In which I read The Witcher

… or, rather, I read the first two hundred pages of Blood and Elves, which I’ve come to discover is technically the third Witcher book, after two books of short stories, but is branded as the first book because it’s the first novel.

And it’s terrible. Absolutely unforgivably terrible. I went and looked at other bad reviews of it on Goodreads, and many of them seem to feel like the first two books (the short stories) were pretty good and then this one shit the bed, but that sentence with all the arrows pointed at it up there is where I decided I really was going to put this down, and then I read a few more pages anyway, and it’s just a Goddamned awful book. I’m going to lay a bit of the blame on the translator– I am willing to wager a small sum that the words she translated as “bite your own backside in fury” are a Polish proverb expressing angry frustration, but if that’s the case it should never have been translated literally. As a guy with a couple of degrees in Biblical studies I take translation pretty seriously, and there is no good reason to ever translate a proverb literally when you’re translating for a different culture. But it wasn’t the translator who wrote the endless conversations where characters explain things to each other that they already know, or the utter disgrace to women everywhere that is Triss Merigold’s character, or who decided to write two hundred pages about a guy called a Witcher where he does no Witching of any kind.

Seriously, the dude’s supposed to be a monster hunter. There is none of that in this book, or at least not in the first half. It’s dreadfully boring. And I was dumb enough to jump straight to the box set of the first three novels, so I not only have this thing sitting on my shelf now but two other books that I have no intention of reading. Bah.


And so long as we’re talking about works read in translation, the book before dipping into the world of the Witcher was Jin Yong’s A Hero Born, which is the first book of a massively successful series in China that has only recently been translated into English. This is one of those books that I ordered because I got flooded with people talking about it in a short period of time, and the phrase “Chinese Lord of the Rings” kept coming up.

I don’t know what the Chinese Lord of the Rings might be, but it is not Legends of the Condor Heroes. To be honest, having read it, I cannot for the life of me imagine what the hell possessed anyone to compare those two books to each other, other than the knowledge that it would get my specific subtype of nerd to order a copy. They were both initially published in the fifties. That’s all I’ve got. What A Hero Born is is a perfectly serviceable wuxia novel, or in other words a book set in ancient China that is all about powerful martial artists going around and doing things.

What things are they doing? Hard to say, because rather than describe the action most of the time Jin Yong just names the move and either expects you to know what that is (which I can’t believe is actually the case, but I suppose might be) or expects you to fill in the details yourself. In other words, you might have one character attack another with a Rooster Masturbates the Moose move and have that move be countered with an Insipid Charlatan, but the variant from the Batman Eats a Blueberry Crepe school of kung fu, not the normal one.

What’s that mean? Hell if I know. And clearly this works in China, and I didn’t hate the book by any means, but it was sort of a slog.

So, yeah. So far, not regretting writing my Best Books of the Year post with a couple of days left in the year.

In which I watched The Witcher

When did I watch it? Wecently.

Shut up I get to have my fun.

I’m coming at this show from sort of a weird angle: I had not read any of the source material (but I ordered three of the novels after watching, and am about a fourth of the way through the first one right now) and I have played one of the three video games and didn’t like it very much. So it’s kind of difficult for me to explain why I jumped at watching the show, particularly since I’ve never really been a fan of Henry Cavill either.

tl;dr you should probably watch this if you’re into This Sort of Thing, but don’t pay for a Netflix account for it or anything like that.

Good Stuff:

  • The show mostly dispenses with the rampant sexism and PoC erasure of the game, at least– I don’t recall a single use of the C-word, which is everywhere in the game, and the cast is reasonably diverse;
  • Henry Cavill is having the time of his life playing a man whose only emotion is exasperated— Geralt of Rivia is so over all of this shit, all the time, and it’s hilarious; I never thought I’d use the word “adorable” to describe Cavill but it’s entirely accurate through most of the show;
  • Anya Chalotra as Yennifer of Vengerberg also does a fantastic job in what is probably the show’s best role. Yen is a complicated, meaty role, and she digs deep into this character;
  • The majority of the smaller roles are well-acted as well. I don’t know any actor in this program outside of Cavill himself and I don’t know where they found all these folks but they’re great. Definitely worth singling out are Joey Batey’s Jaskier and Jodhi May’s Queen Calanthe, who I want to get a show all on her own;
  • Fun fact about Jaskier: this is the character who in the games and the English novels is called Dandelion. Turns out jaskier is the Polish word for “buttercup,” and the books and games made the decision to render the character’s name as a slightly less feminine-sounding yellow flower in English, but the show just stuck with Jaskier, which in English scans perfectly well as a fantasy name;
  • Netflix went all out with budget and FX; there’s a suspect mask early in the series but in general the show looks really good, and it’s well-directed across the board, with good action scenes.

The not as good stuff:

  • I’m willing to be patient with Ciri’s story while she becomes the character I know from the third game, but she basically just runs around in the woods uselessly for the entire season. She’s getting Sansa’s character arc from GoT right now without the endless, twisted speculation about when she’s going to get raped, and we’re very much in the “young and whiny and mostly pointless” phase at the moment. Hopefully this gets better quick in the next season;
  • Costuming is generally pretty good, but two exceptions are Henry Cavill’s wigs and the Nilfgaardian’s utterly ridiculous, impractical, please-stab-me armor;
  • The show follows three timelines separated by at least several decades, and wants you to figure that out rather than making it clear, and while I don’t mind TV that rewards the viewer paying attention it’s not at all obvious what the show gains from making all the time-jumping effectively a background detail. They also hurt Yen’s storyline quite a bit with this; she goes from a novice to someone who has spent three decades as a royal advisor between the earliest storyline and the middle one, and those three decades change her character quite a bit– it would have been nice to see some of it;
  • It’s possible that Cavill’s bad wigs are a timeline hint, but even if they are– I think one of them might be blonder than the others– they’re still terrible;
  • Related to the timeline issue, the show isn’t great at explaining things in general, and my wife spent most of the season asking me questions I couldn’t answer with my limited background knowledge. You’re asked to take quite a bit on faith and I think the show works much better for people with deep background knowledge, but it’s hard to say, since I don’t have it. One of the best things about GoT was the opening sequence, which effortlessly laid out the entire map and let you know where everything was without wasting show time on it. This show could have used something along those lines. At least sprinkle some maps into the background somewhere.

So, yeah: if you’re one of the ten Netflix subscribers who hasn’t checked this out yet, you should probably think about it. If you don’t have Netflix and are a big fantasy person, maybe think about it. If you’re neither, give it a pass. I’m in for Season Two and at least the first of the books, but I’m not gonna lose any sleep waiting for it either.

On sorcery

BeatsByDrDre_AChristmasMiracle15.jpgIt’s snowed twice this winter.  The first time was last week, which was basically just a dusting– a bit wetter than that, maybe, but nothing that was any big deal.  It melted within a couple of days.

My neighbors, down the road, have a full-sized snowman in their front yard, and it’s been there for a week.  At one point, it was completely surrounded with green grass since the rest of the snow had melted.  It’s as tall as I am.  It’s been snowing for the last day and a half or so, way more than the first time it snowed, and I still feel like there’s not enough snow on the ground to make a proper snowman.  I don’t have any idea how they pulled this shit off; there are cul-de-sacs all over the place in the neighborhood so there are plenty of crossroads to sell your soul to the Devil at, but it seems like a snowman is maybe not the best use of that transaction.

I’m this close to knocking on their door and asking them how the hell they did it.  I’d speculate about some sort of snow-packed-onto-a-giant-kids’-ball thing, but I’m no more certain that’s possible than building a snowman out of no snow.

Explain this to me, someone.


I’ve spent my weekend playing The Witcher 3 and reading.  Neither is going well.  I just bailed on Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, which is as openly convinced of its own cleverness– the narrator literally brags about it– as anything I’ve ever read in my life.  I know people who would probably really like it, and I’m not sure I’d bother arguing with someone who loved it, but it’s one of those “not for me” things.  I’ve had bad things to say about the Witcher in the past, but the huge number of accolades it’s continued to receive and a sale over Black Friday weekend where the game and both its DLC expansions went on sale for less than twenty bucks managed to catch my attention.

And as of right now?  Meh.  It’s keeping my attention– it’s not terrible, by any means, but I’m going to lose interest before I finish it.  I slaughtered a bunch of guards at one point for making a rape joke.  It’s that kind of game.

Diving into Michael J. Sullivan’s The Death of Dulgath next, which ought to hit the spot.  It ain’t gonna be art, but I don’t really need that from my fantasy.  And I’ll keep playing Witcher until either the next rape joke or the combat gets boring; we’ll see what happens first.