Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Finally Visiting the Witcher

For a fantasy and videogame fan, it took me an embarrassingly
long time to get to this book. On the one hand, The Last Wish is more than 30
years old. On the other hand, I was only 6 when the original short stories were
published. The Last Wish is by Andrzej Sapkowski and inspired a game called the
Witcher that you may have heard of.


Now that I’ve read it, I’m not sure what to think.

There is a touch of a spoiler near the end, but nothing to
significant. If you’re phobic, roll on to another post!

Set in the usual fantasy variant of medieval Europe, The Last Wish is a frame story about a nefarious Witcher, a man named Geralt.
Witchers are mutated warriors with magic powers and heightened abilities,
dedicated to hunting and subduing monsters and magical threats – usually for substantial
coin. In the story Geralt is remembers some of his more significant hunts while
he recuperates in a temple run by an old friend. Between memories he encounters
new trouble born from his past exploits and ponders a dark fate.

My biggest issue is with the language. The book was written
in Polish and translated into English. Idioms and turns of phrase didn’t translate
gracefully. Many sections have unusual, awkward, or distressingly modern
language that detracts from the story. Maybe there are better translations out
there. In any case, this is hardly Andrzej’s fault, which leaves me wondering
how the story reads in the original Polish.

What I Liked

Geralt for president! I loved Geralt’s character. He’s courteous and formal, yet still able to level stinging rebuke. He is full
of quiet competence and dry wit. He is very knowledgeable in the ways of a
stunning variety of creatures, magical practice, elixirs and potions, but is charmingly
blind to his own character. He believes himself to be cold and hard, but there
is more warmth and kindness in him than in most of the people he encounters.

The concept of the Witchers is a neat take on the old trope
of the monster hunter, excellently realized with nice personal touches from
Andrzej. It is a profession not chosen, not loved by those it serves, but
nonetheless quite necessary. With the powers they possess and the hatred they
endure, one wonders how the Witchers as a whole keep from turning against the
general populace, becoming more like the monsters they hunt. The magic that infuses the world feels complex without having to be explained in full.

Some of these stories are also retellings of traditional
fairy tales, which is something close to my heart. Many of these are very dark
and twisted, with role reversals that make them fun. All the monsters are
wonderful, too. Andrzej managed to avoid the tired old trap of vampire this and
werewolf that, and has a staggering array of creatures mentioned in the text.
At one point Geralt is trying to figure out what monster he’s facing and has to
rhyme off in his head all the possibilities, ruling them out one by one. This
makes the world feel diverse, despite the narrow window we have into it.

The dialogue is often intelligent, and Geralt has his share
of zingers and moving lines both. A few strands of beautiful prose survived the
meat-grinder of translation, too. But the real intelligence is in the story
twists. As the dust-jacket proclaims, nothing is quite as it seems. I like
being not quite able to guess the ending, and Andrzej does this admirably.

What I Disliked

It wasn’t all good, though, which is why I’m undecided. Aside
from the language, the most disconcerting part of the book is the glaring misogyny.
The women were there to be described and, if they were pretty enough, for Geralt
to sleep with. Much is made of the appearance of every woman in the story. They
are scrutinized unkindly, offhandedly, as a matter of course. There is even a
character born so ugly that the only possible fate for her was to learn magic
from an outcast sorceress, then undergo extensive magical beautification. What
she was left with was a too-perfect body and the “bitter eyes of an ugly girl.”
Geralt, of course, gets to spy on her while she bathes, after they defeat a
monster together, they have sex in the ruins of a building (which doesn’t sound
comfortable, or particularly enjoyable, but who am I to judge?)

Now, we humans have had a long history of treating women badly. We’ve made
progress as a culture toward fairness for both sexes, but we have a long way to
go, still. Extensive and prevalent plastic surgery comes to mind when I think
of the magically altered sorceress. Misogyny may be appropriate to a
medieval-esque pseudo-European fantasy, but what’s the message here? You might
be ugly and bitter, but with enough corrective procedures (implants, makeup,
botox, whatever) you’ll be good enough to sleep with. At least that’s how it
comes across.


I would like to think this is just the world and characters
that Andrzej created and not his personal standing towards the fairer sex. Maybe
he didn’t, in the context of these short stories, have the space to deal with
the complexity of these issues fairly. And goodness knows I wouldn’t want to be
judged on the beliefs or actions of my characters. I may have produced similar
material myself in the past before I realized my subconscious (libido?) was
controlling the pen. Still, it was extremely hard to get past it as the
chapters went on.

I did appreciate the theme of change that Andrzej wove
through these short stories. We see the sadness, the quiet rage of the elves,
whose time is likely coming to an end. We listen to the grumbling priestess who
has to use special crystal to shield her garden from a sun that is no longer kind.
We hear of the fading order of the Witchers, who now has to beg for children to
replenish their ranks. It is understated, but if there is a single thread that
ties these tales together, this is it.

Will I read the rest of the series? I don’t know. There are so many books on my
reading list that it pains me to add any that I’m already wary of. I’ll be
checking out the game, though, that you can be sure of.


Next on my reading list: Words of Radiance by Brandon
Sanderson!

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Everyone’s raving about Stranger Things, the supernatural Netflix original series about a boy who goes missing, a peculiar girl who’s running from something, and a monster lurking in the woods.

I didn’t know any of this when I, at the instance of a co-worker, started into the series. All I knew was that it was “sci-fi” and “my kind of thing.” I watched the first episode. Less than 48 hours later I had, despite being busy with work and life and everything else, watched all 8 episodes.

It was fantastic.

The atmosphere is perfect, hailing back to horror movies and pop culture of the early 80s – and some of the not-so-pop culture, including all the wonderful Dungeons and Dragons references and parallels. The songs they used were period correct, the score straight from the synthesizers of the time, and the clothes and hair just as regrettable as everyone remembers.

The way they treat is genius. It makes a sound, a buzz or a click, even when it shouldn’t. It draws attention to itself, ramping up tension from something as simple as the flip of a switch of the flicker from the Christmas decorations.

The plot is tight, compelling, and full of the right mix of anticipation and surprise. The sense of time passing, the ticking bomb, weighs heavy through each episode. The stakes are clear, the sense of threat unmistakable. The evil, in all the forms it appears in the story, is perfect and perfectly detestable.

I loved almost all the characters. There is no one there who doesn’t need to be in the story, no extraneous dialogue. Most characters knocked down the archetypes, and even the ones who were a bit stereotypical had enough against-the-grain qualities to feel fresh.

This is a story full of heroes of every type. Hopper is full of punchy goodness, but he’s smart and observant. Joyce is always on the edge of losing herself, but she doesn’t let that stop her from looking for her son, or being kind to those in need. The three boys are a pack of little squabbling geniuses who know how dangerous their actions are, but don’t question whether their actions are right. Nancy and Jonathan are the perfect mismatched pair. And then there’s Eleven, who is tough as nails but simultaneously vulnerable.

Dustin is my role model.

The elements of supernatural horror are masterfully rendered. The monster largely seen in glimpses or momentary flashes of light, and what we do see fills us with a sense of wrongness. The Upsidedown is saturated with pollen and cob-web-like signs of decay, and gloom clings to everything in it.

Normally I dislike horror shows, but this one is brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, and if you can stomach tension and a bit of macabre, check out Stranger Things!

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via IFTTT

Everyone’s raving about Stranger Things, the supernatural Netflix original series about a boy who goes missing, a peculiar girl who’s running from something, and a monster lurking in the woods.

I didn’t know any of this when I, at the instance of a co-worker, started into the series. All I knew was that it was “sci-fi” and “my kind of thing.” I watched the first episode. Less than 48 hours later I had, despite being busy with work and life and everything else, watched all 8 episodes.

It was fantastic.

The atmosphere is perfect, hailing back to horror movies and pop culture of the early 80s – and some of the not-so-pop culture, including all the wonderful Dungeons and Dragons references and parallels. The songs they used were period correct, the score straight from the synthesizers of the time, and the clothes and hair just as regrettable as everyone remembers.

The way they treat is genius. It makes a sound, a buzz or a click, even when it shouldn’t. It draws attention to itself, ramping up tension from something as simple as the flip of a switch of the flicker from the Christmas decorations.

The plot is tight, compelling, and full of the right mix of anticipation and surprise. The sense of time passing, the ticking bomb, weighs heavy through each episode. The stakes are clear, the sense of threat unmistakable. The evil, in all the forms it appears in the story, is perfect and perfectly detestable.

I loved almost all the characters. There is no one there who doesn’t need to be in the story, no extraneous dialogue. Most characters knocked down the archetypes, and even the ones who were a bit stereotypical had enough against-the-grain qualities to feel fresh.

This is a story full of heroes of every type. Hopper is full of punchy goodness, but he’s smart and observant. Joyce is always on the edge of losing herself, but she doesn’t let that stop her from looking for her son, or being kind to those in need. The three boys are a pack of little squabbling geniuses who know how dangerous their actions are, but don’t question whether their actions are right. Nancy and Jonathan are the perfect mismatched pair. And then there’s Eleven, who is tough as nails but simultaneously vulnerable.

Dustin is my role model.

The elements of supernatural horror are masterfully rendered. The monster largely seen in glimpses or momentary flashes of light, and what we do see fills us with a sense of wrongness. The Upsidedown is saturated with pollen and cob-web-like signs of decay, and gloom clings to everything in it.

Normally I dislike horror shows, but this one is brilliant. If you haven’t seen it, and if you can stomach tension and a bit of macabre, check out Stranger Things!

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My Vision Is Impaired

MY VISION IS IMPAIRED; I CANNOT SEE!


One of the more surprising side effects of my diabetes diagnosis is the effect on my vision. Without the aid of reading glasses I am effectively blind. The effects are, thankfully, temporary, but in the mean time I have several months of blurred vision to look forward to.

See what I did there? And there?

A common complication from long term high blood glucose is diabetic retinopathy, which is where the retina is damaged by the excessive glucose. That would be a long term problem cause by a long term condition, but while it is something for me to worry about down the road, it isn’t what I have.

What the doctors and nurses think happened to me is that the lenses in my eyes shrivelled due to dehydration as my blood sugar climbed. This explains my gradual need for reading glasses at certain times in the day. The eyes – and the brain – can acclimatize to almost anything if the changes are slow enough. It wasn’t severe, however. Not until I received TREATMENT for my diabetes, ironically. Then the lenses began to “plump up”, which completely threw everything else in my eyes out of balance.

So, at the moment, I have incredible difficulty focusing on anything. Most people who wear glasses are either far sighted or near sighted. I am non-sighted.

I shouldn’t get a prescription until this passes, either, because I’ll only waste money on glasses I won’t need I a few months. Instead I am sporting off the shelf drug store specs for my day to day.

I know a lot of people who already wear glasses who will not be sympathetic, but having impaired vision is hard. It SUCKS. Until recently I have had 20/20 vision. For a while not long ago I thought I was going blind. This experience has taught me a little of what the visually impaired have to go through, and I’m simultaneously horrified and impressed.

The glasses I wear distort everything. I live now in a world without straight lines or flat planes. Everything bends, often in surprising ways. I used to rely heavily on peripheral vision. Now mine is unreliable. My eyes hurt constantly from the strain, but without the glasses I just can’t function.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s interesting. As I learn about my condition and everything it entails I find I want to share more and more, especially since diabetes is an often misunderstood condition.

Don’t worry, though. The blog won’t turn into a medical journal. You’ll still get writer’s craft, book updates, and random sci-fi, fantasy, and video game stuff.

Ask me anything you like, about T1D or anything else!

– GB

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My Vision Is Impaired

MY VISION IS IMPAIRED; I CANNOT SEE!


One of the more surprising side effects of my diabetes diagnosis is the effect on my vision. Without the aid of reading glasses I am effectively blind. The effects are, thankfully, temporary, but in the mean time I have several months of blurred vision to look forward to.

See what I did there? And there?

A common complication from long term high blood glucose is diabetic retinopathy, which is where the retina is damaged by the excessive glucose. That would be a long term problem cause by a long term condition, but while it is something for me to worry about down the road, it isn’t what I have.

What the doctors and nurses think happened to me is that the lenses in my eyes shrivelled due to dehydration as my blood sugar climbed. This explains my gradual need for reading glasses at certain times in the day. The eyes – and the brain – can acclimatize to almost anything if the changes are slow enough. It wasn’t severe, however. Not until I received TREATMENT for my diabetes, ironically. Then the lenses began to “plump up”, which completely threw everything else in my eyes out of balance.

So, at the moment, I have incredible difficulty focusing on anything. Most people who wear glasses are either far sighted or near sighted. I am non-sighted.

I shouldn’t get a prescription until this passes, either, because I’ll only waste money on glasses I won’t need I a few months. Instead I am sporting off the shelf drug store specs for my day to day.

I know a lot of people who already wear glasses who will not be sympathetic, but having impaired vision is hard. It SUCKS. Until recently I have had 20/20 vision. For a while not long ago I thought I was going blind. This experience has taught me a little of what the visually impaired have to go through, and I’m simultaneously horrified and impressed.

The glasses I wear distort everything. I live now in a world without straight lines or flat planes. Everything bends, often in surprising ways. I used to rely heavily on peripheral vision. Now mine is unreliable. My eyes hurt constantly from the strain, but without the glasses I just can’t function.

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining. Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s interesting. As I learn about my condition and everything it entails I find I want to share more and more, especially since diabetes is an often misunderstood condition.

Don’t worry, though. The blog won’t turn into a medical journal. You’ll still get writer’s craft, book updates, and random sci-fi, fantasy, and video game stuff.

Ask me anything you like, about T1D or anything else!

– GB

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T1D – My New Difficulty Setting

The difficulty setting for my life has been set to Hell. Can someone please change it back?

I have type 1 diabetes ( T1D .)

I saw my doctor for a routine physical. I complained about vision problems, pasty mouth, thirst, and weight loss. All these could be chalked up to medication side effects, weather, stress, or just getting older. However, the next day my doctor called and told my blood glucose was 33. I was diabetic. Suddenly my complaints made sense in a different light.

It took some doing, and several trips to the hospital, but we’re settling on type 1. That means multiple daily insulin injections, blood-glucose monitoring, and carb counting for the rest of my life. It is not something for which there is a cure, yet. If I stop taking care of myself, stop receiving insulin, I will die.

I mean, not to be overdramatic or anything. I am extremely grateful to be alive in a time when medical care for diabetics even exists. A hundred years ago the treatment was to make diabetics comfortable. Today there are a host of treatment innovations, and hope for a cure in a few decades.

As an extraordinary side note, my eldest son also has T1D. He was diagnosed 7 years ago. And no, it’s not genetic or environmental. We’re just THAT lucky.

I know I can do this. But it does seem like a cruel joke.

I am happy to answer any questions about diabetes, and diabetes care. If I don’t know the answer, I can certainly do my research!

– GB

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