Commander" in front of your name. No one's going to bother to check and re-check and verify details or anything like that.

This, of course, begs the question as if it's that easy to get someone out of GC custody, then why aren't the Tribbles getting people released right and left? But then again, those other prisoners are NPCs so who cares if anything happens to them?

So Jim goes to the hideout and coaches Colin on how to act like a commander. Don't worry; all you have to do is act like a R. Lee Ermey stereotype.

Then we get into Jim's conversion story about how he was born in the wagon of a traveling show and his mother used to dance for the money they'd throw.

Just kidding...that little bit was me trying to enliven a dull story.

He was born in Glen Ellyn, a suburb west of Chicago, to parents who took him and his three sisters to church every Sunday. There's a weird mention about how he was a big sci-fi/horror fan growing up and I find myself wondering if this is some kind of Take That against that genre. Because we know people of Ellanjay's ilk tend to be opposed to fantasy (just mention Harry Potter and watch the sparks fly), but I'm not entirely sure about their take on the sci-fi/horror genre. I'm sure they hate Jason Voorhees but could they have anything against Star Trek?

Conrad asks, "Did your parents know you weren't a Christian?"

Jim nodded. “I’m sure. I’d argue with them about evolution and creation. They sat me down one night and said they were concerned about the direction I was headed, but I blew them off. I wasn’t a bad kid. I didn’t do drugs or run around. In fact, that was what kept me from really knowing God.”
“What do you mean?”
“I never really thought I was that bad a person. I didn’t need God. I didn’t even believe he existed. I went to church, sat in the Sunday school classes, closed my eyes when people prayed. I even took notes during the sermon sometimes. Other kids played the good-Christian routine, then went out and partied, but I didn’t. I figured if there was a God, he’d be okay with me if I just did what my parents told me.

So we have the return of the old "It's not enough to be good/You have to believe" trope so beloved by Ellanjay. But that always begs the question that if being Good was so easy that any old person could do it, then what does it even mean to be good? But I'm one of those heathens who believes that absolute morality (X is always wrong because....) simply can't work, so what do I know?

Basically what happened with Jim was this: the Rapture took his family and he found a note that his parents had written to God before they were slaughtered bamfed into Heaven.

Father, I pray again for Jimmy tonight and ask that you would open the eyes of his heart so that he would know the hope you want him to have. He doesn’t know about the riches of the inheritance he could have or the great power of your strength that can work so mightily in him. I pray that you would take off the blinders and help him see how much you love him. Jimmy could do such great things for you if he would only give his heart to you. Show him the truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Jim looks around and finds dozens of these notes lying around and I have to admit, if I were in his shoes, I'd probably break down too. Yeah, it's emotional blackmail essentially but in the heat of the moment, it would definitely elicit a response from me.

Jim then shows them a bunch of GC uniforms he's collected. Apparently he's been working for months, setting up the names of phony GC workers and the like. If you're wondering how he got the uniforms, he had a buddy who worked in a funeral home collect them from dead workers. Gotta give Jim credit: so far he's demonstrated more badass credentials than any member of the Tribbles. He's not as badass as Taylor Graham, but I'll take what I can get.

Next chapter, the plan goes off without the slightest hitch because dramatic tension and villain competence are tropes used by lesser writers, not the great Jerry Jenkins.

Judd and Lionel meanwhile try to contact Chang Wong but only get a hold of his stereotypes, I mean, parents. But his parents are like "We don't want you talking to our son," and hang up on them. Judd's genius plan, regarding Chang, is for him and Lionel to sit outside the bushes, wait for Chang to appear, then grab him and head for the plane. Again both the Tribbles and the GC could benefit from a five-year-old advisor.

The chapter and book ends with Natalie witnessing Zeke's execution via guillotine. I'll give them credit: it's hard to screw up something that dramatic. But I do wonder why the GC would give them so much time to grandstand, make prayers to God and all that. Out of curiosity, aunursa, are the executions done in secret or televised for the world to see? Because the smart thing to do would be to do them in secret (so the people don't see the brave RTCs bear witness to Zod) then put the heads on pikes for the world to see.

If you're wondering, the next book is Deceived which covers book 29-31. In case you're wondering how much more we have to go through, the For Kids! version of this series is 40 books long. :massages temples:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Magic vs. Science

Sorry about the late post. I was busy yesterday and forgot.

I went to Wikipedia to look up a few things about the series. Yeah, I know I'm subjecting myself to a lot of spoilers, but really is there anything to spoil? If you want to know what happens to a character in Left Behind, all you have to do is know their role in the plot. Frankly I was surprised that Jenkins actually went through with killing Buck given that he is clearly meant to be his self-insert. But then again, Buck gets a Super Special Awesome Upgraded Body for dying a martyr, so everything still turns out well for him in the end.

Anyway, the character I was looking up in particular was Natalie. Because I was under the impression that she was a teenager and/or very young. Wikipedia didn't give me her exact age but didn't do anything to sway me otherwise, so as far as I'm concerned, Natalie's young.

The point I'm trying to make in all this rambling is that if Natalie is so young, then why is it that everyone seems to defer to her. I have no problem with Nicky Alleghenies using child soldiers, but why would they have any real power? Shouldn't all the major decisions about who to arrest and question be made be people higher up in command? Plus again, no one seems to notice how awful she is at her job. How many people have escaped under her watch?

Natalie walks down the cell block to talk with the others. She promises Bo that she will get him and Ginny out, and talks with a newly converted prisoner (yes, we get to see the conversion scene and its the same as every other one in the series), before talking with Zeke.

Zeke surprisingly doesn't want her to try to spring him, saying that it's time he made his stand and that springing him would cause too much trouble.

After she finishes talking with Zeke, she receives a phone call. Apparently the GC are finally putting two and two together and realizing that Natalie might be a mole. Gee, you think?

The second chapter begins with questioning from Jim Dekker aka the guy who's accused her of being part of the YTF. It starts out promising with him basically calling her on her bullshit, but I'm afraid I have to spoil it for you guys. Jim takes off his hat and it turns out he has the all-important Zod-mark. So yeah, potential source of tension strangled in its cradle before it could every really begin.

He agrees that Zeke is too high-profile to bust out but agrees that they might be able to rescue the others. He then gives her something called the Cube to send to the YTF, which she does.

The cube if you're wondering is a animated program that walks you through Ellanjay's theology. Which as I remind you isn't the VeggieTales "God created you and he loves you very much" but "God loves you which is why he's trying very hard to kill you horribly so that none should perish but all shall have ever-lasting life."

The snark seems a little skimpy so I think I'll give you a little more.

Next chapter begins with them distributing The Cube but only to the right people, of course, even though there's no reason to be afraid of sweet, sweet martyrdom. But Colin has an idea.

Colin Dial walked in smiling. “I just talked with my friend who helped me find this equipment. I told him what Dekker created, and he’s found a truckload of some personal digital organizers. You could give one of those to a person on the street if you want, or pull it out and use it as you’re talking with someone.”

“I just saw a report about the satellite schools,” Conrad said. “They’re starting up again. We could pass those gadgets out to people going inside.”

Personal Digital Organizers? Are they talking about Palm Pilots? That sound you hear is me laughing derisively.

It also makes me wonder what's going on in the adult books. Are they even doing anything to try to get word out like the YTF or are they just smirking about how they've got it all figured out?

They get another message from Token Jew. Basically up next is Nicky defiling the temple which as I recall, means pig-riding. I can hardly wait.

“You might be right,” Vicki said. “Tsion teaches that God’s people will be supernaturally protected.”

“What does that mean?” “Do you remember back before the disappearances when Israel was attacked?”

“You mean all the bombs that fell but didn’t kill anybody?”

Ah yes, those bombs that didn't cause any change whatsoever in peoples' faith. I remember those.

Vicki says God and his angels will protect the Jewish people, but we all know this protection doesn't last long. As Gershom Gorenberg puts it, "Left Behind is a five act play in which the Jews either convert or die in the fourth act."

Natalie receives word that she's going to receive the mark soon.

What has Judd been doing you ask? Well he's been hanging around with Z-Van and thinking about Chang. And we meet Cyril Bernard, aka Z-Van's agent, whom I'm forced to picture as Bernie Taupin based on the description given.

Cyril dressed in colorful clothes and huge glasses. His shoes sparkled and he smelled of too much cologne. “This project is going to be, without a doubt, the greatest album in the history of modern recording,” Cyril said in his heavy British accent. “It represents the two greatest comebacks—”

Did I not tell you he's basically Bernie Taupin?

What happens next is Fortunado holds yet another audience full of Exposition.

Apparently a lot of people are building Nicky statues and I can't really blame them. After all, Satan's managed to witness to people without killing them horribly which is more than Zod can do.

Fortunado brings up the possibility of fake marks.

Fortunato addressed the possibility of counterfeit marks. “While it may be impossible for any but highly skilled and trained observers to tell a fake mark from the real, biochip scanners cannot be fooled.”

They keep using terms like biochips, but as Firedrake has put it, the whole Mark of the Beast scenario really has more in common with magic than science.

The chapter ends with Judd saying, "Chang doesn't have much time" and I think that's a good place to leave you all this week. Sorry again for the late post.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Everyone's A Little Bit Racist

I find myself wondering, as I read through the beginning with the Wongs, whether anybody has snarked on just how racist Ellanjay are. We've already mentioned how all the Jewish characters are extra-Jewishy. I peaked at one of the other books in the adult series Armageddon I think it was, where Chloe was in prison and being guarded by a black woman named Florence, who might as well be named Butterfly McQueen because of how stereotypically Black her dialogue was. I swear I was waiting for her to say, "I don't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no babies." Between that and the way Jewish characters are portrayed and the stereotypical view of the Wongs, I'm forced to conclude that Ellanjay suffer from a racism, not so much born of hate, but of the sheer ignorance they have towards anything outside of white-Christian-heterosexual-male population.

Now, maybe y'all think I'm being harsh by calling them racist. I'm sure Ellanjay would. Their thinking, like a lot of peoples' thinking, would probably go along the lines of "I have never been to/held a cross-burning; therefore I'm not racist." Believe me, this is an uncomfortable topic for me to bring up too. I'm White and while I've read some great works by people of color, I know I am in no position to claim any expertise on the issue of race-relations.

What I'm trying to say in my clumsy way, is that I cringe at the dinner-with-Wongs scene and so should you. Just as the Jewish characters have no identity outside of being Jewish, the Wongs only defining attributes is how very Asian they are.

Basically, the dinner is tense with Judd stepping around the whole "Nicky is the anti-Christ and if you take the mark, you'll be roasting on a spit for all eternity" topic. Again, Judd's, but especially Chang's, reticence in this whole scene makes me grind my teeth, because there's no reason for them not to shout the truth from the hilltops except that they're cowards who want to save their own skin. Chang, these are your parents we're talking about. The people who raised you, changed your diapers, and took you for your first day of school. You should care about them burning for all eternity. Again, if they reject you and turn you over to the GC, so what? According to aunursa, martyrs get the Super Special Awesome Upgraded Bodies as opposed to having your ordinary one deteriorate over a period of a thousand years.

The dinner ends with Chang storming out after hearing that his father got him hired on with the GC. Judd leaves shortly after and is told by Mr. Wong not to come near his son. The Judd section ends with him thinking "There's gotta be a way to smuggle Chang out of New Babylon." But I know Chang eventually gets the mark anyway, so suspense is dead at this point.

Vicki wakes up in the hideout. She gets up and starts talking with Charlie and I'm going to fast-forward through much of the conversation because Ellanjay keep repeating stuff WE ALREADY KNOW ABOUT BECAUSE THEY APPARENTLY BELIEVE THEIR AVERAGE READER HAS HAD THEIR BRAIN REMOVED WITH A MELON SCOOP!

The conversation in short: Charlie tells Vicki about being captured by the GC and about how they've got to rescue the Shairtons. That's it for Chapter One of this week's snark.

I'm pleased to say that Chapter Two is a bit easier to read, at least. At least there won't be any need for me to clumsily address racism.

Chapter Two is told primarily from Natalie's perspective, who is still hanging around playing double agent instead of doing the smart thing and fleeing for the hills. She probably will have to flee at some point because, yeah, mandatory Mark.

She and the deputy commander go back to Maggie's house. Apparently the deputy commander has two braincells to rub together because he's finally figured out Maggie's an RTC and that she helped Vicki and the others escape. Maggie is arrested and taken to headquarters.

At GC HQ, Natalie sits down and starts making a list, trying to figure out what to do. I admit, I can relate to this: I'm something of a compulsive list-maker too. It clears the brain like nothing else, writing everything down.

Natalie's list is this:

1. Leave and find V. and others.
2. Stay and keep out of Henderson’s way.
3. Stay and help Maggie, Ginny, Bo, and Zeke.

Natalie rejects options One and Two, in favor of option Three, and were this a well-written novel where the villains were semi-competent, I'd be on the edge of my seat wondering how Natalie was going to get them out without blowing her cover, but given that the GC couldn't find their dicks with two hands and a map (sorry to be crude, but it's true), I'm not worried. Ellanjay could stand to do some reading on WWII resistance groups or even Albert Goering if they want to get an idea on how this double-agent business is supposed to work.

I haven't read ahead to other chapters but I'm going to guess that Natalie manages to get her people out, without having to make any sacrifices: not so much as a hair on her RTC head will be harmed and the GC won't be the least bit suspicious of how people keep escaping when this one girl is in charge.

Vicki is looking around the hideout and notices a map with lots of red and yellow pins stuck in it. The red pins represent GC outposts and the yellow ones represent outposts where there's a RTC on the inside. But Colin still isn't sure what to do with all this information.

Mark sat at one of the working computers and pulled up the kids’ Web site. “If we could get everybody working on something, pulling together all these resources, there’s no telling what we could do. We could hack into GC mainframes with the right passwords and change information. We could send e-mails, help Chloe Williams’s co-op, communicate with all of these believers at the different GC sites—”

When Vicki's all "What about the Mark?" we hear this little tidbit of information:

Mark turned to the computer and pulled up a drawing. “This is a mock-up of Carpathia’s mark. Colin’s friend figured out a way to make it into a fake tattoo.”
“And fool the GC?”
“Right. We hack into the GC records and make them think the believers already have the mark. Of course, we have to find out if it looks enough like the real thing, but it could be done.”

Ah, the classic fake mark, beloved of so much PMD literature...out of curiosity, aunursa, does this fake mark ever come into play or is it just all Chang doing everything?

The chapter ends with Natalie talking to Ginny Shairton in her cell. Natalie promises to get Ginny out and that's were I'll leave you this week. Sorry keep going on about Unfortunate Implications and not be funny, but like I said I couldn't help myself.