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White Mesa Chronicles Book 1:

Fledgling militia officer Tommy Thaxton is used to scavenge missions in the ruined city. He’s not used to being in charge of his team of young men…but he can handle it. They all can handle it. It’s just a simple scavenge mission.

Until things go horribly wrong, and Tommy’s team finds themselves facing a full-scale gang attack – something their superiors never anticipated.

Now, getting home on schedule is the least of Tommy’s worries. Getting the entire team home alive is much more important.


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“Dracula” by Bram Stoker

"Dracula" by Bram Stoker — Kimia Wood “Dracula” is known as the original vampire, and the word evokes a cornucopia of images and lore.

But what is the original actually like?

Published in 1897, this Victorian classic delivers a compelling story of horror and love, featuring one of the most spine-chilling monsters of all time.

The Style

As Red from “Trope Talk” will tell you, part of the magic of the story is the style. It opens with the diary of Jonathan Harker, a newly minted lawyer traveling to Transylvania for business with a mysterious count.

This first act is admirably effective, as Jonathan progresses from describing the lovely scenery, to relating the curious superstitions of the townspeople, to his nerve-wracking first meeting with the count on a midnight mountain road.

The first-person immediacy of the narrative lets us feel Jonathan’s plight even more strongly as he realizes his imprisonment in the count’s vast but empty castle – and the diary form allows a mix of “this happened in the past” and “this is what I’m going through now or hope to accomplish” that forces the reader to engage with his harrowing experience on a moment-to-moment basis.

Fade to Black, Scene Transition…

We leave Jonathan’s diary on a cliff-hanger to read the letters between his fiancé Mina and her best friend Lucy. Mina, of course, is looking forward to her marriage to Jonathan (and concerned that his trip to the continent is taking longer than anticipated), while Lucy is flattered (yet also embarrassed) to have been proposed to by three charming young men in one afternoon (Number Three being her own heartthrob…and, once she accepts his offer, her fiancé).

Seem like a tone shift? It is in many ways, but the shift from Dark Gothic to Sweet Romance makes the transition back again that much more heart-wrenching. The girls’ perfect happiness (and their idyllic vacation at the seaside) cannot last…and when Count Dracula makes his grand entrance in England, the creeping sense of foreboding is that much more acute because of the shift in narrator and perspective.

Self Awareness

This sense of hearing the story from the eyewitnesses, with newspaper clippings and telegrams and hastily jotted notes written in trains and carriages, actually enters the story when the party is assembling the data they have on Count Dracula (the better to fight him) and uses the diaries and notes of their company to assemble a dossier of evidence.

I think this is a cute acknowledgement of the writing style…and after all, how would I be reading the private journal of a vampire-eyewitness unless someone compiled it for the benefit of posterity?

Patriarchal Romance

One of the things I adore about this book is that every single person is an adult. Maybe not all of them are super bright – after all, they fall for the stupidity of not sharing everything they know because “it’s too terrible for you to know, dear!” allowing Dracula to victimize one of them.

But I love how the romance is tasteful, self-sacrificial, and mature. Lucy’s three suitors all donate blood to her during her “mysterious” sickness where she abruptly loses most of her body’s blood during the night (when the window is left open…ahem). The two unlucky suitors hold no ill will toward the favored Number Three (and future Mr. Lucy), but rather do all in their power to assure her – and his – happiness.

Jonathan and Mina are pathetically in love with each other – to the point that they practice the old “withholding information for the other’s good” trope. On the other hand, the plot forces them back to full disclosure and honesty with each other, at which point they tell each other everything (with plenty of tears and declarations of love).

“I’ll never tell you about Transylvania unless I have to – it would be too horrible for you, dear!”

“I’ll never ask you about Transylvania unless I have to – I never want you to relive that horror, darling!”

Guess what becomes necessary?

Guy Power

What do I mean by “patriarchal” romance?

I mean the boys all rally for the protection of their women-folk and get their evil-fighting heroics on for the sake of those in need! This is not about “getting some,” since both girls are already committed to relationships – the two unlucky suitors, and Dr. van Helsing (see below), and the girls’ chosen protectors all band together to defeat the monster because monsters done need defeatin’, and they want to spare their beloved ladies as much pain (mental, emotional, and physical) as possible.

This is called “sacrificing your own needs for the needs of others” and it’s what Real Manhood is all about and I love it.

Girl Power

The counterpart of this is that it high-lights the specific strengths of our female protagonists.

Mina, for instance, has been studying shorthand (the better to assist her husband in his lawyering) and so she keeps a journal of all her experiences on vacation with Lucy. This comes in very handy when they need to piece together what exactly is going on – which she does along with Dr. van Helsing (see below).

Maybe she can’t race about the country on steamships and horses, and maybe she can’t physically counter Count Dracula herself, but her organization skills, logical deduction, and cool-headed smarts are a vital addition to the team. This highlights the particular strengths of women – without trying to cram the gals into black leather and force them to compete on the men’s playing field (which wasn’t really a thing in the 19th century, thank goodness).

Celebrating Female Innocence

Lucy’s strength of character is her sweetness and charm. Sure, she’s got three men (and counting) in love with her – but it’s her innocence and purity, not just her physical beauty, that attract them. In fact, far from wanting her as an object or plaything, they all desire her well-fare even more than they desire their own happiness.

Contrast this with the female vampires, who use their sex appeal and “voluptuousness” as a snare to lure their victims in. When Jonathan is almost caught by them, it’s unclear how much of his fascination is animal attraction and how much is out-right vampiric mind control!

As opposed to Lucy, whose modesty, kindness, and friendship make beauty a facet of her personality, the vampire female uses her womanly attributes as a weapon to get the blood she thirsts for…revealing her to be no different than the monstrous Dracula.

Dr. van Helsing

The most awesome character is Dr. van Helsing, a Dutch psychologist and physician with an adorable German accent who is called in when Lucy starts exhibiting her “mysterious” anemic illness.

While the doctor is sweet, gentle, conciliatory, and good-natured, he’s also the only person who realizes what’s happening – and promptly starts strewing garlic flowers everywhere and blanketing the place with gold crucifixes.

While even he is hampered by the trope of “don’t tell her mother what’s really going on lest we shock her into cardiac arrest,” let me just say I adore it when sweet old guys are the ones who know everything.

Maybe he can’t rush around on horseback armed to the teeth like the youngsters can, but he can Barney-Collier with some holy wafer like nobody’s business…and he’s got the spiritual and legend-savvy expertise the team needs to vanquish this embodiment of evil.

The Villain

Speaking of the villain, the book does an excellent job keeping him shadowy and menacing…with just enough hints to remind us of his evilness without overdoing it.

I was surprised that we didn’t get an explanation for how he became this way, or why he chose to be a cursed undead horror…but then again, maybe he didn’t choose it, but was cursed by a bite just as he cursed those he bit.

The powers of the vampires in this incarnation are clearly evil, from hypnotism and mind control to regaining youth and vitality from the blood of their victims (especially children – they love to eat small children).

While Dracula can control rats, flies, wolves, and bats – and transform himself into various forms – he is also constrained by specific rules that keep him from being omnipotent…and make him defeatable (for example, he can only cross water at the tides, can only transform at dawn, noon, and dusk, and must return to a box of holy earth to recover his abilities).

Spiritual Themes

An important theme in the book is that these undead are cut off from God. When their friend is raised as a vampire, the team must kill the creature not only for the sake of the other victims – but for the sake of its own soul.

Yes – the horror of being sucked on by a vampire goes beyond merely losing your blood…goes beyond being locked to your vampire-dad in a disgusting pact of mind-linking…even goes beyond rising after your death to restlessly roam the earth and inflict this curse on others, including your own loved ones.

The horror of the vampire even extends to being cut off from the God who made you, and banished from the presence of the Christ who died for you. (Yes, the book explicitly states the basics of the gospel, which is pretty cool.)

While the theology of this skirts dangerously close to the Muslim belief that something someone else does (even after your death) can affect your salvation, the way the characters repeatedly throw themselves on the providence of God (explicitly and specifically) and trust God to bring them through this harrowing experience is inspiring and thrilling. It brings the whole story to a deeper level.

And it also makes the catharsis that much sweeter for the vampires that are staked, beheaded, and stuffed with holy wafers. The hunters describe expressions of peace and release on the cursed ones’ faces before they crumble into dust…the dust their bodies should have been long ago, but for this horrible curse.

As truly repulsive as Bram Stoker makes his vampires – eating small children and gorging themselves with blood – he also makes killing them a mercy…and inspires pity for these wretched, darkened creatures who are cut off from the source of Life and the purpose of their existence: their own Creator.

And after all, your neighbors might not be ravenous, undead monsters…but they’re probably lost and cut off from God, and we should pity them and seek to set them free. Not with a stake and kukri knife, but with the Gospel of Jesus and the Sword of the Spirit (which is the Word of God).

Whoo! Now I’m getting chills.

Classic for a Reason

Yes, there are parts of the book that are obviously products of its Victorian time period…but at the same time, the slower-paced parts and the lighter tone help to contrast and intensify the skin-crawling horror of the darkness and mystery (there are parts that get a chuckle-out-loud!).

Enough with the sexy vampires! Let’s go back to the source, and experience the explicit themes of light versus darkness, good versus evil, kindness versus cruelty, sacrifice versus selfishness, that made this book something that deserves to endure.


July 2 – July 23

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is available as a FREE ebook from Project Gutenberg, or from Amazon (paperback or Kindle), Barnes&Noble, Kobo (ebook or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Join Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

When Meta-Gaming Breaks Play

Meta-gaming is a term that refers to when gamers try to think outside of the “box” of the game narrative…and just focus on winning.

You might not think this is such a bad thing, but it really is…because it infects more than just games.

World of WarcraftWhen Meta-Gaming Breaks Play — Kimia Wood

It’s easiest to see in a computer role-playing game (CRPG) like World of Warcraft.

Once upon a time, WoW gave your character “talent points” for leveling up, and you applied these points to a complicated tree that eventually led to other abilities or perks. (Other CRPGs frequently used this system also, such as Diablo 2.)

With so many branches to choose from – and different end goals that you had to work hard to achieve – you could truly make your character unique.

I personally poured all my talent points into making my mage’s cast time faster.

Other players? They crunched numbers and created Reddit pages dictating the exact specifications you “needed” to “really be an X, Y or Z.”

Are you a Warrior? You need this build order. Are you a Hunter? You must put your talents into these things. The algorithms are such that only this configuration will give you a “proper” character of your chosen class.

No matter if you just wanted to make your cast time faster, and wouldn’t be caught dead in a player vs. player (PvP) scenario (unless you’re doing the Children’s Week achievement…and the reason you avoid it is you usually end up dead! Ugh).

The Reddit types are no longer playing. They are gaming.

Instead of helping Varian and the Alliance defeat the undead, they’re now trying to max out their gear.

They’re not interested in breathing life into their avatar by giving them a totally unique build of talents and quirks. They want to know what will give them the maximum edge in combat, and then they’re playing to win.

No wonder Blizzard Entertainment simplified the talent system to where you choose one of three new spells or abilities every level (instead of funneling points toward different branching tree systems).

Dungeons and Dragons

When Meta-Gaming Breaks Play — Kimia Wood

Image credit: Wikipedia

Relaunching our campaign and delving into the world of AD&D has given us a chance to examine this gaming system.

My dad especially has found there’s a lot of tips to help Game Masters (or Dungeon Masters for some) prevent players from “meta-gaming.”

This is why players aren’t allowed to trade or give items to each other (imagine two siblings teaming up and sharing all their loot…how unfair would that be?). Same reason players are discouraged from running two characters at once (of course I will let Myself borrow my Magic Sword of Dragon-Smiting!).

You might be wondering, “What’s wrong with people being friendly and wanting to share?”

Meta-gaming!

See, each character in D&D has “stats” – like strength, dexterity, charisma (how convincing you are to people), constitution (how well you recover from illnesses), etc.

Meta-gaming knows what these stats are, and tries to work them to its advantage.

It tells the strongest character to try opening the door, the prettiest character to get information out of the innkeeper, and the smartest character to read the cryptic writing on the scroll. It gives the magic sword to the guy who needs it most (not the guy who found it, for example), and tries to distribute other items, potions, etc. according to stat needs.

Of course, with all these actions you have to roll the dice to see if you succeed…and a good GM can either give you a helping hand, or totally mess with your plans.

BECAUSE THE POINT IS NOT WINNING.

I mean, obviously we want to win. But the point of the game is not to play with pencil in one hand and calculator in the other, figuring out the exact probability of each fight and moving into just the right place to maximize profit. (Which is exactly what the brother and I do playing Battle for Wesnoth, by the way…:} .)

The point of the game is to play.

You are this character. What might they do? Sure, your character sheet says you have great charisma…but how good is your acting when you talk with the GM (who plays all the non-player characters)?

Yeah, the sheet says this character is the strongest…but his player has portrayed him as a gentle giant, unsure of himself, so it doesn’t make sense for him to rush into the fray.

Besides, the guy with lower strength got a really good roll, and opened the door with no problem.

I said earlier that meta-gamers think outside the box…but actually, they’re confined by the numbers and the probabilities, and don’t have the creative freedom to try a true “outside the box” solution. (Like “let’s pull on the door together – or use this broken sword as a lever” or “his character is ugly as sin but the player is great at improv – let him talk us out of this”…)

Where am I going with this?When Meta-Gaming Breaks Play — Kimia Wood

So meta-gaming can make a game less fun (unless lots of math or internet searches is how you like to spend your game time), but is it really worth a whole post?

Is it really so bad? Can’t I let some players do them, and let me do me?

Theology

It doesn’t just apply to games, see. Though that’s where it shows up most visibly…

Jesus had a lot of harsh things to say to the Pharisees – a brand of “hyper-observant” Jews who took the Law of Moses and the Old Testament super seriously and were doing their best to follow what God said.

Or were they?

What was that Jesus said to them?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matt. 23: 23)

And He got more explicit:

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men. And he said to them, You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. (Mark 7: 8-13)

See, they weren’t focused on playing. They were into gaming.

God said, “Here’s My game. Here are My rules. Now let’s play.”

But the Pharisees said, “I crunched the numbers, and this is how I need to play to win the encounter.” (I.e. their goal was “eternal life,” not actually “living with God wherever He is.” – see John 5:39-46)

And God said, “That’s actually not the point, and no, you don’t win.”

Go with the Game Master

It’s so easy to fall into the meta-gaming trap. We think if we put tracts in every bathroom we visit, then we don’t have to witness to our neighbor next door.

Or that because we went and visited lonely people in the nursing home, we can sass off to our mom at home.

We’ll say, “The man is not doing his job; but the job needs to get done. So we’ll have this woman do it” – even though that’s exactly what God said not to do!

We see that parents are not taking care of their kids…so we decide we’ll do it for them, instead of helping the parents fulfill their God-ordained duty to raise/teach their own kids!

WHO DID GOD GIVE THOSE KIDS TO AGAIN?

I know you couldn’t get an 18 on the parents’ character sheet if you added all the numbers together (18 is the max stat), but that doesn’t mean you can mess with the encounter.

The GM says it’s their role to do this. /end rant

This “pragmatism” is a “need to achieve.”

When you meta-game, you are essentially saying:

  • “We can’t trust the GM to arrange things in our favor. We have to become slaves of the numbers to make the system work.”
  • “The actual children aren’t important, only the test scores/high scores/level achievements we get. We’re not here to walk beside our children and trust God to bless us…we’re here to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get the output we want – e.g. the good grades, good jobs, good social skills we’re sure we’ll get if we use the Magic Wand of Academic Readiness.”
  • “I saw on a Reddit page that soup kitchens help reduce crime. I’m not sure how, so let’s not bother to establish strong, stable relationships with the hurting people we meet – or heaven forbid share Jesus with them! – but focus on running as many people through our lunch line as possible. Because Jesus said, ‘Go thou and get high attendance numbers,’ right?”

What does the “Game Master” really say?

He says that checking off the prayer, Bible reading, soup kitchen, and “smiling” boxes doesn’t win the game for you! This is not about getting the “proper” gear for your class.

This is about immersing yourself in the game, and playing with all your heart.

Cry when a side character dies. Don’t sweat that your stats aren’t high enough. Solve the puzzles in new, creative ways. If you “break the fourth wall” too much, it won’t be there anymore…and you won’t even be in the story anymore.

Trust the Guy-in-charge-of-the-game. If you play His way, you will win. The Referee is on your side, see 😉

‘Cause it’s not about winning. It’s about playing the game with your “Dad.”


When Meta-Gaming Breaks Play — Kimia WoodKimia Wood was raised by an aspiring author, so spinning words and weaving plots is in her blood.

She currently lives somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, gaming, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing projects.


Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one half of any book of the ESV Bible.

“And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie

"And Then There Were None" by Agatha Christie — Kimia Wood Ten strangers lured to an island. A phonograph accuses them each of murder. One by one, they start dying.

Who will be left standing? And just who is the murderer?!

As the author’s note explains, Agatha Christie wrote this because it would be hard…and she certainly pulls off a spine-chilling whodunit stuffed with questions about morality and “the perfect murder.”

Characters and Voice

Ten characters. Ten unique personalities and voices?

Yes and no. A couple of the characters die off so soon we don’t really get to spend much time with them, although they do get painted in general strokes.

Mrs. Christie breaks all kinds of writerly rules – but hey, she’s Agatha Christie! Whether she’s writing from the perspectives of most of the different characters, or using stereotypical short-hand to quickly clue us in to the character types at the story’s start, she goes against what your author “guru” on the internet probably told you to do…but still weaves an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

We are introduced to all the characters at the start of the book. Thus, we have a working knowledge of each of them and what makes them tick before they start dropping like flies.

But each and every one of them has a deep, dark secret hidden in there, too – from the young governess-turned-schoolteacher to the soldier-of-fortune, from the ex-policeman to the star surgeon with a drunk past.

As more secrets unravel step by agonizing step, we begin wondering if we can root for any of these people…and yet we can’t help rooting for them after “riding in their head” through this harrowing adventure. (That’s part of Mrs. Christie’s theme – more on that later.)

Suspense

I’ve been struggling to read over the past few months, but I finished this little classic in just a few days. To be frank, I should have put it down earlier in the day, because that night I tossed and turned with half-dreams of these characters I had bonded with facing mysterious death.

With zero gore and very little detail of the actual act of dying, or the dead bodies, Mrs. Christie still paints a picture of horror and encroaching dread where the characters question their grip on sanity.

I ask you, can any modern torture-porn horror author claim to have written something as chilling yet lasting as And Then There Were None?

The Onion of Mystery

Unlike a Robert Ludlum spy book, there’s no deep conspiracy here (which is what I’ve meant by “onion” in the past) but there is a “mad” killer on the loose on this rocky, isolated island.

Who is the killer? Which of the men and women in this lonely house could be capable of this elaborate, even artistic death-trap?

Mrs. Christie admitted it was hard to write, but she pulls it off. I didn’t guess the killer at all (partly because I was hamstrung by a Get Smart episode with a false assumption), but once it’s revealed it makes sense.

And that is the mark of a great mystery writer: to string the audience along until the big reveal, then have them cock their heads and nod and say, “Oh, yes, I see how that makes sense, now.”

Justice and Murder

This book bears a very similar theme to Murder on the Orient Express. There, the victim was a well-known gangster and murderer. Here, all ten of the characters are accused of murder.

And yet, the law can’t touch them. One man ran over some kids while speeding…another kicked a pregnant girl out of her boarding house, and the girl committed suicide (understandable given the culture of the time).

Thus, the Big Bad assumes he/she’s justified in killing these people because they are “murderers” beyond the reach of the law.

And yet…is he/she really right to take the law into his/her own hands even though the others are supposedly “guilty”? (And without a true trial, can we be sure that they are guilty?)

The answer of the Bible is manifestly: no! The king is appointed to punish the wrongdoers (Rom. 13:3-4), and we are not to stand on our rights (Phil. 2:5-8) or take matters into our own hands (Rom. 12:17-20).

But a person determined to construct the “perfect crime” is understandably not concerned with Biblical morality. The whole situation is orchestrated to baffle the police and gratify the perpetrator (and vicariously the readers, who will devour this safely contained horror of a puzzle box).

I realize I can’t say more without giving spoilers, but I was intrigued to realize Mrs. Christie has explored these themes on two different occasions…especially as I had connected it with a more “modern” trend in detective fiction of adding grey to both detective and criminal, thus rendering the contrast less black-and-white.

But I guess trying to validate the evil-doer is nothing new.

Gather the Survivors for the Revelation of the Culprit!

Agatha Christie is the culprit. She wrote this.

I was the victim. I fell under the spell of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed every spine-chilling, stomach-twisting moment.

You are the detective. Read this book, and see if you can figure out who the murderer is…before it’s too late!


And Then There Were None is available on Amazon (Kindle, paperback, hardback, or audiobook), Barnes&Noble (paperback, hardback, Nook, and audiobook), Kobo (also offers audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

Subscribe to Kimia Wood’s mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!

Why Genos is Adorable

I…I’m in love.

I don’t even know how it happened. It all started when my brother bought the first season of One Punch Man…and then –

Why Genos is Adorable — Kimia Wood

Then this gorgeous creature entered my life.

His name is Genos. He makes me swoon.

Me! Who can’t stand romance except in microscopic doses! Me, who hates the fourteen-year-olds-in-grown-women’s-bodies who squee about their book boyfriends like a bunch of @$#%?@ —

Why has this emotion taken over my life, and why does that hunk of metal and blond hair make my heart flutter EVERY – SINGLE – TIME?

Well, I’m here to over-analyze just that and try to arrive at a logical answer. Welcome along for the ride.

He shoots fire out of his hands.

Need I say more?

He’s a blond cyborg.

Need I say more?!

He asks to be the main character’s disciple.

Saitama is technically the main character, but in a lot of ways he’s less interesting than Genos (to me).

Genos can’t obliterate enemies with “one punch” – and he knows it. He admires Saitama’s strength, and tags after him in the desperate hope that he will himself become stronger.

But their dynamic has so much more to it than that, and as the season progresses and they learn about each other Genos’ unshakable faith in Saitama (when the entire rest of the world thinks he’s a wanna-be fraud) is part of what keeps Saitama going (when he’s really kind of bored with the whole thing and really just wants something to punch that doesn’t immediately disintegrate).

He’s nineteen.

And he acts nineteen! He’s super serious, and focused, and aspirational. He’s idealistic, and wants to get constantly stronger so that he can be an even better hero!

He’s inexperienced, and he knows it. Everything about him screams green, eager, and determined.

His memories of his tragic backstory are fresh in his mind, and he’s dedicated to preventing that from happening again.

He respects his elders.

Obviously he respects Saitama, but this goes for everyone else more experienced, too.

Whether it’s a tough old grandpa/mentor type who wants these new up-starts to succeed, or a self-important veteran who just wants the newbies to stay out of his way…Genos knows he doesn’t know it all. And he’s all about letting those who know teach him.

He plays well with others, and isn’t selfish.

Genos isn’t about being a one-cyborg-show. He knows the value of working with and learning from those who have walked the path before.

When a hero out-classes him, he readily submits to their superior skill. When a “hero” pathetically fails, he moves in to fill the gap.

None of what he does is about making Genos look good. It’s 100% about service (and also about becoming a better servant).

He gets blown up. A lot.

He’s a cyborg, of course, so he just needs to get rebuild.

But Genos getting his butt kicked is TOTALLY ADORABLE for some reason. (And his battle music is pretty cool, too.)

He has a tragic backstory.

Genos’ whole family (and most of his town) was blown up by an evil cyborg. But now he’s been rebuilt to be a good cyborg and hunt down the evil cyborg. (Sympathy points!)

He’s super grateful to the scientist who saved his life, and later to Saitama (who saves his life repeatedly).

His tragedy hasn’t given him baggage…just a(n adorable) drive to do the right thing, and to protect those who can’t protect themselves. (And also get strong enough to protect them against even bigger threats.)

His chemistry with Saitama pushes Saitama to be better.

Why Genos Is Adorable — Kimia Wood

Genos wins noodle-eating contest. Image credit: OnePunchMan.fandom.com

I think.

At the very least it’s hilarious the way Genos hangs on Saitama’s every word – while Saitama doesn’t really know why he’s so strong or how to help anyone else improve.

But Genos’ earnest, sincere devotion force Saitama to dig deeper, involve himself in more heroics, and embrace his mentor role (or at least make up something that sounds profound).

He’s naïve.

Genos believes everything Saitama says…even if he just made it up to sound good.

Saitama has no idea what makes him so strong, and no actual martial arts technique…but Genos doesn’t care. He knows what Saitama can do, and respects him profoundly for it.

But his naïvety also makes us laugh from time to time. Aww…

He never gives up.

Did I mention he gets his butt kicked?

Even though he can vaporize an eight-story building with one blast, he still gets “turned into bad modern art” almost every episode. (Has he ever even won a fight? I’m trying to remember…)

But not only does he look ABSOLUTELY KICK-BUTT while he’s getting trashed, it never stops him from giving it his all. Whether he’s shooting his fiery lasers at a meteor or punching an enormous monster, he pours everything he’s got into his task.

Although sometimes he over-analyzes.

He is a cyborg, after all, so data is very important to him. He’s memorized all the stats on every hero, and he tries to out-strategize his opponents whenever possible.

When he gets it wrong, that just means he’s still learning and growing and IT’S ADORABLE!

(He’s basically what Eric Kedzierski would be if Eric were a little more erudite.)

He’s smart, detail-oriented, and has a great memory.

Genos has read all the pamphlets. Contrast Saitama, who doesn’t even know what his job description involves.

Good thing he has Genos to keep track of all the details for him, tell him what’s going on, who’s who, etc.

Genos is the kid in college who actually read the textbook and aced all the tests.

Like me 🙂 except some of my tests weren’t 100%.

Can you say over-achiever perfectionist ADORABLE?

He saves little kids from certain death.

Even if it means having his back, lower body, limbs, and most of his torso melted off by acid.

I love this guy!

He’s honest.

When he asks Saitama to accept him as a disciple, he inadvertently spills his whole life story. He’s also very upfront about why he wants to be around Saitama.

In fact, he’s open and straightforward with everyone he meets. It’s hard to imagine him attempting a subterfuge…or succeeding if he did.

He’s humble and heroic.

With all the snotty, high-powered heroes running around showing off their muscles and looking down on the “lower class” heroes, you’d think Genos would mention vaporizing that multi-story building. At least once.

But no.

He’s there to save innocent people, learn from those stronger and better than he, and support his master Saitama.

In fact, when he knows about a sufficiently enormous threat, he automatically invites Saitama to come with…even though Saitama isn’t technically in the “high-tier” group.

Genos never elevates himself. He never grandstands on a kill or tries to get media attention.

His first instinct is always the protection of civilians. His next focus is always Saitama – learning from him, appreciating his victory, or defending him from the critics.

Combine that with Saitama’s willingness to take a publicity fall for the benefit of heroes as a whole, and you get a duo-dynamic that is TRULY AWESOME.

Did I mention he’s a blond cyborg?

He also has sexy yellow eyes, tracking robot vision, and lifeform-detection technology (when he uses it).

This might explain why I’m still single.

I’ve put the bar just so, so high…

But come one. A cute, honest, driven, smart, humble, conscientious, sincere, kick-butt, building-vaporizing cyborg? With blond hair?

How is this too much to ask?


Note: One Punch Man is a fun, raucous show, but does contain a handful of scattered swear-words, heavy gore, and borderline male nudity. Parental guidance recommended. (It’s also Japanese, so make sure you get a version that will work in your area before you commit. Also dubbing is nice.)


Why Genos is Adorable — Kimia WoodKimia Wood is still single and has no idea why.

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures!

5 Stages of Singleness

5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia Wood — single Christian

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash

So. You’re Christian. You’re single.

There’s ups and downs that go with that territory, and if you’re like me, you might find yourself going through these five “stages” of singleness (probably bouncing between them with the shifts of the wind!):

Denial

Marriage? Bah! Marriage forces you to get along with a radically different person for the rest of your life, mirroring the love of Christ for His church in your self-sacrificial service to one another.

Who needs that work?

This is the mood where you think spouses aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Every story on the planet includes a romantic subplot (if it’s not a straight-up romance story), every song on the radio (no matter what station) is talking about pairing up, and every person you know is “involved,” about to be “involved,” or trying to be “involved”…but that doesn’t mean you should take it seriously.

In fact, when you consider all the problems that come with fitting another person’s dreams, needs, and personality into your life, what’s the point? No arguing about “my checkbook, your checkbook” when there’s only one of you.

As for sex, it sounds kinda…messy. And it can’t possibly live up to the hype, no matter what they tell you. Why worry about it? If Jesus died a virgin, so can I!

After all, Paul said:

I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.

…But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. (1 Cor. 7: 7-8, 28)

See? Worldly troubles. Let’s hear it for the stoics and ascetics! Totes easier to serve God without “entanglements.”

As for kids, they’re super expensive, whiny, selfish, and eat up large chunks of your life with their needs. It’s way easier to focus on your job, hobbies, and the ministries God has called you to without those buggers chewing on your ankles.

And it’s not like you need kids to support you in your old age…that’s what the government’s for! (Ah, I crack me up. Realistically, the church should be in that business.)

Anger

I can’t believe I’m still single.

There’s got to be something wrong with the universe.

More common, perhaps, than “Denial” is “Anger.”

WHY IS EVERYBODY ELSE IN THE WORLD PAIRED UP?

And I mean everybody!

All your friends are either married or “involved” – all of them. The bubbly one, the sweet one – even the shy one, the angsty one, and the weird one.

Rail at the heavens…weep into your pillow…gnash your teeth at all the pictures on Facebook of their babies and demand to know what makes you different.

Why are you still lonely?!

(Tell me you’re the same as me!)

Christian coping

The “Christian” response to this stage is the response to any anger:

Verses about how God knows best, how He gets to do whatever He wants, how “I know the plans I have for you” –

Yeah! Plans to dump me in exile in Baby-less-lon for seventy years until I’d be going down the aisle with a walker! “Who gives this bride away?” “That’d be the manager of my nursing home, dude.”

Those people trying to comfort you mean well, but they should probably just tell you to read Job (yes, all of it).

Not only does God say at the end, “I’m supervising the wild goats giving birth — you really think you can do my job better?” but it also contains lots of: “GAAAAH my life is horrible it’s all ending why didn’t you let me die in my mother’s womb!” kind of stuff, which you might want to adapt for your own use.

Bargaining

I’m so lonely right now I’m ripe pickings for any abusive stalker who comes along.

But I can change him once we’re married.

At some point, you’ll try to re-strategize your life.

What’s not attracting a member of the opposite sex? Would a different shirt work better? Maybe a different haircut? Perhaps jewelry?

Maybe I’m not meeting any guys ’cause I’m not in the right places. A healthy, Jesus-centered church is a great place to meet the right kind of guy…but there are moments when I feel like grabbing the first likely-looking bachelor and tucking him under my arm.

What’s the worst that could happen?

(To which Steve Taylor replies:

On a quest for her Mr. Right, she said “I do” where the lonely give in;
…Nothing’s sadder than the words, “It might have been.” (The Bouquet)

A lady at the bank thought my brother might be right for her daughter, until she found out he was a few years younger than the daughter. Desperate times, y’know, but maybe picking up random HVAC techs isn’t the best way to build a life…

Anyone else argue with God?

My parents both went through experiences where they had to consider going through life single, and accept that God would be enough for them in that case.

Once they arrived there spiritually, God allowed them to marry each other.

Ahem…anyone else sometimes feel like saying, “Okay, Master, You will be enough for me. Can I please get married now?”

Coping Strategies

Whether you’re ready to accept it or not, just take for granted there are things worse than this stage you’re in.

So, if you’re not sure your personal morality is rock-solid enough to pull you through this stage, there’s a few very simple things you can do:

1) Read your Bible more. Read it ’til your eyes glaze over, then read it ’til your insides feel shredded.

2) Surround yourself with good, trustworthy people who love you: parents, siblings, coworkers, church friends, other friends…people who have the same moral standards you do, and love you sincerely.

Then give them full permission to smack you in the face if you’re acting stupid. You’ll thank them once the stage passes…and it will pass.

Depression

I’m never getting a spouse. My life is over. I might as well shrivel up now.

Maybe I should have saved the “crying into the pillow” for this part.

After all, when you read something like Jeremiah 16: 1-4:

The word of the LORD came to me:
“You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place. For thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters who are born in this place, and concerning the mothers who bore them and the fathers who fathered them in this land: They shall die of deadly diseases. They shall not be lamented, nor shall they be buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. They shall perish by the sword and by famine, and their dead bodies shall be food for the birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth.

…it just takes something out of you.

Nobody wants their spouse and children to be murdered by invaders or wasted by famine and disease —

But at least they have spouses and children, y’know what I’m saying?!

Anyway…as you stare down the long years of emptiness, living like a goof-off failure in your parents’ house until they die, and then creaking into old age with no one to love you or take care of you or visit you in the nursing home…something deep inside your soul dies. Sometimes quietly, sometimes emitting a soul-shredding wail that splits the void with horror.

Am I just projecting?

Single Coping Strategies

Do something. Find an outreach at your church and get involved. Volunteer with kids’ Sunday school. Find out what’s happening at your local library, then join a knitting group, a writers’ group, a computer class, a local choir…

Get a dog and take it for long, long walks. Start a garden. Teach yourself a handicraft (like knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, wood-working, painting, sewing) and make items to donate (to a hospital, nursing home, homeless shelter, orphanage, etc.).

Don’t just sit there and feel sorry for yourself, because that’ll make you more sorry, which will make you more sorry…

Acceptance

Just as there is a revolving door of “states” when handling your singleness, there are different levels of acceptance.

The simplest is the momentary acceptance:

“I still believe trolling the bar scene is a poor way to land a Prophet, Priest, Protector, and Provider, so I accept that waiting on God is still the best choice.”

This is an extremely valuable mode of Acceptance, because it empowers you to stick to your principles within a high-pressure moment.

You might change your mind (or forget about Accepting) later on, but if you’re out of the Temptation Area, at least your honor and sanity is safe.

Then there’s a harder-core version of Acceptance —

One that looks beyond balancing the foundational principles of your morality vs. the need to hold a baby (big or little).

This higher level of Acceptance focuses on the unchanging nature of God, reminds yourself that He’s got a bigger plan in store, and that “patiently waiting” is part of that plan right now.

It also has the annoying habit of reminding you: “Hey, taking short-cuts lands you with Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 16), Bilhah and Zilpah (Gen. 30), Moab and Ben-ammi (Gen. 19).”

This is where you say, “Let’s go with God’s plan rather than my second-best short-cut.” (Refer again to Bouquet.)

(But the idea in the back of your head is still that He’s planning for you to get married…just not yet.)

There’s theoretically another level.

In fact, it’s more than theoretical: I know someone who claims to have achieved it.

5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia Wood — single Christian

Not my will (deep breath) but Yours (deep breath)… Image courtesy of Pixabay

This is True Acceptance.

It’s where you finally submit your own small will to God’s, say (with a smile) that He will be enough for you – through all the cold nights and all the long, feeble years – and that His glory is the only thing that matters to you.

If His plan is to give you a spouse later, then fine.

If His plan is for you to die a virgin – faithful, childless, focused solely on Him, and trusting Him to provide companionship, ministry, and daily bread every year, year after year – then…fine.

To proof-text:

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. (1 Cor. 7:17)

This would be peace.

It requires Full Submission, the Peace of the Holy Spirit, and Being Completely in Love With Jesus.

It…is…theoretically…possible.

What State Is Your Singleness In?

Are you denying that singles are missing out on anything meaningful? Blaming everyone else for your misery – but especially all the other girls/guys who snapped up the good guys/girls before you got there?

Are you trying to find a “middle road” where the horrible ache in your gut gets solved now – even if it takes trading in some suitor-requirements? Maybe you’ve given up on the whole idea, and are just brooding on spending your final days like a Baby Boomer who never bothered to procreate?

Or…Or have you found peace? Has Jesus worked in your life to bring perfect satisfaction with and submission to His plan for you – whatever it is?

If so – PLEASE TELL US HOW YOU DID IT!

(Which is sort of contradictory, because if it’s a work of Jesus then there’s nothing you could do to “achieve” it.)

Either way, please share your experiences…and let us know we’re not alone. This is a process, and no matter where you are, we’re here for each other.


5 Stages of Singleness — Kimia WoodKimia Wood is single because she doesn’t know any eligible men. Which has to be an act of God because all her friends are married…ALL of them. (Guess which stage she’s in?)

She currently lives with her family somewhere in the American midwest, bracing for the collapse of society by knitting, baking, writing, hobby-farming, and reading as much Twitter as possible before the web goes dark.

Subscribe to the mailing list for a FREE e-copy of her post-apocalyptic adventure novella, Soldier! You’ll also receive periodic updates on her latest reading and writing adventures.

Being Not Achieving—What Vacation Taught Me

Being Not Achieving—What Vacation Taught Me — Kimia Wood

Some things you gotta see for yourself…

For the past two weeks, I’ve been on vacation with my family. And I’ve been sick the whole stinkin’ time.

You know how any vacation goes…the expectation, the planning, the packing and list-making… This particular time, we were camping – so the organization of “this goes in my tent”, “this smells like food, so goes in the bear barrel”, “this is only for the car ride” was intensified.

I always over-pack for car rides, vacations, etc. I had my list of everything I could get done (see below) and anticipation was especially high since this is the last extended vacation for our immediate family for the foreseeable future (four adults’ work schedules are hard to coordinate).

But God allowed something else to happen. Namely, a “sinus infection” that is still making my voice softer and weaker than normal! Continue reading

Dear Diary…the journey home

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

First thing after breakfast, I accompanied Mikael back to the lower level. We know the water will start to creep in, now that the zombies aren’t running their pump, but it shouldn’t go fast enough to cause us problems.

And he wanted to try befriending that vicious-looking bipedal lizard thing.

So while the others hauled all the treasure up to our cart in the over-world, we made one last trip to the depths…

We stopped just out of range of the thing’s snapping teeth. It paced on its chain and barked at us – a sound I won’t soon forget.

Mikael waved his hands and started his chant…but unlike Nori, this creature was having nothing to do with it.

It shook its head and roared and stomped its clawed feet. Not friendly-looking at all. After a while, it was clear that if he tried to pet it, he was losing a hand.

Well, that was that.

We debated whether to leave it and let it drown (or starve), or cut it down with arrows. Arrows won.

It took me five solid hits.

That messy job done, we returned to the others to help with the treasure. They were just finishing up.

Raven asked where our new pet two-leg-dragon was, and said he thought we just wanted to get out of helping to load.

Well, what’s done’s done.

We topped the wagon with a few barrels of alcohol, and settled down to spend the night behind the dyke before venturing across the swamp.

Briefly discussed collapsing the tunnels somehow…but the water should take care of that for us eventually.

Explictika’s lair is finished.

****

19th of Wielsan, Waterday. Got across the swamp.

Had the weirdest encounter, though. As we were trudging along (Lancell and Raven pulling the cart) I realized something was racing to catch up with us. Three somethings.

In fact, the biggest, ugliest leeches you’ve ever seen.

Ezekiel and I fell on them, while Lancell charged and accidentally flung his sword a few feet into the swamp (apparently one doesn’t “charge” while thigh-deep in mud).

Raven nailed one right in the gut with a dagger, and Mikael cracked another one open with his staff.

Nori charged in to defend her “friend,” and Ezekiel accidentally bashed her with his mace. I was afraid for a moment that she was going to bite him, but apparently she thought better of it.

We retrieved our thrown weapons (ahem) and continued on.

Reached the forest edge by nightfall. About on par with our journey last time, when we had to let Master Ramne take his time.

The stars are beautiful through the branches of the trees. I hope our next evil cult isn’t so keen on muddy holes underground.

****

22nd day of Wielsan, Starday. Two more days traveling through the woods, and we have reached the edge. I can see the outskirts of Orlane over the fields.

I’m sure we’ll all be glad of a real good meal, and the knowledge that this thing is finally, truly finished.

Hopefully the townspeople – with Lancell as their new constable, of course – will be able to defend themselves against any other foul creatures who might want to prey on them.

[sketch of bird]

[sketch of Nori eating bird]


To start at the beginning, click here.

Dear Diary…foes and fortunes Part 2

ALERT: May Contain Spoilers for the Adventure: “Against the Cult of the Reptile God”

We arrived at the VIP quarters without incident, and while I mixed up something to eat from the late guards’ supplies, Mikael cast Detect Magic on the jewelry we’d acquired from the harpy.

He pronounced a gold necklace to be magical, so Ezekiel looked over it. He has done a lot of traveling and studying, after all.

As he looked it over, he started cackling and whooping.

“I think,” he said. “I think this is a ‘Necklace of Adaptation’ – meaning it’ll ‘adapt’ your breathing to any environment: vacuum, gas, water, whatever!”

So we gave it to Lancell to wear, at least for as long as we’re in the dungeon, since he’s our front line heavy hitter.

While the wounded rested, the rest of us raided the pantry and storeroom that had supplied the guards and attendants of E.D. We found some oil to help us immolate the snake eggs, plus some casks of beer that looked better quality. One of them had “Fire Amber” stamped on the side.

On our second excursion downstairs, we portaged the boat from Explictika’s lair to the second subterranean lake down there. Or, maybe I should say Lancell portaged the boat.

As he was lowering it into the water, Mikael stumbled and bumped against the wall, brushing away enough mud that a door was just visible.

Lancell forced it open, and we discovered a closet beyond that held nothing but…a little boat.

He didn’t, but you could tell Lancell really wanted to say some un-Paladin things.

The passage was wide enough for us to take both boats, so we paddled out. It led to a dead end and a tiny mud patch, where two chests stood on a platform.

Raven hopped out and checked them for traps, and told us he was pretty sure they were clean.

Well, I wasn’t so sure – I could have sworn I saw a funny-looking hair on one of them – so I checked them, too, but couldn’t find anything.

After that, everybody made me just go ahead and open the chests – with the keys we looted off the Evil Cleric.

What do you know – the first chest had a needle trap under the lid!! But it was disabled by the key, so it didn’t actually go off.

And the other chest was fine.

Note to self: Elwyn can’t find traps.

The chests contained a load of platinum, gold, and electrum – plus a bracelet and some gems. So we loaded it all up and paddled back to the main passage.

There were still one or two tunnels we hadn’t explored yet. The first of these was very narrow – I’m surprised Lancell and Ezekiel even shouldered their way in there.

It kind of spiraled its way to the center where – apparently – there was another chest on a platform. I couldn’t see it, since I was back a turn or two.

Raven took the keys forward to check it for traps, and open it if he could. I heard them saying that none of the keys would fit, and Raven offered to pick the lock.

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, but Lancell and Ezekiel suddenly shoved their way back toward us as mud and dirt flaked down from the ceiling.

Raven gave a yelp as he was partially buried, but he escaped the main support beam and dragged himself out of the debris.

“Well, that was a trap,” he said.

So we abandoned that chest and squeezed back out into the main passageway.

One other little chore to mop up: we had to burn the snake eggs. We poured our looted oil over every inch of the room, and then – as we all stood well back – Lancell lobbed a torch through the door.

Foom! I could feel the heat from where I stood! At least those little beasties won’t grow up to be vicious, Ezekiel-biting menaces.

The last room to investigate held something very strange indeed. All the way up and down that corridor, one could hear a creaking and trickling sound. When we looked inside the room, we saw a large wheel-contraption and buckets on ropes. The buckets swung down, plunged into a pool of water that covered much of the floor, and were carried up through a hole in the ceiling.

Operating the contraption? Five zombies. Apparently flood management is a cinch when you have zombie-slaves.

They ignored us completely…Even when Ezekiel dusted a couple of them with his magic stuffed sheep, the others kept working like little automatons.

He turned the rest into dust, and the wheel creaked into silence. The sound of running water, however, went on – louder in the sudden isolation.

We returned to the VIP quarters to spend the night. The water will start to reclaim this cavern, but not before we’re ready to leave (we think).

It’s been a long day, and Mikael wants to pray for Animal Friendship, to try befriending the little bipedal lizard-beast below.

I wonder what he would feed it if he caught it, but I guess we’ll worry about that if it comes to it.

Nori rejoined us a while ago, and is hanging on the wall by his chair while he pets her. Would she be jealous of another animal companion?

At least as long as we’re killing monsters, we have plenty of snacks for her. I wonder if she can be house-trained, as in taught to not eat people we like.


To start at the beginning, click here.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender”

A"Avatar: The Last Airbender" — Kimia Wood kids’ animated series has not previously been in my box of tricks, so this was a fresh, new experience for me and my viewing partner.

Avatar: The Last Airbender has cool characters, awesome moments, great fights scenes, and interesting world-building…mixed in with immaturity and Buddhist mumbo-jumbo. But, hey, it’s all about the #siblingtime, right? Continue reading