Quick Read: Left Behind ch. 1.5 – 2

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Looks like we didn’t quite finish off chapter 1 last time, so let’s get to that before we move onto the thrilling events of chapter 2.

Rayford “Ray” Steele is still right where we left him, wondering if Hattie Durham wants to take a flight on his fully-loaded 747. Suddenly, Hattie herself enters Ray’s cockpit, but not for some G-rated airborne flirting. Instead, she’s terrified and distraught because a number of passengers have seemingly vanished, leaving their clothes and possessions behind.

I will say this for the book: I like how the rapture happens out of sight and in a relatively low-key way. It’s pretty chilling.

Ray came across as kind of a doofus up to this point, but the moment a crisis hits he goes into Stern Action Dude mode, calming a hysterical Hattie (WOMAN AM I RIGHT GUYS) and taking charge of the situation in a manly, manful way.

Irene had been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind.

Oh snap

Dropping the title like a hot potato

Chapter 2

Buck “the worst best reporter in the world” Williams is distracted from whatever he was doing earlier by the elderly woman in the seat next to his, who requests his help in finding her raptured husband.

He climbed over the sleeping executive on the aisle, who had far exceeded his limit of free drinks

Do some airlines really give you free drinks?

Buck quickly realizes that there’s been much more than one disappearance, and sees “people all over the plane” staring at piles of clothes on the seats next to them or searching for missing relatives.

I don’t remember if the book ever states what percentage of humanity vanished in the rapture. It would be interesting to find out exactly how religious you need to be to qualify, and whether it’s just Christians who are eligible (we do later discover that all children under the age of twelve or so were included regardless of religious affiliation, so the book’s version of God is apparently willing to make exceptions).

As he hurried back to his seat, his mind searched its memory banks for anything he had ever read, seen, or heard of any technology that could remove people from their clothes and make them disappear from a decidedly secure environment

“His mind searched its memory banks”? I don’t think Buck is the only bad writer at work here.

Buck assumes that the disappearances are the result of some human action and wonders if the person is going to strike again or start making ransom demands, which seems like a reasonable reaction until you remember that he supposedly believes in God and has personally witnessed divine intervention on a huge scale. It’s hard to believe that a well-educated American journalist who’s recently undergone a religious conversion hasn’t at least heard of the rapture before.

Back in the cockpit, Ray is trying to reach someone on the ground, but is unable to because they’re flying over the Atlantic. Someone who knows more about planes correct me if I’m wrong, but is this realistic? I thought large passenger jets could get in touch with an airport from basically anywhere using satellite connections. Am I incorrect about that, or was that not the case in 1995?

Anyway, he manages to reach a nearby Concord flight (only 90s kids will understand this sentence), who tells him that the rapture has struck worldwide and chaos is breaking out across the globe, and as a consequence every airport in western Europe is apparently unusable.

“Forget it,” came the reply. “Nothing’s landing in New York. Two runways still open in Chicago. That’s where we’re going.”
“We came from Chicago. Can’t I put down at Heathrow? ”
“Negative. Closed.”
“Paris?”
“Man, you’ve got to get back where you came from. We left Paris an hour ago, got the word what’s happening, and were told to go straight to Chicago.”

You guys know  there’s more than one major airport in the UK, right? Hell, there’s more than one major airport in London. And how about Shannon, which depending on their route might be the nearest option? Dublin? France also has a ton of airports apart from (the three in/around) Paris. Did the rapture make all of them them spontaneously combust or something?

When the Pan-Continental 747 was finally within satellite communications range of the United States,

Seriously, do planes just drop off the grid halfway across the Atlantic? That seems pretty dangerous.

Ray’s plane eventually gets within hailing distance of O’Hare, and we get a bit of an overview of the chaos breaking out across the USA as the disappearances cause a cavalcade of disasters and accidents. All of this is related in a curiously detached and lifeless manner, as though the book is going through a perfunctory checklist before getting on to the next part of the story.

Which actually isn’t far from the truth. Remember, these books were meant to be less narrative stories and more Rapture Simulator 1995, intended to present a sequence of events that the authors and their audience sincerely believed would occur soon, in a manner that’s basically as close to non-fiction as you can get when describing things that haven’t happened yet. The Rapture isn’t a startling plot development that the reader should be chilled and horrified by; it’s just step one in a process that’s ultimately unimportant compared to what it’s leading up to. I think this is also why the attack on Isreal was dumped onto the reader’s lap and then forgotten about in such a perfunctory manner.

What people wanted from the news was simple information on how to get where they were going and how to contact their loved ones to determine if they were still around.

I seem to remember this book being inordinately obsessed with characters working out their travel arrangements. Apparently this continues to be the case right up until the end of the last instalment.

The toughest chore for emergency personnel was to determine who had disappeared, who was killed, and who was injured, and then to communicate that to the survivors.

Can’t you just feel the chaos?

“Sorry, Captain, but phone lines are so jammed and phone personnel so spotty that the only hope is to get a dial tone and use a phone with a redial button.”

I legit have no idea what any of that means. 1995 wasn’t that long ago, but it was also a long time ago.

The in-flight phone embedded in the back of the seat in front of Buck Williams was not assembled with external modular connections the way most phones were. Buck imagined that Pan Con Airlines would soon be replacing these relics to avoid complaints from computer users.

You know, computer users. Those unusual people who own and operate personal computers.

(This frankly seems kind of antiquated even for the time)

The executive next to Buck snored. Before drinking himself into oblivion soon after takeoff, he had said something about a major meeting in Scotland.. Would he be surprised by the view upon landing!

LOL, dude got fucking owned by the Rapture. Mega trolled.

Buck hacks his phone or something to get an internet connection so he can contact his newspaper’s office and offer some on the ground reportly observations.

These phone lines always have the same color wires, he decided, so he opened his computer and cut the wire leading to the female connector. Inside the phone, he cut the wire and sliced off the protective rubber coating. Sure enough, the four inner wires from both computer and phone looked identical. In a few minutes, he had spliced them together.

That really doesn’t seem like it would work, nor does it particularly make much sense (the “female connector”? Which female connector? I assume he means an Ethernet port, but who knows). A few paragraphs later Buck mentions his “computer address” which makes me suspect that Jenkins or LaHaye or whoever did the actual writing on this didn’t know much about technology.

At the top of the screen a status bar flashed every twenty seconds, informing him that the connection to his ramp on the information superhighway was busy.

I’m trying to remember if this seemed as hilarious back in the day. Were people still unironically saying “information superhighway” in 1995?

While we’re on the subject, doing a Google image search for that phrase leads to some truly magical results.

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Hattie sees Buck’s improvised internet connection and orders him to stop whatever he’s doing, but he placates her by promising to use his turnpike onto the world wide webzones to check on the status of her friends and loved ones. I’m guessing the phone lines are going to be hopelessly tied up (which would also make Buck’s rinky-dink dial-up modem useless), so I’m not sure how he’s going to pull this off. And aren’t you supposed to not use the phone during a disaster?

[Buck] complimented everyone on remaining calm and avoiding hysterics, although he had received reports of doctors on board who handed out Valium like candy.

Why were the doctors carrying around loads of Valium?

He thought, but didn’t say, how grateful he was to have been in the air when this event had taken place. What confusion must await them on the ground!

WHAT CONFUSION INDEED, RAYFORD.

SUCH HEART-POUNDING TENSION.

So here’s a conundrum to ponder while we wait for Ray to inch his way toward Chicago. He comments that it’s a good thing he and his co-pilot weren’t among the raptured, or all of the passengers would have been doomed, but as far as I can tell Ray’s character arc consists of realizing that he was wrong to reject his wife’s devout faith and becoming a God-fearing Rapture-believing Republican-voting Evangelical Christian. Are we to conclude that it would have been better if Ray had qualified for the Rapture and vanished mid-flight, condemning the passengers whose lives he’s vowed to safeguard to crash into the Atlantic ocean? If so, this book’s moral viewpoint seems a little weird.

Anyway, the situation gets even more thrilling as the jet approaches Chicago: tangled flight logistics! Runways with somewhat less space than usual! Travel plans in disarray! Phone lines jammed! Oh, the humanity!

As if that wasn’t enough, Buck just barely manages to download his emails before he has to disconnect his laptop for landing. Frankly, I don’t know how much more I can take.

Something mildly interesting does happen, though: Hattie (while crying, because she’s a woman) informs Buck that every child on the plane is gone; extrapolating that out to the rest of the world leads to the nasty realization that every child in the world might be have vanished.

…privately he knew this would be his most difficult landing in years.
He knew he could do it, but it had been a long time since he had had to land a plane among other aircraft.

This isn’t how you build tension. Landing the plane should be a massive long-shot against overwhelming odds, something that Ray doesn’t expect to be able to pull off. The fact that he manages it could be chalked up to divine providence, thus hastening his coming turn toward Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Quick Read: Left Behind ch. 1.5 – 2

  1. reveen

    Sixty million copies?! Jesus! That’s a fucking fifth of the United States.

    I know that’s not an accurate count of the hardcore evangelical demographic because I know from experience that even moderately devout Christians in North America will buy anything Christian themed just because it’s Christian. But still.

    Passion of the Christ, 612 million at the box office. Take your kids!

    Were people still unironically saying “information superhighway” in 1995?

    The movie Hacker came out in that same year, so damn skippy pop culture thought that the Internet was a technological parallel universe, I don’t think that shit petered out until the early 2000s.

    Reply
  2. Hal

    ” It’s hard to believe that a well-educated American journalist who’s recently undergone a religious conversion hasn’t at least heard of the rapture before.”

    Having grown up in the South, this is exactly what evangelicals believe. They sincerely think that the reason everyone else doesn’t agree with them is that they haven’t been told about Jesus yet, and if you just let the heathens know about The Greatest Story Ever Told, we’ll all fall in line. The idea that we have heard of their version of Christianity but aren’t interested is unfathomable to them.

    Reply
    1. Andrea Harris

      That’s not exactly true. They know everyone *knows* about Jesus, they just don’t know about Him properly. And that’s because Satan has been interfering through his agents President Obama and the Mainstream Media, and Hollywood, and the lesbians, and the rock singers, and the girls who go with boys, and… you know, all those people who aren’t good, God-fearing churches where people worship in the *correct* way, the way that makes everyone understand Jesus and His plans for all of us *properly*.

      Also, the Bible is really a cookbook. You find that out last.

      Reply
      1. Andrea Harris

        I left out “members of” before “good, God-fearing churches.” Also for some reason I forgot how to code in html.

        Reply
    2. zephyrean

      As much as it pains me to defend this book, I have to. This bit is actually true-to-life; most Christians pick and choose bits from the Bible and *don’t* follow their claimed beliefs to their logical conclusions. Buck is one of these people; even though he claims to believe in God, his first hypothesis to explain a miracle is human action.

      Reply

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