“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.

“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!

“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

“Caesar III”

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator This civilization simulator has been one of my favorite games since childhood. The only trouble with playing it is that it will be an automatic three-hour sink every time I open the program.

The Mechanics of an Empire

Caesar III puts you in the role of a governor building a town from scratch. Your manager on behalf of the Emperor rates your performance based on population, crime rate, revenue, cultural attainments, etc.

As is typical for a city-simulation game, you are the Supreme Tyrant of your town. You must provide food and housing for your citizens, make sure they can get to the buildings that need employees, balance your building needs with tax income, and more.

Bread for the Masses

The food system is especially complex, requiring much concentration and study to perfect. Farms (which require labor) will produce food, which is delivered to granaries (which require labor). From there, it is distributed to markets (which require labor), which send “market ladies” out to distribute food directly to people’s homes. In especially complex cities, a market lady might take a wrong turn, leaving people down the dead end to starve until she figures it out.

And there is no way to control the way the people walk. They travel the roads of your city, randomly deciding which branch to take at each crossroad, and returning to their starting building once they “run out of food” or get tired.

All this careful finagling is perfect for sucking in hours of the player’s time. After all, figuring out how the system works and what you need to tweak to get it to function is all part of the fun!

If you happen to have a “warehouse” near your farms (designed to hold other things like pottery and furniture – oh, yes, you have to provide those, too) the warehouse might accidentally collect the food intended for the granary (in case you want to sell food to traders, you see) and this means the market workers can’t access it from the granary!

(Did I mention farms can only be built on land that’s arable?)

Imperial Combat

This is not a fighting game, although it includes limited mechanics for warfare. Some of the areas you will be assigned to are threatened by “savages” who will attack your town! (It’s even possible to face Carthaginians on elephants!)

If your town is in a dangerous area, you will have the ability to build military structures. These include walls and gatehouses, plus barracks for housing legions of soldiers (spearmen, legionaries, or horsemen).

I preferred playing maps that were “moderately” dangerous, so I could build gates to contain my populace (building a gatehouse across the road keeps people from wandering down its full length) and hosting soldiers to help put down potential riots (if you keep your citizens stuffed and entertained, they’ll pay their taxes and behave. Ignore their demands, and they’ll get vocal and torch-wielding about it).

Variation of Terrain

Caesar III adds variety by offering you assignments in different parts of the empire. For instance, you might take a post in the wilds of Britannia, where the grass is lush and green, and the groundwater easy to tap. (You must build fountains to give your people water, supplied by the famous Roman aqueducts.)

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorBut perhaps you will be sent to North Africa, where the pale sand is dotted with shrubs and bushes, and water is harder to provide. You’ll also have to use your farmland very wisely, as farms can only be built where crops will grow. Of course, working out the geometry for maximum farm-age is part of the fun!

In some areas, you are provided with lots of coastline, and expected to feed your people with fishing wharves. Sometimes there are even “primitive” natives, who must be pacified with a missionary post (teaching Latin and civilizing through education, of course!).

Other Obstacles

Oh, yeah, your buildings can collapse or burn down if they’re not maintained."Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulator

Your people are really demanding, and no sooner do you give them pottery and oil than they want furniture and wine! (Just click on the houses, or on the crowds walking the streets, and they’ll tell you exactly what they think!)

Also, sometimes wild animals will run around the map and stand right where you want to put a building!

Your Imperial Boss

You may have the ultimate authority and responsibility over the people and buildings in your city…but Rome has ultimate authority over you!

Caesar gives you money to get you started, and might send you loans to get you out of trouble should you need it… But he also has demands to make.

It’s not unheard of for him to demand 20 units of oil, or pottery, or another commodity. Then you have to order your warehouses to stockpile this item, and hope you gather enough before the deadline.

Don’t keep the Emperor waiting.

The “God” Mechanic

There are even more things to worry about as you try to build your city! Five Roman gods (Mars, Venus, Ceres, Mercury, and Neptune) will want temples and festivals in their honor. Your citizens are also happy to be able to pay their respects, and will want access to several different nearby temples so they can cover all their bases.

"Caesar III" — Kimia Wood — civilization simulatorHosting festivals entertains your people, and flatters the gods. In return, the deities might bless your crops, or send a protecting spirit to kill your attacking enemies.

But if you should ignore them for too long…or – heaven forbid – give some other god more temples than they have…! Oh, they will make their wrath known!

Fortunately, you can turn “gods’ effects” off on the difficulty screen. I usually played with this “off” unless I had all the gods fat and happy.

Educational Content

So, Caesar III is a great way to burn the extra hours in your life. It’s even fun to tweak the systems in your city and gradually afford bigger and better buildings (I have yet to have a city that could support a hippodrome, but I’ve dreamt of it). Building your first colosseum, of course, always sparks a cut scene celebrating your promotion from “village” to “city”!

But educational content?

Back in my younger days playing this, I discovered a little question mark box in the corner of whatever dialogue screen you were in. Clicking this button opened a whole new world.

If you were interacting with a house, the ?-button would give you information about the Roman homes and the differences between simple terra cotta “casas” and the multi-story “insulae” (which are more like apartment complexes).

If you were interacting with the colosseum or theater, you could learn about entertainment in ancient Rome. The warehouse might tell you about ancient trade routes. The granary, food supply.

Believe it or not, at the age of twelve I spent a lot of my play time reading these little informational items, digging through to learn how each element of the game connected with the real Rome.

Educational games don’t have to be bright and colorful, or feature singing animals. All you need is a curious kid, and something that connects the game world with real life.

Rule the Empire!

To be perfectly and completely honest, I haven’t played this game out to the bitter end. Part of the reason is that it’s addictive (I’ll just build one more clinic…just wait until a few more people immigrate…ooh, a little more money and I can build this thing right over here…) Like a jigsaw or cross-word puzzle, each missing piece (say, a neighborhood that wants pottery) connects with several other pieces (like clay pits that need workers to run them) and each right answer is dependent on several others (like figuring out how you’ll feed the neighborhood that’s tucked in the corner by the clay pits to supply workers to the clay pits).

It might be more fun for those who enjoy attention-to-detail and obsess over the connection of many moving parts…while those who need a faster pace or more instantaneous affirmation might get bored.

But if you’re up for a challenge, have plenty of free time (like, HOURS of free time), and wouldn’t mind learning about the ancient Roman Empire…then I highly recommend Caesar III!


Caesar III is available for Windows from GoG.com, optimized for modern computers.

used Crossover to play this version on my Mac, and it works fine.

Also available on Steam for Windows (be aware Steam DRM-locks their software).

Find on Amazon as a digital download (for Windows), or in disk form.

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“Time and Again” by Richard Elkins

"Time and Again" by Richard Elkins — Kimia Wood — missionary Missionary autobiographies are one of those things. Memoirs aren’t really my cup of tea, so you can understand why I might approach Time and Again: God’s Sovereignty in the Lives of Two Bible Translators in the Philippines with trepidation.

But…my grandparents gave me the book, it’s written by and about a good friend of theirs, and, well, is it really that bad to sit and listen to the “old folks” tell some stories?

No. It is not that bad!

Quick-Reading

The whole book is pretty slim, which encourages reading. Each chapter or anecdote is usually pretty short, making it less of a commitment to “just read one story”.

And best of all, this is not a “kitchen sink” type of autobiography, where every memorable event from third grade onward is recounted. This book has an explicit purpose, stated in the sub-title…

Witness to God

The theme running throughout the pages is the provision of God and work of God in the lives of the Elkins. As missionaries and Bible translators living deep in the unreached Philippine jungle (living in thatched houses; learning the natives’ customs and trying to follow them; learning new languages and creating dictionaries, then New Testaments, for them), the Elkins had many opportunities to see God’s hand at work in direct or indirect ways.

The most touching account is where Mr. Elkins describes visiting a tribe deep in the forest – a tribe that could only be reached by a three-day hike over the mountains.

When he shared the gospel with them – comforting their fears about God’s judgement and sharing the joy of forgiveness in Jesus Christ – I had tears in my eyes.

[I said,] “Those first ancestors of ours, Adan and Eba, disobeyed, and we, like them, have also disobeyed [God].”

The datu [tribal leader] nodded. “That is true. I wonder why we always seem to do what is wrong and not what is right?”

“I have read in [God’s] Book that one day he is going to punish the people in the world who have disobeyed him.”

“We know about that, too, and it frightens us.” He thought for a moment. “You know, you Americans live way out on the edge of the earth, and we Matigsalug people live right here in the center. When [God] comes to punish, he will get to you first. Will you come quickly here and tell us so we can get ready?”

I looked into his eyes. “That’s the very reason why we came.”

Fear leaped into his face. “You mean that [God] is right now on his way to punish us?”

“No, I have better news than that. [God] has a “big breath” (great love) for all people. So he sent someone special to rescue us so we will never be punished.…”

Missionary Life

If you’ve never been exposed to tales of the missionary life, this is a good short-and-sweet introduction. Find out about the “good old days” when multi-day hikes through rugged terrain, native-built houses without plumbing, and short-wave radio communication were the norm.

In one chapter, Mr. Elkins describes how they rushed their son to medical treatment via porter, then truck…and God provided every step of the way.

Or how about when their native translation assistant chose to help finish preparing the Bible, instead of fencing off his field? His crop was destroyed by wild pigs, but he praised God as God provided over and above what he expected.

A Testimony

This would be an excellent book for introducing your children to the lifestyles and challenges of missionaries, with stories that emphasize at every point the power of God in the every-day…and how even the “super-obedient missionary saints” need the strength of Jesus to obey, to learn, and to overcome their own selfishness and arrogance.

In fact, it could be a useful book for anyone.


Time and Again is available on Amazon, at Barnes&Noble, Kobo, 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.

“The Blackwell Epiphany”

"The Blackwell Epiphany" — Kimia Wood

The Blackwell games are point-and-click puzzle adventures in the paranormal detective genre.

The premise: Rosangela Blackwell (and her aunt Lauren Blackwell) are “mediums” who seek out troubled spirits, help them realize their death, and send them to “the light” of the next world. Joey Mallone is their snarky “spirit guide” who bridges the gap between spirit world and living world.

The first four games blended humor and creepy with some excellent writing, then ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger (especially if you knew there was a sequel).

Blackwell Epiphany is that sequel. While it’s not all I might wish it to be, it ends the series on a high note of emotional story-telling and professional game design. Continue reading

“Myst IV: Revelation”

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood I fell in love with the Myst games a long time ago. The photo-realistic worlds and the tantalizing hints of deeper things always left me wanting more.

Until now. Myst IV: Revelation has…finished Myst for me. It is concluded…I am satisfied. And for once, I don’t need to weep at the parting. (Well, maybe just a little.)

The World

The central premise of Myst is that a civilization called the D’ni could create worlds by writing books, and then visit those worlds physically by linking through the books. (A person must bring a return Linking Book with him when he goes exploring, and any book you link through doesn’t come with you – it stays in the first world.)

From a first-person perspective, we point and click our way through these “Ages” to unlock doors, uncover passwords, power machines, and solve puzzles. And, of course, soak in breath-taking landscapes, vistas, and architecture."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Whatever else I can say, the world is still incredible. Hydraulic locks, levers and buttons, rotating bridges and elevators…it’s like an engineer’s playground. These real-world mechanics mix, of course, with magic crystals, strange animals, bizarre cultures, and the Age-writing Art of the D’ni.

The Progress of Technology

Myst was released in the dark ages of computing, when graphics cards were limited, the in-game animations were tiny and limited, and the curser was a 2D hand (that changed shape for different interactions).

Revelation seeks to take full advantage of the progress of computer technology, and offers a 360º, 3D-rendered environment to explore.

This means that the world around you doesn’t always look as photo-realistic as it did in Myst, or Riven. The camera also has a tendency to focus in on the foreground, or the background, depending on where your cursor is. I think this is to mimic the variable focus of the human eye, but it’s distracting.

As for the cursor, it’s a 3D, CGI hand. It waves vaguely wherever you point it; extends the fingers to indicate a direction you can move; whips out a magnifying glass if something can be examined more closely; and stretches the fingers subtly if you can unroll a map, pull a lever, or other similar action. This final characteristic can be easy to miss, and if it’s not obvious something is there to manipulate, you can easily miss some interactions.

Atrus’s Family

If you haven’t yet played Myst or Riven, SPOILER ALERT! (Also, go do that.)

Way back in Myst, we met two characters trapped in books that they had thought were Ages: Sirrus and Achenar. Their dad is Atrus, and he is a descendent of the fallen D’ni civilization and a writer of Ages.

If you played through Myst, explored the Ages that link from it, solved Atrus’ pretty un-secure password manager, and uncovered the truth about what happened…you’ll know that Sirrus and Achenar trapped their father without a Linking Book home, distracted their mother, burned most of Atrus’ library of Books, and used the special Books he had warned them never to touch.

Blam! The books trapped them. And once you free Atrus, he burns those books to keep them from ever escaping.

Until now.

Revelation!

Fast forward twenty years. Atrus invites you (his nameless, faceless, gender-less “friend”) to his new home, where he is attempting to spy on the Prison Ages and decide if his sons have repented of murdering the inhabitants of the Ages and are ready to be released.

Yes…we can see this ending well, eh?

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

Image from Pixabay

Turns out, he and his wife have already written visiting capsules into the Prison Ages. That way, they can link into the capsule, have a visit through bars, and link away – leaving the Linking Book for their own home out of the reach of the prisoners.

The prisoners can’t possibly escape! Why would you worry about that? Atrus only built complex machinery and houses and scientific equipment by hand in his various Ages…what makes you think his sons could do the same thing from scratch?

Yeesha

Did I mention? Atrus also has a ten-year-old daughter now.

Maybe it’s her dialogue, or maybe it’s the delivery of the actress, but Yeesha is clearly supposed to capture our sympathies and feel like a dear friend (even though we’ve actually only just met). Y’know, one of those annoyingly perfect child-characters.

Especially as the “mysterious circumstances” start piling up, you really start to feel that Atrus is a clueless dupe who should have stuck to books, and not attempted children.

Puzzles

I should say something about the puzzles.

We have our classic Myst fare here, with locked doors; passwords in journals; machines that need power; etc.

It made me wonder if Atrus has a constellation-based color-combination lock on the bathroom…and then I realized that his house has no bathroom.

Also contains one or two pixel-hunts, although that might be due to the mechanics of the cursor-hand (see above).

Messin’ with Memory

Added to those familiar hurdles is a new mechanic. Yeesha has a magic necklace that shows memories."Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

This, along with the journals that every member of Atrus’ family conveniently keeps, lets you piece together the motives of the various actors, solve some of the puzzles, and generally be the worst thing to happen to Sirrus and Achenar!

M’whahaha! If you wanted to forge an evil plot, you shouldn’t have invited the Stranger-from-the-Starry-Void!

Seriously, though, this mechanic gives you hints for solving the puzzles, plus valuable information at unraveling the sinister plot being woven.

Who is plotting what? Who is evil? And who should I trust?

Being able to view people’s secret memories is very handy for that…

A note on story tension

My family mocked me for this, but I’ll bring it up anyway.

Whenever you linked to new Age in Myst, you had to solve the Age’s puzzles and get things working again to unlock the Linking Book and return to Myst.

In Riven and Exile, you plunged into an unknown world without a ticket out, and had to solve your way forward to find any way to escape. (And in Riven especially, Atrus’ wife’s fate hangs on your success.)

In Revelation…your first task is to “oh, get the power back on, will you?” Your second task is, “Feel free to check out my Linking Books if you like…oh, and make sure Yeesha does her homework.” Ha ha.

Beyond that, though, every single place you visit has a Linking Book back to Atrus’ home right there at the beginning. You don’t need to venture into predator-infested jungles, or brave bottomless shafts in wind-swept fortresses…you can say, “Forget this,” and hop back home.

Obviously, I bought this game in order to play through the puzzles, and feel smart, and uncover the story through journals and clues. And my family helpfully pointed out that this gives the game a less linear structure. You can solve this Age, or that Age, or stay and futz around the first Age…or jump to this new Age…

Solve puzzles in whatever order you want. Travel when and where you want. Stop and go back to a place you especially liked if you really want.

True, this gives the player much more freedom in how they play and the order they play puzzles in (and the sequence in which they unravel the story).

However, it also saps some of the urgency from the story. You are not trapped, and hunting for an escape. Later on, you’re kind of searching for Yeesha, and trying to uncover what happened…but it’s not like there’s a rush. There’s plenty of time to ransack the Ages for anything marked PRIVATE DIARY. And, well, there’s not the same level of narrative tension.

(Perhaps if I hadn’t thought Yeesha was an annoying Mary Sue who was also try to kill me via collapsing bridge, I would have felt more invested in the rescue mission. But again, when I could back out at any time and return to Atrus’ house… “Hey, I’ll make some tea or whatever your culture drinks…Hope it all works out, Atrus! Maybe you should spend more time supervising your children than leaving them in the care of your ‘friend’ and dashing off for machine parts.”)

Serenia…or, the 1960s New Age-y Age

Revelation gives you four Ages to explore. The final one is Serenia.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

As if the rest of it wasn’t weird enough…

The outside of Serenia is beautiful — full of twisty, hard-to-map paths; flowing, conjoining streams of water; butterflies that look like organza pixies; and trees that release dandelion-poofs on the wind.

The inhabitants’ culture is based around giant mushrooms that store people’s memories when they die, so their loved ones can travel to a mental space called “Dream” and “visit” the dead ancestors again.

(As one of the female tenders of the mushroom says: if you don’t heal the “Memory Chamber”, “we may never be able to visit our loved ones again!” I bleed for you says the gal from a world where people stay dead…and we don’t have memory spheres to help hallucinate a spirit visit.)

Back to the culture, the “Protectors” have somehow seen your arrival prophesied (y’know, you – the protagonist) and help you find a spirit guide (from the air, fire, or water spirits that play in the forest) so you can travel to Dream and find out who kidnapped Yeesha.

They also wear a stripe of face-paint down their noses (and have creepy, African-esque masks). And the puzzle in Dream is like musical color-matching on evil steroids!

Atrus was always an apologetic, kinda nerdy guy…but lately he seems to just assume you’ll help dig him out of whatever hole he’s gotten himself in. And these all-knowing chicks in Serenia are even more pompous and touchy-feely.

Even if I hadn’t heard such dismal things about Myst V: End of Ages…this “New Age” spiritualism is enough of a departure from the original heart of Myst (nuts and bolts, analog passwords, and the science-based “magic” of the D’ni Art) to make Revelation my last Myst game.

Climax Catharsis

Yet I said I was satisfied. Why am I satisfied?

Well, without laying bare the resolution…the climax of Revelation hinges on you choosing to believe one of Atrus’ children over another. This choice is based on what you have learned by reading their journals, listening to their memories, and piecing together the Evil Plot (and who is probably responsible for it).

Got the right answer the first time. (Thank you, thank you, no need to clap.) And the conclusion that is spun from that –logically, inexorably – brings the plot-line to a perfect and reasonable end.

While the writers did a bit of ret-conning to bring Sirrus and Achenar back into the story, the way they handled the two of them (and Yeesha) was believable, appropriate, and entirely conclusive.

In a way, they un-did the ending of Myst…and yet, in another way, they built onto it so naturally and understandably that Revelation is really a good end for Myst – the game and the series.

My Last Myst Game

When I played through Myst again several years ago (in the updated and expanded RealMyst version), I loved the Ages and the visuals as much as I always had…and left hungry to play Riven.

"Myst IV: Revelation" — Kimia Wood

A secret journal? Must read!

I re-played through Riven: The Sequel to Myst, and I loved it even more than Myst (not only is it longer and more complex, but it feels like less of the history is buried or off-screen). It also left me longing to play Myst III: Exile.

I have not yet played through Exile a second time, but I know it left me eager to try Revelation.

And now…

Part of it is the bad reviews my brother tells me about from Myst V, and part of it is…the story is complete.

I have scratched my first-person point-and-click itch. Myst created a game type never before seen…and now Revelation has brought the story and the world full-circle.

The ending is bittersweet, poignant, and appropriate. It is also, I think, The End.

(Though I already bought Obduction, which is by the same developers/writers, but set in a different universe. We’ll see how that one pans out…)

As always, I highly recommend the Universal Hints System to give you just the help you need…and no more.

In Myst IV: Revelation, the next chapter in the greatest adventure saga of all time, you’ll travel through environments pulsing with life to unearth a treacherous scheme involving two of Myst’s most sinister villains.

Find the game on GoG.com (DRM-free!), Steam (which includes DRM in their software), and on Amazon if you really need a disk (though paying over three times the price for digital download sounds ridiculous).

Wish-list it on GoG to be emailed when it goes on sale!

“Red Rabbit” by Tom Clancy

"Red Rabbit" by Tom Clancy — Kimia Wood A Soviet plot to assassinate the pope. A KGB communications officer trying to defect to the West. And star CIA analyst Jack Ryan, who…is there.

Tom Clancy builds his Cold War-era spy adventure slowly and deliberately…with detailed settings, in-depth character philosophizing, and realistic portraits of the mind-sets and world-views that create the situation.

Characters

Clancy’s recurring star, Jack Ryan, is a CIA analyst and teacher’s pet (and possibly the weakest character here). In fact, he does very little except agonize until the last chapter or so.

He does, however, act as a bridge. His ostensible role in the plot is as liaison between the British and American intelligence operations…and in this way, he also provides for Clancy to paint a clear and memorable picture of the differences between America and Great Britain.

A diverse cast

One of the things Clancy does with excellence is draw out the differences between different countries.

Ryan moves from America to a station in Britain, his homeland’s ally. Yet there are still so many things he must get used to: they drive on the “other” side of the road…everyone drinks tea, not coffee…words are pronounced differently (and some things are called by different names altogether)…the outlook on life is subtly shifted…even the TV shows are different (and Ryan doesn’t understand the sit-coms’ humor).

This underscores the culture shock of the Soviet “Rabbit” and his family when they flee a country of regulations, controls, and corruption to one of individual freedom. From assuming that the KGB watch and follow everyone at any and every time, to a place where you can walk onto a car dealer lot, pick out a car, pay for it, and drive away. From a nation where VHS players, bras, and nylons are luxuries snuck in through Hungary (and only affordable to the elite, like KGB officers) – to a place where they’re taken for granted, and every middle class family can afford them if they wish.

The ground-work for this change is laid with deliberate and poignant brushstrokes…perhaps slower than I would have chosen, but there’s no denying Clancy’s touch for choosing an exact turn of phrase to communicate his meaning, or for seeing to the heart of a mind-set he doesn’t hold himself and portraying it in believable philosophical prose.

This laying-bare of cultures holds the greatest value of the work.

Life Philosophies

A lot of time is spent in the different characters’ thoughts, dealing with their mental outlooks on life in minute detail.

Like the KGB chief…does he really believe in the Communist party’s rhetoric? Or does he rather believe in “power” – AKA himself?

When the communications analyst discovers that his government wants to kill the pope, what will he do? Should he blindly trust that his government knows best? Is he developing…a conscience?

What about Jack Ryan and his CIA overseers? Are they in this game for patriotism? To protect innocent people? Because the Soviets are inherently evil and must be stopped? When they hear that the pope is in danger, they debate whether they can protect him without revealing how they learned about it…because of course national security comes before the life of the head of the Catholic Church, right?

Some Complaining

Ryan’s loose Catholic faith adds an interesting dynamic, as he weighs his patriotism and religious feeling against the political concerns of his CIA bosses.

It also gives him something else to worry about, which seems to be most of what he does throughout the book.

When his bosses assign him to accompany some Brits on an operation as a CIA liaison, he freaks out and insists that he’s an analyst, not a field operative. He’s had some bad experiences with “hands-on” cases in the past…he has apparently stopped a terrorist attack in London before as a tourist (ex-Marine tourist, of course) and faced down a terrorist home invasion, but these experiences were only hinted at. Is there a different book I should have read first? Did Jack Ryan really need to be in this book at all?

His wife (an MD eye surgeon) is even more annoying – adding practically nothing to the narrative, nosing into Jack’s job even though she knows it’s secret, and nagging him for smoking/eating unhealthily. The only time her complaining seems well-founded, and actually lends sympathy to her character, is when her surgical colleagues leave a patient sedated on the operating table while they go for lunch and a pint. Remind me to never get medical care in Great Britain!

Cautions!

Clancy sometimes has trouble making it clear whose head we’re riding in, and you have to travel back through several paragraphs of mental narrative to get re-oriented.

There’s also sporadic language (including f-bombs and profanities) that seemed to get more intrusive as the book went on.

Also includes references to sex within married couples.

The Chess-man of Spy Thrillers

This book is about three-dimensional, conflicted people interacting with each other from different mental starting points. Mr. Clancy takes his time setting up all his dominoes, so that when they collide we say, “Oh, it was inevitable” as well as, “Oh, how is this going to turn out?”

If mental exercises, world-view exploration, and slow-cooking spy drama is your thing, you might enjoy Red Rabbit. I did enjoy it, but for my main spy-action reading, I prefer the bullets-and-fisticuffs of Robert Ludlum.


Red Rabbit is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Kobo (as paperback or audiobook), and the Book Depository (free worldwide shipping).

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