Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nothing to Envy

Okay, first off, gotta make an announcement. For some reason this year, everything's decided to happen in March. Or in other words, I'm dealing with family-related issues. I'll try to post a new snark when I can, but if I fall behind, try to understand.

Almost as though they read my post last week, during which I spent most of my time trying to make sense of the screwed-up time scale in this series, Ellanjay attempt to clear up my confusion with the opening paragraph.

THE COLD season had ended, and spring had come for Judd and the others hidden in Ohio. Judd flipped through a computer calendar and noticed the anniversary of the disappearances was only a day away. Even though it had been five years since his family had vanished, Judd felt the same ache as the first moment he walked into his house and realized they were gone and never coming back.

It's your call on how well they did. I suppose I could look up the whole Pre-millennial Dispensationalist charts about when various plagues happen over the years and compare it to the progression of Cheryl's pregnancy, but honestly that sounds like too much work. Already devote enough neuron space to this series and its screwed-up mythos as is. If someone less lazy wants to take a stab at it, they're welcome to try. Though I must confess: I thought six years had passed by this point, not just five.

Judd decides to take out his notebook (which hasn't been mentioned until now) and look at the stuff he's praying for and see how God's answering his prayers. The first one on the list is Get to Wisconsin so Vicki and I can shag like mangy alley cats in heat before God takes away sex for everyone. Obviously that prayer hasn't come to pass, but it's the next one on the list that makes me go, "Huh?"

Shelly and Conrad. There had been some misunderstanding in Wisconsin, and the two had gone from being best friends to enemies. Judd continued to ask God to give them a spirit of peace in the midst of turmoil.

And here's where I must put in another record scratch sound effect. Because since when have Shelly and Conrad started fighting? According to the eBook, we're 65% of the way in and this is the first time those characters have been mentioned, even though as I recall, they're with Vicki and we've had several segments from her perspective. You'd think that if Shelly and Conrad were fighting that would affect the morale of whatever hideout Vicki's in and she would mention it. :headdesk: The last time I recall Shelly and Conrad being mentioned was in a whole other book when Vicki mentioned that they had developed feelings (of love, not hate) for each other. Since we hadn't actually seen those two interact with each other in any meaningful way, it came across every bit as inexplicable as their sudden hatred for each other does now.

Judd also continues to pray for Nicky's downfall, even though he knows Nicky is doomed. And as though anticipating my numerous complaints about how Nicky's regime doesn't sound quite that bad (especially when taken into account that God's the one inflicting most of the suffering in this series)Ellanjay put in this paragraph:

With hundreds of thousands dying because of the lack of drinkable water, that prayer was being answered every day. It seemed even those who followed Nicolae now realized they had been fooled by a cruel dictator who cared about no one but himself. As much as Carpathia, Leon Fortunato, and other GC authorities said it, the world wasn’t getting better. Machines, computers, and people were wearing down. Services such as trash pickup and street cleaning were cut off. Roads fell into disrepair, and cities filled with crime.

If you guessed, even before I posted this paragraph, that rather than show us the amount of suffering going on, show us all the people starving and dying while Nicky's living it up, congratulations on being familiar with Ellanjay's tropes. I don't know what Show did to them when they were kids but given a choice between Show and Tell, they choose Tell every time. They also always choose an approach that makes them sound remarkably callous; rather than dwell on the human suffering, they focus on issues related to inanimate machines.

Plus even so, it doesn't sound quite that bad. As many will point out, given that the Tribbles still have cell and Internet service, that means some of the infrastructure is still standing after several back to back Acts of God, despite all of Ellanjay's efforts to say, "No we really mean it! They really are suffering!"

Also, as many will point out, the hundred of thousands of dying (and of course, the way it's mentioned in passing cheeses me off) probably consist mostly of the weakest members of society or those on the lowest rungs of society. I imagine lots of children are dying (remember, abortions are wrong, but letting them die horribly from poisoned water is A-Okay). I imagine if I were to ask Ellanjay, they'd say the dying children won't be pitched into the fires of Hell, because of their whole shtick regarding the Age of Accountability which is that God will try you as an adult as soon as you start to get hair around your pubes. I can go into a long screaming rant about it, but I've done it before and I try not to repeat myself if I can.

Obviously, the poor are all going to die, given that they lack the means to stockpile massive amounts of canned food and bottled water needed to survive this disaster. Oh and say goodbye to all plant and animal life because, yeah, with all the water being undrinkable, they're toast. And the elderly are kind of in the same boat as kids except that they don't get a free pass, no matter how addled they may be as a result of Dementia or who knows what else.

I imagine the GC and the higher-ups in the party are doing fairly well, though, and if this issue were delved into, it would really drive home just how evil they are, feasting while the majority starves.

In fact, in order to better demonstrate how badly Ellanjay fail in this section, I'm going to post a link. For those too lazy to click, said link is an excerpt from Barbara Demick's book on North Korea, Nothing to Envy. It's on my list of nonfiction to recommend to everyone because not only do you get insight into a closed-off country and the suffering its citizens endure, the information provides good fodder for anybody who wants to write post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, because North Korea is essentially living it. The country has basically been in a constant state of famine and teetering on the brink since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Here's a sampling of the kind of suffering they're going through:

It has been said that people reared in Communist countries cannot fend for themselves because they expect the government to take care of them. This was not true of many of the victims of the North Korean famine. People did not go passively to their deaths. When the public distribution system was cut off, they were forced to tap their deepest wells of creativity to feed themselves. They devised traps out of buckets and string to catch small animals in the field, draped nets over their balconies to snare sparrows. They stripped the sweet inner bark of pine trees to grind into a fine powder that could be used in place of flour. They pounded acorns into a gelatinous paste that could be moulded into cubes that practically melted in your mouth.

North Koreans learnt to swallow their pride and hold their noses. They picked kernels of undigested corn out of the excrement of farm animals. Shipyard workers developed a technique by which they scraped the bottoms of the cargo holds where food had been stored, then spread the ­foul-smelling gunk on the pavement to dry so that they could collect from it tiny grains of uncooked rice and other edibles. On the beaches, people dug out shellfish from the sand and filled buckets with seaweed. When the authorities in 1995 erected fences along the beach (ostensibly to keep out spies, but more likely to prevent people from catching fish the state companies wanted to control), people went out to the unguarded cliffs over the sea and with long rakes tied together hoisted up seaweed.

If this passage wasn't horrible enough, I'll add a few factoids to make it worse. By all accounts, while this famine was raging, Kim Jong-Il was a huge foodie with very expensive tastes, having stuff like caviar flown in from around the world, while his subjects starved.

That's another thing that Ellanjay skim over in their series: people do not go meekly to their demise. It's called the Will to Survive and pretty much every species on Earth has it in some form. No matter how bad things get, people will fight and do whatever they can to stay alive.

But anyway, I've talked enough about North Korea and how if Ellanjay had done an ounce of research, they could have written a good story. Let's move onto the next item on Judd's list, which is Chang.

Judd is naturally worried about Chang seeing as he's in New Babylon playing double agent. Once again, Ellanjay attempt an Author's Saving Throw and you guessed it, it rings false.

Chang reported that the place had become a ghost town. Citizens no longer came to admire the sparkling buildings because the world was a mess. Half the population alive at the time of the Rapture had now died. Carpathia often called for the execution of leaders around the world who he thought weren’t loyal enough, and Judd prayed that Chang would remain safe.

Sorry to keep going back to North Korea, but that country provides such a good example as to how Ellanjay fail at creating a believable dystopia. The mention of New Babylon as a ghost town made me think of Pyongyang. For those who don't know, Pyongyang is the official capitol of North Korea and exists primarily to be a playground for the elite of North Korea. It is basically a showcase city and if you ever go there, basically you'll be escorted by a pair of hand-picked toadies at all times and everyone you run into will tell you how great is to be North Korean. Pyongyang manages to look good on the outside, but once there, it usually doesn't take long before you start noticing the Stepford-like atmosphere of the place, how empty the streets are of both people and vehicles and all unfinished buildings in this so-called showcase city.

Again, like I've said so many times (and will definitely say again), Ellanjay miss an opportunity to really show how evil the GC are. They could show Nicky and his elite eating and living quite comfortably while the masses suffer and die not too far away. Of course, if they did that, then the readers might start asking unpleasant questions like, "Why aren't the Tribbles sharing their food and water with those less fortunate given that they have the means to?" and we can't have anything that would reflect badly on our brave RTC heroes.


Judd wept at scenes of unmarked people in a remote Philippine village being lured with the promise of water. Though the Global Community News Network didn’t show it, Judd knew the same thing that happened near Petra had probably happened to these unfortunate people.

Yes, those poor unfortunate people, WHO WOULD HAVE DIED ANYWAYS BECAUSE THE WATER'S FUCKING POISON NOW! But seriously, if only there was some help for them, maybe in the form of a group that has numerous resources and means of relaying food and supplies to those in need and isn't afraid to stand up to a corrupt government. But since that doesn't exist in this series, let's move on.

Judd also prays for Token Jew, who in the kind of compassionate response we've come to expect from our godly protagonists, mentions this in his latest email.

It is not as if the God of gods could not defeat any foe he chooses, Dr. Ben-Judah wrote, but the stench of the other side evangelizing for evil has offended him and kindled his wrath. Yet the wrath of God remains balanced by his great mercy and love. There has been not one report of death or injury to any of the 144,000 evangelists God has raised up to spread the truth about his Son.

"But there have been reports of plenty of horrific deaths among the poor, especially among children, because remember, Jesus loves the little children."

Can't help but think that Ellanjay got the wrong interpretation of that classic Bible verse "Suffer the Little Children."

Judd, recognizing the central tenet of RTCism (Everyone recognizes the inherent greatness of St. Rayford and Our Buck, regardless of if they actually do anything or even disappear for books at a time), prays for St. Rayford, Our Buck, Chloe, and her kid. He also, surprisingly enough, prays for Foreign McForeign (Jacques Madeleine, who he hung out with in France) and Westin Jakes. Given that neither character had appeared onscreen in forever, I'm surprised that Judd even remembers their existence, but you've seen by now how much Ellanjay love having characters be forgotten and disappear for chapters at a time, only to come back at some later date.

He also prays for Lionel, who has the nerve to still be suffering trauma from his missing arm. It's becoming very clear to me: I think we can officially name Lionel as the newly appointed Butt Monkey of the LB-verse, given that the previous title-holders (Ryan and Hattie) are both dead at this point.

Judd then lists a bunch of names of other Tribbles whom I don't care about, before finally he prays for Vicki. And tell me that his prayers for her aren't mostly centered around his desire to get laid. I know I keep joking about it, but they just make it so damn easy given that RTCs are so repressed that even Dr. Freud would be like, "Now that's messed up."

Finally, Judd prayed for Vicki. He asked God to draw her close and make her an even stronger believer than she already was. Judd thanked God for Vicki’s friendship, her support, and for the life she had brought to him, even separated by the miles.

Of course, since I'm a proud pervert, part of me wonders if this constant emphasis on Vicki isn't just a desperate attempt to convince us that our manly RTC hero is totally on the straight and narrow and definitely isn't gay, despite showing considerably more chemistry with male characters than he ever did with his designated love interest.

After all this praying, Judd opens an email from Sam telling him to watch the news. Judd turns on the news and watches a broadcast which tells us that Nicky has very evilly managed to turn the poisoned sea water back to normal, thus possibly saving the lives of the animals that live there. No doubt next on his list of evil deeds is he, using the resources and tech at his disposal, will find a way to remove the salt from the sea water (yeah, it's a bit of a reach but is that tech any more out there than some of the stuff in the LB-verse) and put in place the necessary network to ensure that everyone gets clean, drinkable water no matter where they live, thus SPARING THEM THE HORRIBLE PAINFUL DEATH THEIR LOVING GOD HAD INTENDED FOR THEM!

The broadcast ends with Nicky expressing the hope that fresh-water places, lakes and rivers and the like, will soon be restored, but weeks go by and apparently Zod has decided to let them remain poisoned and full of blood.

After all this, we finally cut to Vicki. Vicki, being all womanly and female, has spent most of her time wringing her hands and wishing for Judd and, to a lesser extent, Lionel to come. Apparently the United States has become the most unhealthiest place on Earth to live and I could go into a long rant about how poorer countries like Haiti and Bangladesh, whose citizens lack the means to stockpile supplies, are probably doing worse, but yeah, I'm getting a little repetitive on that point. Anyway, she wishes she and Judd had gone to France, but I fail to see how things would be so much better in France than everywhere else.

She also expresses a desire to go to Petra and that part makes sense. While as I've pointed out, Petra is currently a theocratic dictatorship under the rule of Token Jew, it's supposed to be a city of refuge. As shown before, the poisoned water plague hasn't touched them and quail and manna rain from the sky so nobody's starving. Granted because there hasn't been any mention of God bamfing down some citrus trees, they're probably all suffering massively from Scurvy and who knows what other vitamin deficiencies, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.

Apparently in the LB-verse, where space is warped and time is bendable, baby Ryan Victor (I use first and middle to distinguish him from the late butt monkey of the same name) is now a toddler. I suppose it is possible there could have been a four month time jump from last week's chapter (where he was clearly mentioned as being 8 months old), but seriously, Ellanjay would it have been so much to ask that you do some research into child/infant development and keep a consistent time frame? Oh yeah, any effort is too much effort as far as Ellanjay are concerned.

Anyway, everybody's concerned because Cheryl aka Ryan Victor's mother, has been acting more and more unstable. One of the YTF, Mark, overheard Cheryl telling the baby that she was his real mother and that the Fogartys were only looking after him for a bit and that as soon as she found a place for both of them, she'd take him from them.

:grits teeth: Since I cheated and read ahead on the wiki, I knew this plotline was coming up and oh, boy. If you want me to sum it up, right now, I'm totally on Cheryl's side. Why? Because as I recall, Vicki basically arranged for the Fogartys to adopt Cheryl's baby during the pregnancy, WITH VERY LITTLE INPUT FROM CHERYL EVEN THOUGH SHE'S THE ONE WHO'S PREGNANT!

I suppose since Ellanjay's sympathies lie with the Christian Right (and we all know how they feel about abortion), they're doing this plotline as a means of educating young girls to put their babies up for adoption rather than abort them. As many in the pro-choice camp will point out, Adoption isn't the magical cure-all it's made out to be.

:massages temples: Never ceases to amaze me, how Ellanjay and others of their ilk find the idea of consent so hard to grasp.

Anyway, the Fogartys, alarmed by Cheryl's behavior, want to ban her from seeing her baby, because that's the truly compassionate thing to do, ban a mother from seeing her child. Vicki makes token protests to this idea, saying that banning her from seeing her child could make Cheryl even worse, but eventually concedes and goes along with it.

Surprise, surprise, this "banning Cheryl from seeing her child" plan doesn't work. In fact, Cheryl becomes even more belligerent, shrieking and crying, frequently showing up at the Fogartys demanding to see her child. The YTF decide the best course of action is to either move Cheryl or move the Fogartys.

Vicki decides to talk to Cheryl. She reminds Cheryl that she agreed to give her baby to the Fogartys. But Cheryl, continuing to earn my sympathies, is basically like "I've changed my mind and STFU and don't come back until you bring me my baby."

Next is a brief interlude with Sam. Nicky, in a true stroke of malice, decides to tap into the spring that provides clean water for Petra. Wanting his subjects not to die from drinking poisoned water?! Again, Nicky's evil knows no bounds!

If you guessed that Nicky's evil plan to provide fresh drinking water to those without fails due to a literal Deus ex Machina, congratulations for once again being familiar with Ellanjay tropes. I wish there were any perks that came with it, even a lousy t-shirt would be nice, but there aren't.

After this, we hear from Chang. Since this snark is getting hella long (and yes, it will be another one chapter snark this week), I'm going to fast-forward through it. Apparently another judgment, the fourth bowl judgment according to Chang, happens. I suppose if I really cared, I could track down one of those PMD charts laying out all the judgments and whatnot, but dammit! I have enough worthless information clogging up valuable neuron space! Like I will go to my grave incapable of doing Algebra (despite studying it in Middle School, High School, and two semesters of College), but I will be capable of humming the Dragon Dagger theme from Power Rangers. I don't need to add to it, especially since this judgment will probably, like all the previous ones, effect only NPCs and even then, will only be briefly touched upon.

Anyway, what happens is some kind of massive heat wave. Somehow that leads to the window at the building where Chang works, exploding and we get this.

It was too late for Rasha and Lars. The window in front of them gave way, sending shards of glass flying about the room. Both were struck by the broken glass and crumpled to the floor as others screamed. Hot, steamy air blew into the room. A woman tried to help her fallen friends, but her hair curled, then burst into flames from the heat.

I suppose I should applaud Ellanjay for bothering to give names to a few of the rank-and-file employees who were killed. That gives a little pathos to the scene, but given that this is the first time Rasha and Lars have been mentioned (unless this Lars is the same documentary film-maker/propagandist mentioned in another book)...yeah, it doesn't add much by way of pathos. Compare this to the scene in the Watchmen comic where, after having met several of the civilian characters and gotten to know them in previous issues, we watch them die horribly at the hands of the bad guy. Granted, when it comes to writing, comparing Alan Moore to Ellanjay is probably like comparing the collected works of Wordsworth to a dirty limerick some idiot scrawled on a bathroom stall, but still.


Anyway, the chapter ends with Chang calling Judd and telling him all about the latest disaster. If you guessed that Chang is oblivious to the suffering of others, give yourself a hand. He mostly spins this as, "While this will be a disaster for Unbelievers, it'll enable Believers to move more easily."

So it ends on a hopeful note with Judd excited by the prospect of finally getting laid finally getting back together with Vicki. That is, unless the writers need more of an excuse to pad out the series, in which case Judd will have to settle for becoming more acquainted with Rosie Palm and her five sisters. Even more so than he already is. :eyebrow waggle:


aunursa said...

Apparently the Tribulation has shortened the winter season. Based on the original series, the disappearances happened in late February (14 months after Buck's December interview with Chaim Rosenzweig for his "Man of the Year" cover story.) That would seem to contradict Judd's observation that the anniversary occurs during spring.

IIRC the sixth anniversary happens during Book #11. And it looks as if we're still in the events of Book #10.

As for the lack of citrus, if manna from heaven sustained the Israelites for 40 years, surely it provides all the necessary vitamins for the residents of Petra for four years.

Arynne said...

In all seriousness, the quails would help, too. Liver's a good source of Vitamin C.

Anonymous said...

Here's a fun timeline of the Tribulation:

Apparently some of it has already happened:

Really, though, just google "tribulation timeline" and click "images", and you'll have all you could ever want :-)

Firedrake said...

Life begins at conception! Respect for it apparently ends at birth.

"Shelly and Conrad have developed feelings that I don't understand. Sometimes she makes a suggestion and he follows it! Clearly this is a sign of hatred, and I pray that they find peace."

"It's terrible in the US these days - the weather's all over the place. If only we hadn't built that hundred mile high Friendship Wall along all our borders and coastline!" "Hah. Unbeliever."

Anon, I like the way that Tribble Chart mentions that "common usage" usually indicates the Carpathia-style antichrist while giving no source for this un-biblical concept.

spiritplumber said...

Why use a bunker-buster to reach a spring rather than do some proper drilling?

There's probably a flashfic in here about using something rough and quick to try to get the water out ASAP, or maybe exploratory drilling being deceived by God.