To The Shores: Edward’s Mistake?

26 Sep

WARNING: SPOILERS

One of the many – many, many, many – problems with the first few books in the Left Behind series is the simple fact that the characters KNOW what sort of book they’re in. None of the main characters – and few of the secondary characters – really question their own beliefs, let alone the story behind the mass disappearances in chapter one. They KNOW they’re in a post-Rapture story where the devil will rule the world for seven years, prior to the return of Jesus Christ, and there’s no point in actually resisting him. This leads to much painful logic-bending on the part of the authors, who must somehow present the characters as heroes while leaving them doing very little that is actually heroic.

[Example; one of the main characters is assigned to serve as the Antichrist’s personal pilot (completely ignoring the fact that you have to be in the USAF to have even a hope of serving as the pilot of Air Force One) and doesn’t seem to contemplate the virtues of ditching the plane over the Pacific Ocean. Let’s make the devil work for his fun.]

The foresight granted the main characters robs the books of their chance to be anything other than painful reads. Because everything is pre-determined to be pre-determined (the plot is not only worked out, but known to the characters) there’s no meaningful struggle against futility. Not only are they deprived of the fun of working out that the missing people were not taken away by aliens, but the whole world walks into a trap which is so clearly advertised that it might as well have T-R-A-P painted on top (and the authors would probably argue that it did.)

In the real world (or in a universe created by a semi-competent hack) the level of foresight shown by the characters is much more limited. For example, we look back at Hitler’s decision to advance to Stalingrad, Churchill’s decision to try to hold Crete, Japan’s decision to fight the Battle of Midway … and we wonder just WTF they were thinking. None of those decisions can be said to have worked out very well. But if were try to ignore the benefit of 60 years of hindsight, it becomes clear that there were strong reasons in favour of taking those decisions. No one can ever launch a gamble knowing the outcome in advance; all they can realistically do is stack the deck in their favour.

The politicians, soldiers, sailors and airmen who make decisions do not have the benefit of looking back, or the time to carefully consider every option. One can over-analyse a problem to death, if one tries – but then, one might simply run out of time. They have to make their decisions based on the facts available at the time, not what might emerge in the future. If you believe that the hill is only defended by a company of enemy soldiers – and you have a full regiment – you might make the call to attack … and only then discover that the enemy has a full division dug in and you’re rather badly outnumbered. In hindsight, you screwed up; in foresight, not so much.

My point is this; genuinely stupid (at the time) decisions are actually quite rare in history

I mention all this because several recent reviews of To The Shores challenged the whole setting of the story, suggesting that Edward, Jasmine, et al walked into a trap that was blindingly obvious. Naturally, I don’t agree; they might have walked into a meatgrinder, but they didn’t do it intentionally or through stupidity. Unfortunately, illustrating this directly within the text is not easy. One has to make it clear that the characters don’t know everything – and certainly not the blurb at the back of the book. For all they knew, the story was How We Stayed On A Luxury Island While The Diplomats Argued And Chased Local Women.

There are several points that, I thought, I had made clear in the text and should certainly be taken into account.

One – Avalon is making contact with Wolfbane, a successor state of unknown size and composition, let alone military might. If Avalon is significantly weaker than Wolfbane, Wolfbane might be tempted to take over (or vice versa). Thus, both sides have a vested interest in picking somewhere neutral for their talks. There will be very little for spies to discover about relative fleet sizes and suchlike.

In short, the decision to use Lakshmibai was not a wholly free one.

Two – Lakshmibai is a very minor world. (Think Iceland, compared to the US or the USSR, or some Third World microstate.) The files they had on the planet were out of date as no one was particularly interested in collecting data, even before the Empire abandoned Avalon. Furthermore, even if the planet did give them trouble, it was utterly helpless against the starships. Any rational actor, they decided, would assume that wiping out the diplomats would be followed by brutal retaliation and therefore put up with their presence as long as necessary. What they missed was that the bad guys were both NOT entirely rational and engaged with other off-world factions.

Three – both Avalon and Wolfbane were paranoid about each other. The security precautions both sides took (sending away the starships, for example) were designed to stop the other getting an unfair advantage. Compared to that, the threat from the planet’s inhabitants barely registered.

Four – Edward took advantage of the opportunity to give the CEF an exercise, allowing them to practice deploying across light years. Wolfbane didn’t object to this (although they sent no matching contingent) because the CEF didn’t alter the balance of power decisively in Avalon’s favour. Both sides were more worried about starships than ground forces.

Obviously, you may read the text and disagree (even allowing for the fact that you read the cover blurb). My point, however, is that people do make mistakes, based on what they know at the time, that look extremely stupid in hindsight. YMMV, of course.

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6 Responses to “To The Shores: Edward’s Mistake?”

  1. Walt Dunn September 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Right You Are, Chris, These situations aren’t unique either. There have been many (unfortunate) situations that organizations have landed in just for these same reasons not referring to any governmental organizations, of course!

  2. Daniel Silver September 26, 2013 at 10:05 pm #

    I have always liked the decision making processes you write about. I find them highly realistic and it is refreshing in a world of books where the characters know everything. One other thing, that I’ve mentioned in reviews, is that the decision making process and reasoning cuts both ways. The enemies of the main characters make good decisions and think ahead, if they’re rational actors which the enemies were not in this case. Too often the enemies can’t react to changes and turn into paper tigers halfway through the book. I feel like in this series so far the enemies have always kept the main characters on their toes and made them adapt to new situations in fascinating ways.

    • chrishanger September 27, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

      It depends, to some extent, on their society. If they are inflexible, they have problems coping when the plan breaks down . Chris > Date: Thu, 26 Sep 2013 21:05:51 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

  3. Terry Edmunds September 27, 2013 at 2:22 am #

    stupid mistakes…ask Adolf Hitler in WWII….or William Westmoreland in Vietnam. You are right, Chris, happens all the time! Don’t sweat the small stuff!

  4. Bob Walters October 9, 2013 at 12:18 am #

    Just to make sure we are all on the same page, we are talking about a series of books written about a bastardization of the Book of Revelations and the reoccurring pipe dream of some lunatic preachers.

    • chrishanger October 9, 2013 at 8:43 am #

      That’s the books I had in mind. Though it’s annoying to see how many opportunities there were for great stories in the whole idea, only to see them wasted. Chris > Date: Tue, 8 Oct 2013 23:18:56 +0000 > To: christopher_g_nuttall@hotmail.com >

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