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So I just can’t bring myself to read any more crap about the fictional followers of a zombie Jew. It’s just so horribly written I think it’s making me dumber. Instead I’ve started reading Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. Much, much better book, also involving zombies! But this time it’s the good kind, not the zombie Jew on a stick kind.
So here I am, about 50+ pages into the book, and I’m not impressed. Left Behind is living down to all of my expectations. Through the first four chapters, the best thing I can currently say is that there don’t seem to be any spelling errors. Beyond that, there isn’t much good so far.
I think my biggest gripe is that it’s poorly written. I like my brain candy as much as the next guy, but I think this book would barely pass as well written by a high school student putzing around at home.
Some specific problems I have with the story so far:
1. The names. I don’t know how they came up with these names, but they’re horrible. The captains name is Rayford Steele. His son, Rayford Jr., aka Raymie. Quite possibly the worst character names ever. And then there’s Cameron Williams, nicknamed “Buck.” Why Buck, you ask? Because he’s a hotshot young journalist who got to the top of the field shockingly quickly, bucking all trends. Or some shit. It was one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. When we’re introduced to him, the authors do a wonderful job of telling us about him, about how he’s so amazing and charismatic. I’ll fully admit I’m not a great writer, especially when it comes to fiction, but there’s one rule to writing stories that should never be broken… “show, don’t tell.” Rather than showing us how charismatic Buck is, we’re told he is. And through the first four chapters, he doesn’t come off as charismatic… everything we see is a chauvinistic jackass who thinks he’s above the rules.
2. When we get some background on Buck, we find out about his having reported on an Israeli scientist and being in an Israeli bunker when there is a sneak attack from Russia (who has secret alliances with “Middle Eastern nations, primarily Ethiopia and Libya). This is the fulfillment of a biblical prophecy, appearantly. The problem here is that they claim biblical passages that deal with God destroying Israel’s enemies mention an enemy from the north attacking with the help of Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya (this according to the authors). If they want to claim an incident as involving biblical prophecy coming true, shouldn’t they make the entire thing come true? If Persia (which no longer exists anyway) isn’t taking part in the war, that makes the prophecy only 75% correct, and while that’s not bad if you’re making a wager on something, it’s not very good for claiming inerrant knowledge (which a prophet of god would be expected to have). Also, Ethiopia isn’t considered part of the Middle East, but maybe I’m just nitpicking.
3. The authors don’t seem to have a grasp on how people act/react to situations. So far, the two most egregious examples are when Buck is talking about being in an Israeli bunker and when people on the plane wake up to realize that fellow passengers are missing. In the former case, Buck is in the shelter, missiles are screaming in towards the bunker, enough to white out the radar screens with them (or so the impression is given). As they’re raining down, “the explosions so horrifying that veteran military leaders buried their faces and screamed in terror (p. 9 of my copy).” So Buck, realizing he’s gonna die anyway, decides to walk outside the bunker and see it coming, the big brave journalist that he is. I realize this is probably just to set up how brave Buck is in the face of danger, how he keeps cool, calm and collected. But this is completely unrealistic. You don’t survive long enough in the military to become a veteran military leader if you lose your shit at the sound of explosions. These Israeli officers would be keeping their acts together, and even if they were sure they were done for, they’d be punching whatever buttons they needed to in order to set about a retaliatory strike. Not screaming in terror and crapping their pants.
The latter of the two situations, when the passengers find their companions missing, is even worse. You have people screaming in terror at… nothing. Well, not quite nothing, but a pile of clothes. At one point, someone opens the bathroom door and finds clothes on the floor and screams. Who the fuck does that? You open the door and find an axe murderer covered and blood with his weapon raised above his head, you scream. Or you find a dead body, gruesomely dismembered and mutilated, you scream. A pile of clothes on the floor? You don’t scream. You might look at the clothes and think “Uhm, what the heck!?!?” But you don’t scream. Because it’s not a frightening experience. And even if you find out the reason for the disappearances, and that turns out to be terrifying, you still probably wouldn’t scream because unless it’s someone/thing that’s about to cause you immediate harm or is gruesome, well, it’s just not scream worthy. Maybe a sobbing “no, oh no, no” or whatnot. But we all handle bad, scary news without screaming. People screamed in terror when 9/11 occurred and they were down the street from it. They gaped in horror when it was not in their immediate vicinity.
I love reading fiction, I love stories. I have no problem suspending my disbelief for all types of fiction. But even if the story is fantastical, you still need to treat it as though it were real, with believable characters.
4. Buck is a little to McGyverish. He just happens to know how to hack the airplane phone so he can hook up his laptops modem to it? He’s a young reporter, not special ops, not even an Eagle Scout (that I know of yet). This adds a layer of disbelief to the character that I just can’t really swallow.
5. The characters in the book seem to come straight from the 1950’s. By that I mean they seem to be misogynistic assholes. On two occasions in the first four chapters, we see Buck ignore rules which he justifies because “it’s an emergency.” When really he’s just being a selfish dick (he wants to get in contact with his editor and send in his reports). The way he talks to the flight attendant (female) is pretty assholish. It’s pretty much a “Listen, sweetie, why don’t you mind your own business, this is men’s work, you go get back in the kitchen” type of attitude we see from him. We see it again from a doctor that he patching up a wound in Buck’s head when in the airport lounge.
6. This is probably my favorite “what the fuck” moment so far. While the plane is still in the air, the pilot, Rayford Steele, finds out that there are doctors on board handing out Valium to fellow passengers to keep them calm. What amazes me about this is that what doctors take flights carrying large amounts of drugs? And what doctor would hand out pills (when it’s not a matter of life or death) to strangers? I’m pretty sure that’s something you lose your license over. Now, if it were that a couple passengers had some Valium on them because they hate flying and need it to get through a flight, well, I could believe that. But doctors? Not so much.
Looking through my notes, all of these current complaints are actually just from the first two chapters. I’m going to be a bit more brief about the next two, since it’s getting late and there’s more that just backs up previous claims.
7. In chapter 3, Rayford calls home and gets the answering machine. He describes himself as being not very religious, doesn’t go to church, etc., but manages to jump to the conclusion that it must have been the rapture. Obviously, it is the rapture, but he doesn’t know that yet. It doesn’t seem like the authors are spending any time building to that conclusion, they’re just hammering it in there. Poor storytelling.
8. A couple pages later, Rayford finds out that his copilot has killed himself because he found out that his boys had disappeared (been raptured) and his wife died in a car wreck. This is probably about an hour, maybe two, after they landed. The reason this is ridiculous is they’ve spent the entire time since the rapture occured telling us how awful the phone lines are, how you’re lucky to get a dial tone, let alone make a connection, and yet the copilot has managed to find out that his wife has died (who would know and how would he have gotten through to them?) and his kids were raptured (if the wife is dead, who would know that the kids were gone?). It just doesn’t really make much sense when you think about it. And these little details are important if you have an audience with half a brain…
9. Buck’s editor writes him an email and says “Ideas are like egos — everybody’s got one.” This is just a pet peeve of mine. I haven’t been looking out for swearing in the book (can’t say I’ve noticed any), but I’m guessing there is none. The normal way I’ve always heard this expression is: “Ideas are like assholes… everybody’s got one.” Do they really need to not swear? Again, it goes to believability.
10. So Rayford makes it home in chapter 4. What does he find on the doorstep? Today’s paper. Everything we’ve been hearing so far is that the world has basically shut down since about 11:00pm or so the night before. How, with all the disappearances and car accidents, etc., did the paper manage to get to the delivery person’s house and then get delivered? A minor detail, but something that shouldn’t have been overlooked.
With that, I’m calling it a night. As you can tell, I’m a bit of a detail person. When I read a book, I like to get absorbed into the story. When the details of the story don’t fit plot, I have a hard time enjoying the book. I don’t mind poor writing. I hate poor storytelling. I really think this could be an interesting story to tell, an epic tale, even. But if you don’t pay attention to the little details, well, I can’t really get into it and enjoy it.
What do you think?
Time for my first book review! I’ve begun reading the first book in the Left Behind series. While I have already started the book, I feel I should first mention what I was expecting before I started reading (as though I hadn’t started reading it yet).
I’m going into this book assuming it will be mediocre at best. I’m really not expecting much at all. Basically, I’m expecting poorly written Christian porn. I’m hoping that there is a good story in there, even if I do anticipate a poor execution of that story. I’m trying to keep an open mind, and I’m excited about reading it… but then again, who doesn’t love a good train wreck?
With that said… let’s begin!