Edge of Apocalypse: pages 20-23 (Chapter Four)
At last. We meet the man!
“The private executive helicopter glided high in the night sky over the glittering lights of New York City. Joshua Jordan, the lone passenger, was in the back. Forty-three, square shouldered, athletic, and dressed in an expensive Italian suit, he looked like a man on top of the world. But he didn’t feel that way.”
Walter Groteschele in Fail-Safe at least used taxis when he was in New York commuting to the airport.
Physical description is pretty sparse, but judging from his daughter, we can assume he has dark brown eyes and maybe brown hair, though blond hair can also go with brown eyes. A word about assumptions: it’s a revealing thing about cultural and racial hegemony and privilege that the Jordan family is assumed to be white. I’m certainly guilty of this myself, given that I made assumptions about hair color that depend on phenotypes related to skin color.
However the Biblically chosen names do not omit or obviate the possibility that they’re black, and it would be rather interesting to see how far this takes us if we keep this in mind (though to be very honest, I suspect LaHaye and Parshall are aiming this book at a generally white audience, simply because of sheer numbers).
Now, for the PHONE PORN. 😀 I’ll spend some time on this because it’s such a massively amusing in-joke among the Left Behind community at Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog. 🙂
“On a normal evening, heading to his office for late-night work, he’d be paging through his Allfone–checking emails and tabbing through a variety of documents that had been scanned-in for him to review. The digital revolution had finally merged all the major information, communication, and entertainment functions into one platform: a small handheld device that became all things–cell phone, fax sender, two-way Skype video camera, television, radio, and, of course, Internet-accessible computer. The big versions replaced TV sets in the entertainment cabinets of homes across the country. But it was the small handheld units, the top-of-the-line Allfone and its cheaper imitators, that had become the primary personal communication link for the public.
Ordinarily Joshua would have been accessing Fox News, CNN International, GlobalNetNews, BusinessNetwork–anything he needed to stay on top of the economy, politics, business, and world affairs.
On his mini-laptop-sized Allfone, he would be reviewing the headlines from four key publications: The Wall Street Journal, Barons, International Financial Times, and the Daily Economic Forum, while keeping an eye on a second Allfone laptop opened to a graphic of the world, where charts would appear in the four corners and updated data would scroll under the banner ‘Global Risk and Security Assessment.'”
Hell, it’s not just phone porn, it’s electronics porn! Is there anything this Allfone can’t do?
Well, probably clean the kitchen sink.
I love the little shout-out to Left Behind with the “GlobalNetNews” agency there. Readers of the books will recall the newsmagazine called Global Weekly.
And as is par for the course for the POV characters in LaHaye-sponsored books, there is nothing less than the best. Joshua has the best Allfone in the world, natch. All of a piece with his jet-set, hi-falutin’ lifestyle. What’s interesting to observe here is that the same patterns of mistaking the trappings of success for the actuality of it are manifesting in Edge of Apocalypse. Jordan’s helicopter, Allfone, and family (more of which I’ll discuss below) mean very little if the man who uses them isn’t believably capable of warranting them, and to be perfectly honest, this would not have worked in the 1960s.
In the 1960s, a person with this Gilded Age lifestyle would probably have met with subtle social disapproval at the way he was purposely cordoning himself off from the rest of humanity. Today, in the 2000s and 2010s, cultural shifts have led to the point where it is acceptable, even considered desirable, for rich people to actively segregate themselves from the mass of humanity. In short, this lifestyle would have clanged against social attitudes in a readership far more attuned to egalitarian concepts than today’s readership.
It’s worth thinking about how literature, even bad literature, mirrors social changes.
To move on, we discover that Mr. Jordan has had his share of action-packed adventures:
“He had served America as an Air Force test pilot and secret reconnaissance officer flying in some of the world’s hottest spots. Now he was serving the U.S. as a defense contractor. But in the light of catastrophic current events, that wasn’t enough for Joshua. So he and several others had begun an audacious new venture. Under normal conditions all of that would have been bouncing around his head like a pinball.”
Again, what’s being hinted at is the stuff on the back cover – a possible true missile defence shield. And we learn Joshua isn’t afraid to be the take-charge kind of guy – much like Rayford Steele is portrayed as the take-charge, full-steam-ahead head of the Tribulation Force.
Now for what I see as a particularly bad way to structure the presentation of the people important to the main character. Maybe it’s a gender-roles thing again, but I personally find it rather annoying, and since it sticks in my craw a bit, I’m going to belabor the point a little.
Consider this: Up to this very paragraph, is there any indication that Joshua Jordan’s family had more than three members?
Zip. None. Nunca. Nada. Zero. Nyet.
You’d think maybe Abigail might have just maybe possibly given passing thought to her son?!?
‘Cause that’s exactly the lil extra piece of information we get in this chapter. And oddly like Babylon Rising, this guy’s son, named Cal Jordan, seems to have gone off the beaten track. Actually, at first I assumed the kid was gay, but that’s too daring for the likes of LaHaye and Parshall.
“But this wasn’t a normal evening. Joshua couldn’t get yesterday’s conversation with his son, Cal, out of his head. Why did he have to blast his son like that? All Cal wanted was to talk about changing his college major. What was the big deal? He’d already accepted the fact that Cal wanted to go to Liberty University; after all it was a good school, and maybe Cal wasn’t cut out for the military.”
If you read up to this point you’d probably agree that the guy was one of those artistes like Guy Blod, who’s the closest to an actual homosexual as portrayed in the Left Behind books.
Now, as I understand the American culture vis-a-vis the military, going into such “country-protecting” pursuits is often highly-valued among Christian families, and even among non-fundamentalists family traditions can play a role in the decision to join the armed forces.
So in one sense, the lack of joining the military would be a coded shout-out that this kid is Not One Of Us, because clearly he’s not defending his nation.
However, the twist is this: “But Cal was different. He’d turned down the military academy and said he wanted to go to a Christian college. ”
Ah-ha! Redeemed after all, right? 😛
The book goes on to blabber a bit more about the religion aspect, portraying the Jordans as wavering believers-of-sorts, kind of like Joe and Jane Average in the USA who’ve been exposed to some sort of religious influence (i.e. a childhood church attendance, etc):
“So there was also that religious issue that Joshua had to deal with. Cal, like his mother, Abigail, and even Debbie, had all said at different times that they had become ‘born again Christians.’ Joshua just couldn’t see the whole Christian thing, at least not for himself. But he had worked hard at trying to support Cal’s decision about college. Now that Cal was in his second year at Liberty, Joshua had settled into the idea.”
I’m trying not to bring up Left Behind comparisons too much, but in some ways this guy is like Rayford Steele’s wax mould recast into another person. Ol’ Rafe, we recall, was one of those “I’ll go along with what Irene says just to keep her happy but I don’t really go in for that happy-clappy stuff myself” folks presented as the sort of half-Christian unbeliever who shall be … LEFT BEHIND.
I made a mention of gender roles previously, as well as the problem of exposition. While I appreciate that LaHaye and Parshall are aiming for a sort of symmetry between mother/daughter and father/son exposition, I find it a little annoying that no way, no where, is Cal mentioned in the Abigail chapter. I feel it could have been worked a lot more smoothly in terms of introducing the family. The other thing is that there seems to have been an attempt to invert the traditional male/female roles for son and daughter. Note that “[e]ven Debbie, his precious little girl, was at West Point now”. But Cal’s the oddball, the one who shies away from the military and goes to a university and talks of Bible college.
Of interest as well is the fact that Cal’s name is the one non-Biblically derived name chosen for the members of the family quartet.
Actually, I spoke too soon. Apparently, either Cal isn’t quite ready yet for Bible college, or this “Liberty University” is one darn progressive Christian university:
“That was until this morning when Cal told him he was switching majors. From engineering to art. Just one more of his son’s decisions that seemed to collide with common sense.”
Damn, so he’s that gay artist type after all.
I don’t want to make too much of the way cultural tropes can be used as a shorthand, but these books written under LaHaye’s aegis do seem to go in for that sort of thing, where certain stock character types are used to telegraph the “I’m OK, you’re OK” sense of community among the intended readership. Joshua is the very heterosexually ex-military male marrying a wife who dutifully gives up her intended profession to sire a patriotic daughter who’ll give him no trouble at all, and then sires this oddball kid who doesn’t know what he wants, and worst of all…
Takes after his mother.
You can almost hear the dun-dun-DUN when you read this part of the paragraph:
“Joshua loved his son more than anything, more than life itself. He just didn’t understand him. Cal was so much like his mother, and, yes, Joshua envied him for that. Was that it? Was it envy? That even though Cal, like his father, believed that flag and country were important, what he really wanted was to bury himself in oil paints and canvas and shut out the world?”
So after the half-hearted nod to Cal’s all-Americanism, it’s back to the like-his-mommy thing. And this is another shorthand used to telegraph the shared culture among the readership, since rigid enforcement of gender roles and the assumed inferiority of children taking after the mother rather than the father, particularly if they’re male, is a staple of the Promise-Keeper-type mentality the book is pandering to.
We also see a repeat of the male-analytical, female-emotional paradigm that has long since been discredited:
“It was one of the things he loved about Abby. She had been a brilliant lawyer, and yet she could also turn off the analytical side, the duty and legal side, and bury herself in a book or an art gallery, losing herself in the nuances of color and texture and light.”
It’s heavily hinted there that she did what a Good Woman does, which is to give up an independent career to be her man’s servant. Consider the prayer she shouts out: it’s for her man to survive. She’s of secondary importance.
Anyway, I’ve pretty much hammered to death the problems of jarring literary exposition (O HAI, SON HERE, NO WARNING) and the underlying assumptions that have gone into the discussion of the family (artiste!), so let’s have some more phone porn.
“The ring of a cell phone suddenly broke Joshua’s train of thought. He checked the personal phone function on his handheld Allfone. But it wasn’t ringing and showed no incoming calls. He realized that this ring tone was the heavy metallic one.
He thrust his hand into his suit-coat pocket and retrieved another phone. This one was flat and wide, colored a deep shade of blue. It was a specially encrypted satellite phone designed only for high-level secure conversations. It didn’t ring often. But when it did there was an emergency. The scramble-your-jets kind.
Joshua hit the encryption filter button and answered. ‘Joshua Jordan.'”
Upon reading this carefully, it seems like LaHaye and Parshall got so wrapped up in the technical delights of this Allfone thing that they forgot to try and word stuff without it sounding clunky as all hell; consider “But it wasn’t ringing and showed no incoming calls. He realized that this ring tone was the heavy metallic one.”
It might have been better for them to say “Upon hearing a heavy metallic ring-tone, Joshua automatically reached for his Allfone before realizing that he needed to use his other phone.”
Speaking of which – damn, this guy not only has a top-flight Allfone, they gave him an even fancier piece of gadgetry with built-in encryption and all that jazz? I get that it makes sense in context (him being a highly paid consultant on top-secret government projects, etc) but it seems like this was set up more just for the chance to show off Josh’s fancy electronic gizmos.
Now, a word on the military; I’m not sure if addressing Jordan by rank is appropriate, but that’s what happens:
“‘Colonel Jordan,’ said a voice after a half second of descrambling. ‘This is Major Black, adjunct to the Joint Chiefs, sir, in R&D at the Pentagon. We’ve talked before.’
‘We have a status red.’
Joshua paused for a millisecond as he felt his chest tighten.”
Nitpicky blogger is nitpicky: I don’t think humans can even sense thousandths-of-seconds time intervals with any accuracy. Tenths, yes. But surely not thousandths!
We learn that Joshua’s secret project is apparently a way to redirect incoming missiles out of harm’s way, and possibly send them on a reverse path to their origin:
“‘North Korean. Taepo Dong missiles. Which means they should have a guidance system compatible with your RTS-RGS protocol.’
The RTS-RGS system, formally known as the Return-to-Sender-Reconfigured-Guidance System, was the antiballistic laser system Joshua and his team had been developing for the better part of ten years. It was still considered experimental and scheduled for its first real-world test next month.”
Even though it is billed as a “laser” based system, the name of this thing strikes me as the kind of “huk huk huk aren’t we just so COOL?” thinking among people who get more tickled pink at the techno-geekery of being able to bounce a nuclear bomb back to the country it came from and completely overlooking the very natural extremely pissed-off national leadership of the country whose bomb just blew up a city in their own country.
Since international relations tend to be dominated by the backing of force, and thus tends to work largely along the level of adolescent children, the same impotent rage and frustration felt by a child who keeps dealing with the jackass who grabs his arms, punches the child with his own arms and then gets mockingly told “Hey, stop punching yourself, huh?” is the kind of set of emotions felt by those who have had a nuke bounced back at them.
It may not be rational at all to feel this, but it’s a pretty sure bet that this would be the outcome, provoking either sullen recalcitrance from the bombing nation, or an even more fervent attempt to sneak a nuclear bomb in somehow.
The bottom line is that this defence system seems more like a provoke-people system; instead of simply harmlessly deactivating nuclear bombs in flight, or, say, bouncing them off to outer space (although the danger of an EMP shattering a hemisphere’s communications networks would be a real issue if the bomb went off in the ionosphere), it’s billed as Return to Sender.
The end of this chapter leads us up to the same time interval as Abigail and Deborah’s:
“Joshua felt his heart stop. Cal should be clear of New York by now. He should be sitting on a train on his way back to college. But Abigail and Deb were in the city. Maybe they could still get to safety…
‘How much time?’ he choked out the words.
‘Estimated detonation over Manhattan is fourteen minutes.’
Joshua’s mouth dried up as though he’d swallowed sand. ‘Please tell me we’ve got back-up options to interdict those missiles.’
‘We’ve scrambled our jets, but they may not make it in time. The rest of our Eastern Seaboard missile system has been handicapped since the White House tied us to the Six-Party Missile-Defense Treaty. You and your system may be our last hope. So let’s just pray your little jammer can kick those two footballs back where they came from. If not, God help us all.'”
Going back to front in the last paragraph, we see a nod to the readership, who are probably inwardly grinning at the “God help us all” phrase, usually an empty setphrase uttered in a moment of crisis, because depending on interpretation this missile launch and redirect could be the literal expression of God’s help, by means of “inspired helpers”.
The RTS system is definitely interpreted by the Major as an actual “missile return” system and not a laser shootdown system.
Note the politically-coded phraseology – “tied us to the treaty”. As a Canadian, I have been a student and front-row-seat observer of the ways in which American exceptionalism manifests itself over and over. This is especially an important point when this exceptionalist ideology intersects with fundamentalist Christian theology, which presents itself and its members as part of a Real True Christianity, the hallmarks of the special ones, the chosen ones.
And unlike in Harry Potter, the Chosen One is not under a terrible duty, a terrible task that he must complete. The chosen ones of RTCism pretend to themselves that they are under immediate threat of persecution and extinguishment, when in actual fact their faith is given an unofficial secular imprimatur of legitimacy over and above other faiths in the United States.
So the shout-out to those who believe the USA should not be bound by any treaties or promises, even those made by the country’s leaders to begin with – that’s another nod to the shared cultural context assumed by the authors about their readers.
Finally, surprisingly, LaHaye and Parshall seem to have calculated the missile trajectory from the North Korean vessel fairly accurately. I recall reading that the US-Soviet trajectories were such that basically, from missile launch to detonation you might, at best, have half an hour – and maybe not even that.
So fourteen minutes seems realistic here. Props for that.
Next chapter we’ll visit with Cal Jordan.