Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rare Moments of Effort

The chapter begins with everyone's favorite: travel logistics. Yeah, nothing more exciting that reading about where the characters are going to go, especially since given that Ellanjay never bother to give any kind of description to the places they go or anything like that. It's basically like reading directions off of MapQuest. As a result, I find myself asking questions I really shouldn't ask. Like does Jenkins read directions off of MapQuest the way others read erotica? Does he has his wife imitate a dial tone when they're in bed together? And by extension, does Our Buck and Chloe do that as foreplay as well? I'm picking on Jenkins here because, as Fred has pointed out, he does the lion's-share of writing for this series and a lot of the same tropes (obsession with travel logistics/phones) show up in other works of his.

Yeah, I know, I really shouldn't put those visuals in your head, but I'm trying to be entertaining and there really isn't anything to talk about in the first section.

Well, okay besides the travel logistics, there is this headslapper of a statement:

The Walterboro group gathered round them after dark, put their hands on Judd and Lionel, and prayed for their safety. Though they hadn’t stayed long, Judd felt like they were part of his family. They had risked their lives, and Judd was emotional as the believers huddled around them.

Yeah, Judd feels so close to the Walterboro group that he doesn't bother to give any names or descriptions, instead choosing to refer to them as a collective. But then again, the Walterboro group seems to recognize that they're NPCs and therefore, must remain part of the background, whereas Judd and Lionel, as main characters, must be kissed up to. Not as much as St. Rayford and Our Buck are in the adult books, but still.

Also, the sentence "Judd was emotional"...really, that's got to be the laziest writing thus far. You couldn't even bother to say "he felt sad" or "comforted" or anything? It took me less than thirty seconds to think of those alternatives and I didn't even use a thesaurus. I'm sure many of my faithful readers will point out more examples of lazy writing in the LB-verse, but right now, this is the most glaring example for me.

But anyway, there's more talk about logistics and Exciting!Email!Action, but eventually Carl shows up and we hear about how the saga of Tom and Luke (aka the guys burning down bounty hunters' houses) turned out.

As you probably guessed, given the kind of Scream morality this series operates under, Tom and Luke are dead, killed by the GC, supposedly for their terrorist activities but a more likely reason is because they violated the Tribbles' sacred ethos of doing nothing and did something, and for that they had to pay.

If you're wondering, Judd hears about the deaths on the news, and while they make token mention of Judd feeling sad...yeah, doesn't really work, given that all the characters come across as puppets created by aliens with only an imperfect knowledge of how humans work.

Judd went back to the computer and sat, numb from the news. After a brief memorial service for Luke and Tom, Judd wrote Vicki: I can’t help thinking they wasted their lives trying to stop the bounty hunters. They could have done so much more for the cause. I don’t want that to happen to us.

Uh, yeah, need I remind Judd that Tom and Luke had said The Prayer? Therefore, according to the rules of the LB-verse, immediately after they died, they were bamfed into Heaven and therefore, while you get to spend the next few years suffering from whatever freakish supernatural event Zod's got coming down the pipe, Tom and Luke get to spend their time bathing in the light of Iluvatar or sipping Mai Tais on a beach or whatever Ellanjay think people do in Heaven. In this book, if you're Saved, dying costs you absolutely nothing, which begs the question as to why the Tribbles aren't witnessing to the Unmarked until the GC drag them to the guillotine or committing terrorist activities right and left in an attempt to slow Nicky's regime down a little? As bad as Judd's attitude towards the Power Couple of Awesome was, it was somewhat understandable in that neither Taylor nor Hasina were among the Saved. But this? No, flat-out no...

The section cuts to Vicki, who in true girly fashion, isn't really doing much except keeping track of Judd's travels and wringing her hands in worry whenever she goes too long without hearing from him. Lesser YA lit has characters like Katniss or Beatrice Prior who actually do stuff, but Ellanjay...yeah. Frankly even Bella Swan does more than Vicki.

If you're wondering how Judd and Lionel are getting around, for once they're actually doing something smart, traveling through the wilderness and completely avoiding roads if they can. Yeah, I know, but like I said, the bar for intelligence is set so low in this verse that I get excited when even toddler-level intellect appears. Judd talks about dogs and how the ones that survived the myriad plagues are even meaner and I headdesk and wonder how exactly did any dogs survive? Remember, all the water's poison now. Remember this, because Ellanjay sure don't.

Judd talks about how the safe house they were headed to has been raided, so it's going to take even longer for Lionel and him to get to Wisconsin, thus allowing Ellanjay more of an excuse to draw out the events of this book further. Padding in an Ellanjay novel?! That's unpossible!

Judd assures Vicki that he's staying safe and she hangs up and gets back to work. In a rare show of humanity, Vicki gets to work, cleaning and fixing up run-down cabins. It's not much, but I do appreciate these little moments because that's what humans do in a crisis: we work. We cook or clean or build or do something in order to keep our anxieties under control. But this rare moment disappears faster than a raindrop in a desert as the paragraph ends with this headdesker of a statement:

She, Charlie, and the others completed the cleaning or construction of a new cabin about every two weeks.

I really question whether they could build a whole cabin in about two weeks. Granted they left out how big said cabins are and how many people, but I really doubt they're just building stripped-down cabins solely for the purpose of providing shelter from the elements. Those of you who read Fred's latest post from the adult series know that Ellanjay wouldn't dream of having any of their characters :gasp: :choke: rough it and survive without electricity. Without electricity, how would they get their all-important emails/phone calls? :faints:

Vicki wonders if she should have just flown to France to be with Judd and I've got to agree that would have been better. They could have flown there from France and moved into Petra together, but that wouldn't pad out the book as much, so yeah. But Vicki realizes if she had, she wouldn't be able to help Cheryl with her pregnancy.

Cheryl is at the halfway point of her pregnancy, making me wonder about the passage of time in this verse. They had mentioned, not too long ago, that she was six months away from giving birth, yet in this very chapter, Cheryl's labor pains begin, making me wonder what the heck is going on? Are Ellanjay aware that human women have a nine-month gestation period and that babies born before 23-24 weeks gestation generally don't make it. Okay, there are exceptions but the reason we remember those is for the same reason we remember the names of people who survive falling out of planes without parachutes: because they're rare.

So yeah, currently suffering hemorrhages trying to work out the time scale in this book. It makes me wonder whether this is worse than Christopher Paolini's Eragon series where a character who was pregnant at the beginning of the first book, finally gives birth in the last book, forcing me to wonder if humans have the same gestation period as elephants in his world, given how much time had passed. If you put my feet to the fire and made me choose, I'd say this is worse because as delusional as Christopher Paolini is, at least he knows he's writing fiction and doesn't believe that the stuff he's writing about will happen at some indeterminate point in the future.

Anyway, Cheryl's been feeling sick to her stomach and as a result, is only able to be up for about a few hours. She has my sympathies but these added details only further confuse the time-scale. I've never been pregnant, only just read about it, but doesn't Morning Sickness usually go away after the first few months? But yeah, right now, Cheryl's the only character ringing true and I do feel sorry for her as she gets all panicky whenever the baby goes too long without moving.

Judd and Lionel, meanwhile, have been :gasp: :choke: experiencing actual suffering. Ever since the raid in Kentucky, they've covered less ground and since they've been unable to shave or shower, they've grown filthy. Granted, like I said, that's fairly mild on the suffering scale, but my standards for this series have basically been knocked to below sea-level. I understand exactly how Nostalgia Critic feels when he goes "Effort! Honest-to-God effort!" and feel like celebrating whenever any form of effort shows up in this series.

In another moment that rings true, Judd and Lionel joke a little about how bad they look before heading on. But before you enjoy this rare moment of realism, let me post a quote that shoots it all to Hell:

Judd had never traveled through this part of the country, except by interstate, and he was surprised at how beautiful the land was. Even with the earthquake and the fires that had consumed grass and trees, he could still see the beauty of God’s creation.

Uh, yeah, like I've said about passages where Ellanjay bother to describe the scenery, THERE SHOULD BE NO BEAUTY LEFT ESPECIALLY SINCE WORMWOOD HAS POISONED ALL THE WATER KILLING OFF ALL PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE!!

Judd and Lionel cross the Ohio River and crash at the cabin of some guy named Eustice Honaker. I don't know why I'm bothering to give you his name, given that he'll probably disappear pretty quickly, but truth be told, the name was just so WTF?! that I felt like it had to be mentioned. Gives you another excuse to play "Guess the Ethnicity" again.

The section cuts back to Vicki. Cheryl's labor pains have began and Vicki is running around trying to keep Cheryl comfortable and trying to find someone who could help. Again, nice bit of semi-realism. It makes sense that Vicki would be freaked out and not know exactly what to do in this situation, especially since she's not an obstetrician or anyone who'd have familiarity with childbirth outside of what she's seen in the movies or read in books.

But they don't dwell on Vicki very long before they end the chapter by focusing on the manly men, Judd and Lionel. Judd and Lionel have left Eustice's cabin behind, confirming my suspicions that there was really no point in learning his name. They climb up on a ridge, but the chapter ends with the rocks sliding down the hill towards Lionel. Those of you who have cheated and browsed Wikipedia (and I have no doubt many of you have) know what will happen to Lionel, so I won't bring it up until it actually does. Suffice to say since Lionel hasn't seen the movie 127 Hours or read the book it's based on, this will all be new to him.

And I know I only did one chapter, but the snark's getting long so I think I'll end it here. I'll probably not post anything next Saturday since I'll be visiting relatives, so you'll have to wait a bit to find out what happens to our heroes. May all my Christian commenters have a Merry Christmas, may all my Jewish commenters have a Happy Hanukah, and my atheist commenters have a Happy Atheist Children Get Presents Day.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

And I Run So Far Away

Like I said last week, this week is going to mostly be action scenes. So yeah, consider this an apology in advance for a weak snark, because as said before, since nothing ever happens in these series...let's just say if you ever need to induce a coma for any reason, just read the action scenes in this series and you'll be out like a light. Again, even if you've been good and not cheated by checking out this series' Wikipedia page, there's still no suspense to these scenes. That disclaimer out of the way, onto business.

Judd receives a phone call from the half of South Carolina believers (the ones that escaped). Apparently, Chang has told them that the GC have called in the big guns for tonight's raid and there's a group of RTCs north of Charleston waiting to transport them.

After he hangs up, Brooke is like "So the new members are definitely coming?"

Judd's like "Yeah, they'll be coming from the south so we need to set up some lookouts." He gives Brooke and Lee some radios and breaks away to call Obligatory Love Interest, I mean, Vicki. The conversation is rather short and dull: basically all he says is that he plans on going north, following Chloe's map of safe houses.

We check in with Vicki. There's really not a lot going on with her. She talks about how since the GC has forbidden the YTF's website, it's become even more popular. Without a single trace of irony, Ellanjay cite the Banned Book Effect even though it's usually RTCs who devote the most energy to trying to ban books. But maybe this is like how Fred has said that RTCs don't object to a one-world government or a one-world religion, so long as the right people with the right beliefs are in charge.

In addition to answering questions on the website, Vicki spends a lot of time hanging out with Cheryl. For those of you who've forgotten, Cheryl's the one who's knocked up. Apparently Cheryl is starting to have second thoughts about handing over her baby to be raised by Tom and Josey. I'm sympathetic to her because as I recall, Vicki effectively volunteered to hand Cheryl's baby over to Tom and Josey with very little input from Cheryl even though she's the one who's pregnant. But I have a feeling that consent and choice are concepts Ellanjay know very little about.

We do get some evidence that abortion exists in this spinoff. Cheryl admits that if she hadn't become an RTC, she probably would have had an abortion, but now she sees that all lives are precious. Yeah...once again, gotta point out that according to the rules of Ellanjay's universe, Cheryl could have had an abortion, then asked Zod for forgiveness, and remained free and clear in Zod's eyes. By their own admission, they believe that no sin is so bad that it separates you from God forever. Yeah, I know, except the Mark (and I've voiced my numerous problems with that plot device), but still. In fact in one of the prequels to the adult books, one of the raptured RTCs meets the baby she aborted and said baby has totally forgiven her. So yeah, given that they're in the freaking end of days and the unborn are covered by that whole Age of Innocence thing and will go straight to Heaven if they die, why aren't they aborting babies right and left?

Anyway, Vicki tries to reassure Cheryl that God will show her the right thing to do and the section peters out after that.

The chapter ends with Judd and Lionel doing a bunch of secret-agenty stuff out in the woods. I'm sorry but it is so freakin' dull so let's hit fast-forward. They use their radios to mislead Brooke and Lee as Tom, Luke, Judd, and Lionel slip away. Next chapter, please.

The next's mostly a lot of running.* Brooke and Lee eventually catch on and come after them. But the Brave RTCs get the drop on them. They bind them with duct tape, smash the shoe phone, and question them, asking how many GC are coming. Brooke and Lee refuse to answer so our kind compassionate RTCs demonstrate God's unconditional love by threatening to drop them into a pit full of snakes. Lessons learned from the LB-verse: Torture is A-Okay when committed by Brave RTCs.

They duct-tape Brooke and Lee's mouths and take off running, hearing the sounds of explosions in the background as they do.

I'll sum up Vicki's section: all that happens is that she worries about Judd until she receives a phone call from him telling her that he and Lionel made it out okay.

Next Judd and Lionel travel north, Judd is shocked, shocked to find out that Carl had left behind explosives to destroy the hideout in the event of a raid. Even though in destroying the hideout and any information within, they may have saved the lives of other RTCs. Judd's like "the GC will label us terrorists" even though the GC already labels them terrorists simply for practicing their beliefs, so yeah, I doubt the explosives will change their views one way or the other. Luke is like "Hello, we're in a war and casualties kind of come with the territory." Judd's like "But why stoop to their level?" and Luke points out if they had just taken care of Brooke and Lee, they'd still have the hideout. Judd finally throws up his arms and is like "Right. Kill all the GC we can" and if you think Judd isn't be an irritating ass right now, just wait: it's going to get worse.

Luke announces that he and Tom are going out on a mission. Lionel responds with this headslapper of a statement:

Lionel shook his head. “If you’re going to do something violent, we can’t support you. We’ll pray for you and ask God to protect you, but we don’t see this as the answer.”

Yeah, as said before, back when Judd tried to stop Taylor "Too Awesome for this Series" Graham from trying to take out the GC, the YTF's sudden belief in the sanctity of life is really puzzling. Yeah, I myself identify as a pacifist but that's because I live in the real world in which every problem has shades of grey to it, but the thing is, Judd and Lionel don't. They exist in the LB-verse where there's a clear delineation between the forces of good and the forces of evil but they know for certain, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they're on the side of right. So yeah, I question why they're having qualms about killing GC especially since this series ends with THE GC BEING PUNTED INTO THE FIRES OF HELL WHERE THEY'LL SUFFER UNIMAGINABLE PAIN FOR ALL ETERNITY!

Luke's response is "Remember we saved your sorry asses" and he and Tom spend the next three nights torching the houses of Bounty Hunters. Granted in true Ellanjay fashion, this potentially exciting bit of guerilla warfare isn't actually shown onscreen; we hear about it from Judd and Lionel's disapproving perspective as they watch it on the news. After a week of these night missions, Luke and Tom disappear. If you guess that Judd and Lionel show little if any concern as to what happened to them, you win a No-Prize. Feel free to dedicate it to whoever you want.

The chapter ends with Judd bravely watching the news as Commander Kruno Fulcire (have fun playing the "Guess the Ethnicity" game, folks) makes an announcement: basically he says that everyone in the Southern part of the US has 48 hours to get the Mark. After 48 hours, the Marked can shoot and kill the unmarked on sight, turn in the body for processing, and collect a nice reward from the GC. Yeah, I suppose my fellow blog-readers can point out all the loopholes in this plan, but given how rarely the so-called bad guys actually do something bad...I'm going to let it slide. Besides, it's more fun to make fun of Judd's gormless reaction. Naturally, he's shocked, shocked that an organization headed by the Father of All Lies, the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, and Mephistopheles would do something evil.

Thought once again about throwing on a third chapter, but I think I've done enough. Have fun taking apart Ellanjay's many, many failings.

*Sorry for the link, but I've gotta do something to keep myself awake here.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Rare Show of Intelligence

Sorry to be late with the post. Let's just say yesterday was a bad day and leave it at that.

So Judd and the others are all watching the strangers roaming around their hideout and their response is to bite their nails and be like "Oh what ever shall we do!" As many have said before Worst Resistance Group Ever! It's fairly obvious what you should do in this situation: get the drop on them and take them captive. My five-year-old child advisor could figure that out.

Meanwhile, Chang is being questioned. Like every interrogation in this series, basically all that happens is the director asks him very nicely who the mole is as opposed to keeping quiet and doing a private investigation by an outside team, monitoring everyone at all times, and of course, making sure both their emails and phone lines have more taps than a military funeral. Like I said before, a shorter list would be of villains who were less effective than Nicky.

Anyway, Judd and the others finally corner the strangers and there's a long passage of them questioning them. I'm going to fast-forward through it because my almighty psychic powers that I've developed as a result of my familiarity with this series tells me that it's going to come to nothing like everything else. If you want to know the strangers' names, they're named Lee and Brooke. They've traveled all the way from Savannah, they're starving and they don't have the Mark.

The YTF, in a rare show of intelligence, do not automatically accept this story at face value and ask a few more questions. If you're wondering, Lee and Brooke's dad was an RTC, so naturally he was bamfed into Heaven at the beginning of the series. After losing her ex-husband (their mother and father had been divorced sometime before the Rapture), their mom started drinking, which is perhaps the only sensible response to any of the events in this series. Their mother was later killed in the Wrath of the Lamb quake.

The YTF look up everything Brooke and Lee told them and it all seems to check out. So then they ask, so why didn't you get the Mark? Brooke and Lee say they didn't get it because they felt like if they accepted it, they'd be turning their backs on their father, but they didn't accept RTCianity because they felt they'd be turning their backs on their mother. So yeah, right now, they're coming across as much more sympathetic characters than any of the Tribbles because you're only allowed to have shades of grey when you're one of the unconverted masses.

After hearing their story, they decide the sensible thing to do is send Lionel in to try to convert them. Lionel tells an abbreviated version of his conversion story then does the usual "good works won't save you" bit. Afterwards, Lionel talks about how it's a good thing they didn't take the Mark. Lee's like "Why?" And here's the provided explanation:

Lionel explained that taking the mark and worshiping Carpathia meant you had chosen once and for all against God. When that decision was made, there was no changing your mind.


:deep breath:

Now that that's out of my system (for now at least), let's continue.

Lionel walks them through The Prayer and Lee and Brooke get all tearful and shit, but after they The Prayer, Lionel notices they don't have the Super Special Awesome Zod-mark on their foreheads. :Cue Dramatic Prairie Dog: Okay to be honest, that's a fairly decent twist. Lionel's like, "Let me go tell everyone the good news," and runs out of the room and tells the others.

The next chapter, the YTF discusses the situation regarding Lee and Brooke. Judd suggests that maybe they're just confused and mixed up, which is actually a decent theory given that in the LB-verse if you don't utter The Prayer with the precise amount of sincerity and passion, it doesn't work. But Lionel thinks that they did understand and that their behavior afterwards was a calculated act. He also bets that they have some kind of transmitter on them.

Luke says they should just kill them now. While the idea of RTCs exterminating the brutes is a horrible one, given the kind of framework this story operates in, as a pseudo-Tom Clancy-esque thriller where the truth must be protected at all costs kind of story, it makes a little sense. Besides it'd add much needing shading to the YTF's characters if they were forced to directly kill someone instead of sitting back and letting Zod do so in one of his many disasters. Like I said before, one of the many problems with this series is that it has an identity crisis. It wants to be a story about brave RTCs witnessing and getting out the truth to as many people as they can, yet at the same time it wants to be a thriller where the truth is sacred and important and can only be seen be the right kind of people.

Judd vetoes the "Kill them" idea and they debate some more. Lionel's like "I've got an idea" and tells the others to follow his lead. I'm going to assume that right now Lionel's holding the YTF's single brain cell because his idea is actually pretty cool. He decides to pretend that Brooke and Lee are members of the flock and that he isn't totally onto their charade.

While Lionel is distracting them, the other members of the YTF go and consult Chang asking if he knows of any GC agents that don't have the Mark. Chang's like "I don't know."

Lionel still hasn't given up on possibly reaching Brooke and Lee and takes them outside and leads them through a Bible study. The first few verses of John are quoted and Brooke and Lee do a pretty good job of acting baffled. Though then again, the trinity is one of those bits of doctrine no one has ever managed to successfully explain, so I don't think it takes much talent to act confused by it.

Judd contacts Vicki in order to get contact info for Chloe. Vicki is like "GTFO, Judd," after he describes their situation, but she puts him in touch with Chloe, who provides a list of safe houses so he and Lionel can work their way north.

The YTF continue to distract Brooke and Lee throughout the day. At the end of the day, the YTF pretend to go to bed, but then go and monitor Brooke and Lee via cameras. Turns out Brooke and Lee really do have the Mark, but they cover it up. Brooke pulls a phone out of her shoe and does the standard "Bwaah! They totally bought our story!" shtick we've come to expect from villains in this series. Brooke asks the GC to hold off on the raid, because the YTF had told her that more believers were on the way and hangs up.

Lionel is dejected and says this:

“And it makes sense that they couldn’t understand what I was saying about God,” Lionel said. “They couldn’t even pretend to believe.”

Ah, yes, the continuing nonsensical paradox seen in RTC lit where non-believers are both simultaneously ignorant of Christian theology (for example, going "Who's He?" at the mention of Jesus) yet simultaneously they also happen to know that there is a God but since they hate God and love Satan (because that's the stance of all non-believers)...yeah, need I say more?

The rest of the YTF continue to distract Brooke and Lee, by gathering stuff and talking about how the group of believers that was supposed to meet them (that doesn't exist) broke down and needs their help, sending out some of the South Carolina believers to go help them. The ones who aren't NPCs stay behind to distract them Judd tells his conversion story in a last ditch effort to try to save Brooke and Lee, wondering if it has some effect even on those with the Mark.

And that's where I'll leave you this week. Yeah, I suppose I could throw on a third chapter to pad out this snark, but it's mostly an action scene and I need to be at full strength to handle those, so this is it for this week. Have fun.