Andrzej Sapkowski, Witcher (1986-2013), Part One

Piotrek: Wiedźmin. THE Polish fantasy series, the only one famous enough to break from the genre ghetto and into genuine literature. Well, for the most part, hardcore old-timers refused to acknowledge that anything genre can be worth their attention… losers. Anyway, wiedźmin (“Witcher” in Polish) Geralt of Rivia became famous soon after the first short story was published, and kept the attention of domestic fantasy enthusiast until the final instalment of the saga arrived in Polish bookshops in 1999. It was translated into several, mostly central-European, languages and became quite popular throughout the region. Wiedźmin inspired a disastrous cinematic adaptation, a slightly better (as some people claim, myself I don’t like it at all) comic and, finally, a video game. One of the best video games ever, but let’s concentrate on the books for now.

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Ola: Yeah, let’s ;). I haven’t played a single minute in any of them, and though all I hear around is praise, I’m just… not into computer games, I guess. That’s probably a serious blow to my nerdy cred, but heck. The only computer game I ever enjoyed was Worms… Oh, and that one where with the use of a mouse, a piece of line, a bottle and a plank you had to build a working machine ;).

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Pierce Brown, Golden Son (2015)

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All right, I finally got to the review of the second installment of Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. Golden Son was supposed to get bigger, better and more badass than its predecessor. Together with Darrow we leave the sheltered – even if a bit stifling – confines of the Institute, and are free to roam the big world outside, the whole Solar System colonized by genetically modified races of humans.

It sounds so perfect. The unfulfilled promise of Red Rising, which gave us only a glimpse of the broader world, was to be realized in its sequel, Golden Son. No longer were we to read about cruel games of privileged teenagers, Golden Son was to be the real deal. The teeth and claw of brutal reality, the multi-faceted political conflicts, the economic wars and the grey areas in between. And it even starts with a suitable bang, on a deck of a starship, in the middle of a naval fight, with very Ender-like Darrow tasting his final academic military success and witnessing as it immediately turns to ash.

But does it deliver?

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The Dumbest Country Contest, 2016 edition

I’m actually pretty sure Poland won in 2015 by electing our current Law & (In)justice majority…

io9 prepared a nice presentation for the only contender capable of beating the UK this year…

Or, in the liberal media version:

And Nerdwriter1, showing how crafty – in his stupidity – Trump gets:

(BTW, Nerdwriter1 has many great non-political videos on his channel)

Maybe the wave of stupidity will stop tomorrow? In Poland, L&J could get all the dumb votes, in the US, broad categories of people are highly resistant to Trump’s appeal, by the virtue of not being white middle-aged men…

I’m living in Greenwich +1 time zone and I will probably spend most of the night watching the spectacle.

Lets face it, with Sanders out of the race there is just no alternative to Clinton. Not a single one. John Oliver checked.


On the more serious, post election note… is this the book for our times?

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I did not like it as a piece of literature, but it’s about the kind of America that showed it’s disgusting face, not for the first time, but this time – to win. The consequences are hard to imagine.

It’s also the end of America’s soft power. Just the laughingstock of the world from now on.

I hope that people to suffer the most from that catastrophic choice will be Trump’s voters and that they will find themselves even worse off four years from now. But I’m afraid we’re all loosers here.

Sad, sad times.

Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (1966)

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Another book from my summer reading list, and another heavy hitter, winner of Nebula and Hugo awards, a solid presence on many “Best of SF” lists (check here and here, for example; these are just the top of the pile, – if you don’t like them, pick another 😉 the internet is full of lists and Keyes’s book is on most of them). It’s a short book, mere 216 pages in my SF Masterworks edition from Gollancz, but like another recently reviewed classic, A Canticle for Leibowitz, it carries a lot of weight. Flowers for Algernon is a SF must-read and a tear-jerker, an intimate, nuanced psychological portrait of a man coming from darkness to light, as the Plato’s quote on the first page slyly suggests. But is he really?

The protagonist of the novel, Charlie Gordon, is a 32-year old with IQ of 68. And yes, the age is important – when the book begins, Charlie’s nearing his 33th birthday. He works at a bakery, sweeping floors, cleaning toilets, doing all the simple, menial jobs a person with sub-normal level of IQ can do. What sets him apart from others like him is his drive to knowledge, his willingness to learn. And he gets his chance to become smarter when the local university starts looking for a human subject for their experiment in the area of neurosurgical augmentation of brain functions. The experimental therapy had been successfully tried on animal subjects before and the results were promising enough to induce the scientists into going to the human-testing phase. Charlie becomes the first person to undergo this kind of brain treatment and he’s obligated to document the changes in him in the form of written “Progress Reports”. Flowers for Algernon are constructed as Charlie’s diary, a complete set of the intimate, sometimes painfully honest reports he had been writing throughout the experiment. We witness the changes, minute at first and then accelerating with breathtaking speed, seeing his transformation from a boy in man’s body to an adolescent genius blowing up all possible IQ scales, to a grown, mature man accepting the world as it is. But the changes don’t stop there.

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Roger Zelazny, The Dream Master (1966)

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A surprise. Not a pleasant one, I might add. The first underwhelming, even disappointing Zelazny book I have ever read. Sure, Creatures of Light and Darkness were very… particular, a difficult mix of poetry and prose that read as if the writer was high all the time, but even that book had its moments of greatness and pure reading pleasure. The Dream Master has none. And really awful covers, each and every one of them :P.

The main idea is pretty cool and had served as a basis for the movie Dreamscape which Zelazny wrote an outline for. I would also venture a guess that it thoroughly inspired Nolan’s Inception, even though I found no mention of it in any interview. But the similarities are many, and striking. In not so distant future the humanity grew so far from their origins that mental problems became a new norm. Suicides have become one of the most common cause of death. But with new problems arose new solutions. And thus we a guild of Shapers was born – a fraction of a percent of humanity ultra-stable and psychically strong enough to be able to access others’ dreams and alter their subconscious without grave consequences for themselves.

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Tanith Lee, Night’s Master (1978)

Tanith Lee has been on my radar for quite some time. A British writer, famous first for her Birthgrave Trilogy, I was introduced to her by Andrzej Sapkowski, author of literary background of famous video game franchise, whose Manuscript Discovered in a Dragon’s Cave (nonfic never translated into English) is a nice journey through genre’s history and tropes.

I started with something else though, first volume in Tales from the Flat Earth series. Short collection of interconnected stories went into my Audible wishlist after someone recommended it on r/fantasy. I was happy to listen to it and will read the rest, sooner or later.

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 What do we get? A few stories set in a world where the Earth is flat and populated by people with their medieval/fantasy civilizations, beautiful, but indifferent gods above and passionate, but evil demons below. First among them, Azhrarn, is cruel, whimsical, but has a certain roguish appeal, of a kind I usually don’t understand but many modern readers enjoy 😉

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Jeff Salyards, Chains of the Heretic (2016)

The final book of trilogy I really enjoyed. It’s sad the story is concluded, but better to be left craving for more than finish a veery long series out of sheer tenacity, plagued by boredom and embarrassment. Fantasy should probably be written in trilogies or series of trilogies 😉

Spoiler alert! This book is very good 🙂

Four years since the publication of Bloodsounder’s Arc’s first instalment, Scourge of the Betrayer in 2012 we got a 509-page final story.

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(I like the matte dust jacket a lot, and it’s easier to photograph than glossy jackets of volumes one and two…)

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