My Adventures in the Witcher... Novel. Also, X-Files.

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Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8926 posts) -

Hey, two blogs in less than six months. This is a good trend, I suppose.

Heya folks! Have you been craving more bullshit about the Witcher? Have you not been inundated by countless articles, videos, podcasts, emails, letters, and faxes about Jerry of Revlon? You have? Wait! Come back! Don't go to that other person's blog. I have... uhhhh... GIFs? Wait. No GIFs this time. I can only promise boredom and tears. Wah wah.

Jerry of Revlon in the bleakest alternate universe I can imagine.
Jerry of Revlon in the bleakest alternate universe I can imagine.

Fuck. Well, okay, for the one or two people still reading this, I've bee enjoying the Witcher 3 for all the reasons you've heard stated more eloquently elsewhere. It's a huge game, it's a good game, and cool-sounding people say some pretty intelligent stuff. That's the game for you, condensed into one idiotic sentence.

In fact, I liked it so much I finally dug around in my Kindle's backlog and pulled up what I thought was the first novel by Andrzej Sapkowski. As it turns out, kiddos, you really shouldn't just rely on the publication date of an American translation of a Polish novel to steer you in the right direction of a novelist's timeline. Wikipedia can be your buddy - who knew?

The First Second Novel Short Story Collection: The Last Wish

OK, yes, I also thought The Last Wish was a novel. I screwed up there too. What do I look like, a guy with an English degree who is perfectly capable of researching these things?

I am? Well... poop.

Here's what you need to know. Sapkowski was not originally a writer - he was a sales manager. Oddly enough, reading through this short story collection, I get it. He knows how to sell the reader fast, weaving in with a gripping story right off the bat about a notorious striga. In common, pre-Christian mythology, strigas were basically women who had been twisted into predatorial bird-like creatures, who could alter their shapes to seduce men and then kill them with their poisoned breasts. No, really, go read up on your classical mythology. it's full of great shit like that. Now, I can't claim to be at all familiar with Polish mythology, but I do know that in other cultures witches were known as strigas.

But in Sapkowski's work (and maybe that of Polish mythology, which now I really, really want to read up on), the striga is an undead teenager, come about at the age of seven after being buried in a tomb previously. Sapowski goes to great lengths to have Geralt learn the history of the individaul creature through lengthy conversation with a local lawman and a king. It's a fascinating approach to getting the necessary information out of the way, one that I'm not sure I entirely like.

Info dumping has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Exposition straight off the bat in any story will leave me grousing. An author taking the time to explain some term or something to either the reader directly or through a character who probably knows better (see: The Strain, every medical procedural ever, anything written by Clive Cussler, and a whole avalanche of crummy 70's and 80's science fiction and fantasy). It breaks one of the great golden rules of good writing - show, don't tell. If you can't weave a story's necessary details into the plot of a novel without dumbing it down for someone involved, you're not doing your job as a writer.

Sadly, Sapkowski is mighty guilty of info dumping by the gallon. However, the way he does it actually sort of works - Geralt needs a lot of the pertinent information, and it's given to him. The dialogue is good, though it lacks the well-defined translation of the Wticher 3 and comes across as a bit wooden.

That said, though, once the initial conversation ends and the action begins, Sapkowski really shows his strengths. The combat scenes are terse, fast-moving affairs. He picks and chooses his words efficiently and brutally, using descriptors only as they are necessary to the battle. This is in delightfully stark contrast to a later short story in the collection, when he takes the time to describe a mansion and its grounds, which then become almost characters themselves. Sapkowski picks his battles well with descriptions, leaving what isn't important to the reader's imagination, but surprising the reader with quick jabs of imaginative, colorful descriptions of a beautifully haunting world.

I mentioned all that plot information earlier to drop in that the novel really makes me want to revisit the mythologies and beliefs of more focused areas like Poland. It's fascinating stuff, and I'm curious how much of it was further fictionalized for Sapkowski's work. The monsters in here are fairly unique, though anyone with a passing fancy for mythology will recognize most of the generalities of the creatures and lore. Familiar, yet unfamiliar, in the best way small changes to stories and legends can be.

The format works well too. The stories are linked together with general overall plot details - Geralt goes to get healed between one battle and the next, giving him a more grounded feel, like the battles he is facing are actually taking a toll. It humanizes a Mary Sue of a character, giving the reader a way to associate with him even as he prepares to take down another monster.

One final thought on The Last Wish - it kept occuring to me throughout the collection that this felt very much like a smart modern adaptation of medieval tales, particularly L'Morte d'Arthur. That assessment is clearly wrong - these stories are nowhere near as important or as beautifully written as Malory's works - but for some reason, Sapkowski's stories smack of the sort of thing that might have had its roots in that era. Of course, this being modern fantasy fiction, it's clearly written more to entertain than to educate in morality or (questionable) history. Geralt of Rivia tends to raise as many questions about morality as he does answer them, but I really liked reading about his encounters with monsters both good and bad, and I'll gladly recommend the collection to any fans of either the games or fantasy literature in general

The Truth Is Out There. Sadly, Plot Resolution Isn't.


One of my greatest irritations with television as a format is the usual distinct lack of focus to overall plots. It's what separates Netflix and HBO from the rest of the crowd - their series might meander a bit episode to episode, but there is clearly an end goal of each season, and most episodes of most shows will build to that in more satisfying ways than your usual NBC or Fox hour long.

It's unfortunate then that I like the oh-so-relevant X-Files so much. See, I never watched the show up until a month or so ago when I was bored and looking for something cool on Netflix. I dove in with some hesitation - I'd seen one of the movies (there are multiple ones, right?) and almost immediately forgot the gist of it practically hours later. I'm glad I gave it a shot, because here I am three seasons in and for every minute I spend cussing out the main plot, I spend another five adoring the general brisk pacing and concepts of the individual episodes.

I was bound to like David Duchovny, whose work I enjoyed greatly in Californication as well as a few other movies and projects. He does the lovable, quietly cool guy thing pretty damned well, even if his performances never really change all that much. I know next to nothing about Gillian Anderson, even no. Her vaguely bland first impressions in that first season thankfully give way to better writing for her character in general in the second and third seasons, but I still feel like the show has yet to give her a proper due. Hopefully that changes.

I'm also surprisingly fond of their boss, deputy director Skinner, who starts off as a relatively straightforward hard-ass cop boss and evolves into someone more fleshed out and three-dimensional as he observes from the sidelines and nudges Moldy and Scullery in the right directions. The questionable air of authority he lends to the proceedings, with his nefarious shadowy bosses pushing him in one direction and his nigh-rogue agents pushing in another, adds a nice layer of frustrated tension to the role. I'm super curious how his role in all this pans out. Spoil nothing!

The casting directors had a hell of a sharp eye for future up and comers too. So far, I've noticed Ryan Reynolds, the cat lawyer guy from Battlestar Galactica (a whole bunch of Supernatural nerds will probably shake their fists and remind me his biggest role is on that show, but whatever, cat lawyer is cooler), Jack Black, the pissy little shit brother from the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds (and Boiler Room, which you should watch if you haven't because holy balls that movie is awesome, especially paired with Rounders), and bunch of great TV actors that continue to get roles to this day. By and large, they get some great performances out of practically all the guest actors, particularly in the first and second seasons before the episodes get a little more eye-rolling. Neat to see such talent in their early days (and in the case of actors like Peter Boyle, let's go with prime to twilight years).

Scientifically proven to be the better show, says one crazy person out of ten billion whose name rhymes with Barky Shmuzzpaw.
Scientifically proven to be the better show, says one crazy person out of ten billion whose name rhymes with Barky Shmuzzpaw.

Sadly, though, one of the show's greatest assets - the sleazy, underhanded, and strange Marlboro Man (or Smokey the Bear, or whatever you wantt o call him) - is almost entirely attached to the looming trainwreck of the show's overarching plot. As the show goes on, it becomes readily apparent that th plot isn't headed anywhere in particular, but is barreling along solely on the whims of whoever wrote those particular episodes that week. That lack of pre-planning doomed the later seasons of shows like Lost. Maybe X-Files will turn things around and end some of its plot lines in satisfactory ways, but seeing as how I'm reaching the end of season 3 and nothing's been wrapped up at all (while gleefully trying to create infinitely more questions than answers), I suspect the show won't have any answers at all. Hopefully I'm proven wrong, but I suspect the truth isn't actually out there at all.

What Else?

Rocket League is car soccer. If you liked those episodes of Top Gear, play the game. It's good.

I'm having a lot of fun with the rogue-like shooter Ziggurat. It controls much better than Tower of Guns, but unfortunately it can, at times, share that game's brutal difficulty, feeling more like a bullet-hell game than anything requiring skill or reflex. That said, I really like the leveling mechanic, the controls are spot on, and the general aesthetic is pretty cool. Needs better feeling gunz. Or wandz. Whatever.

Orange is the New Black continues to be pretty good, This third season, without spoiling anything, lacks a bit of focus and tends towards too much of a fantasy about prison life, giving everyone a heart of gold and little responsibility for their actions. It's disheartening to see it make any real strides forward or tell a meatier story, but what's here is certainly entertaining and the cast continues to be absolutely fantastic.

That about does it. I hope you all are having fun with whatever you're playing. Anyone got any fun summer plans? Playing anything good? Reading anything?

Later on, and as always, thanks for reading.

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#1 Edited by ArbitraryWater (15746 posts) -

I should read more books. I'm sort of jaded when it comes to a lot of fantasy and sci-fi literature (because a lot of it is bad), but I'm also sure something in my dad's kindle library would be worth taking a look at. Just gotta spend less time playing those dang vidjagaems (like The Witcher 3, oddly enough).

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#2 Posted by newmoneytrash (2440 posts) -

The Last Wish is a fantastic book. It's all just fairy tales that are like......... wait this is too dark and violent and morbid and sometimes sexy

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#3 Posted by Slag (8159 posts) -

Good Ole' Jerry Rivia, I think I had a relative who owed him money. I should get around to reading those Witcher books, I really like Witcher 1 and 2.

If memory serves X-Files was a series that really suffered from its near death experience (I think it was cancelled after season one and after only a protracted fan campaign did it return, something that happened to Family Guy in years after). It seemed like they spent much energy on trying to survive, they didn't know what to do once they actually got back on air.

As for me

I've been playing Shadowrun:Dragonfall and really enjoying it. I really like the setting and I actually appreciate the smaller scope than a traditional RPG. I'm totally cool with a 20-30 hr campaign.

I've also been playing D4:Dark Dreams Don't Die. That game is a ton better than I was expecting. It is weird and quirky as advertised but the whole package is oddly compelling. Really nice to see somebody other than Telltale or Quantic Dream tackle the Interactive Drama (genre name?) adventure game style. There is a lot , a lot of untapped potential for that budding genre I think.

I did something unusual for me and actually got Witcher 3 and Batman at launch with the intent of playing both this summer, but given the states they've released in for us PC types I've been waiting for them to optimized before really committing myself to them. I should know better than that by now ro purchase new games, but I got deep discounts on them so figured it was worth the risk to support two of my favorite franchises in recent memory.

I also bought a Playstation TV! Got it for 40 bucks, now I just need to figure out what I'm going to play on it.

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#4 Posted by sparky_buzzsaw (8926 posts) -

@slag: I ieep meaning to jump into Shafowrun. Looks up my alley. Cyberpunk isometric RPG. Yes please.

I am holding off on any more Witcherering until they come out with the sorting and storage patch. I'm almost tempted to play back through it again, but I reckon I've put sixty or so hours into it snd I ought to finish it while I'm this far.

I'll be curious to see what you think of the Playstation TV. I have heard little from people I would trust on that thing.

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#5 Posted by President_Barackbar (3641 posts) -

I've read all the currently translated Witcher books and I agree with you on the way the action is written. Its extremely intense and fast paced.

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#6 Edited by Slag (8159 posts) -

@sparky_buzzsaw: i think you'll dig it if you do. Mento really covered well in his review a while ago

On one hand I'm tempted to say skip Shadowrun:Returns and go straight into Dragonfall (as Df is a much better game narratively imo and really just in general), but Dragonfall also has a pretty cold open and doesn't explain many of its key systems or world build much.

sounds like a good call on brief hiatus on Witcher for you. The danger for me is if I do what you are doing, I often lose the emotional connection to the game if I set it down for 7-10 days and have moved onto something else to the point where it's hard to pick it back up.

I'll let you know on PSTV! Right now I'm lukewarm on it, but I think it's going to the job for what I want it to do (be a PSP and Persona 4 + Vita JRPG machine.). Big bummer is that you can't play UMDs on it, so you have to pay for PSN pricing for PSP games. And the memory cards are crazy expensive.

Still won't really be able to say until I actually play something on it.

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#7 Posted by notnert427 (2289 posts) -

Boiler Room is pretty great. Giovanni Ribisi (who I otherwise don't think much of) was surprisingly good in that. Boiler Room did just about everything better than Wolf of Wall Street, and without doubling down on the explicit/offensive/puerile b.s. (save Ben Affleck and Scott Caan in overconfident douche-bro roles they were both well-suited to play.) Those movies should swap fame and acclaim. I mean, fuck, it had Vin Diesel as a stockbroker in a suit, and it actually worked. I rest my case.

And Rounders? That's a freaking classic. Ed Norton absolutely kills it in that movie, even moreso than he usually does. Bonus points for Malkovich delivering a ridiculous/hilarious performance, for a great supporting role from John Turturro as the unglamorous grinder, and for the always stunning Famke Janssen. Matt Damon does a fine job as well, and has some genuinely poignant scenes with Martin Landau. Also, they perfectly captured the seedy, lowlife bookies/loan sharks of that lifestyle with the character Grama. Not to mention that it has a great soundtrack. Criminally underrated film.

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#8 Posted by ripelivejam (13224 posts) -

@slag: x files wasnt cancelled after the first season, just built a following slowly through word of mouth. Also whatre you talking about, seasons two thru five are top notch TV, unresolved mysteries and all! LOST ain't got nothin'

Seasons six on though, whoof...

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#9 Posted by AndyLonn (117 posts) -

The Last Wish is great, and you should read The Witcher Saga starting with Blood of Elves- Those books aren't nearly as "information dumpy" as The Last Wish as Sapkowski has more time to craft the story in a novel than he has in short story form

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#10 Posted by SSully (5635 posts) -

X-files is amazing, but flawed. You are perfectly predicting how the main thread story is handled. The episodes just keep going deeper into nothing. With that said though, the season's stay pretty solid through five. After five just fucking bail.

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#11 Posted by atomicoldman (831 posts) -

I'm one of those weirdos who actually loves info dumps (although I recognize it's not good storytelling), which is probably why I enjoy the Metal Gear series so much. I should really give the Witcher books a go, from the sounds of it.

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#12 Posted by flameboy84 (897 posts) -

I've tried to pick up Last Wish 3 times now and just cannot get over the way it is written.Not for me at all.

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