The Influence of Wolfbane

I believe Wolfbane (1957), a novel by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, had an enormous impact on the creation of The Matrix film by the Wachowskis. Perhaps this didn’t happen directly and I’m not saying that the Wachowskis are hacks. All great ideas are built on others. Regardless, there are so many vivid images in the Pohl and Kornbluth novel that come to life in much the same way as the Wachowskis movie that I have to call it out. I plan to write more about that in the future but in my most recent reading of this novel, something else occurred to me. There is a strong connection between Wolfbane and the television show Sense8. Here is a line from the Wolfbane wikipedia page in the plot summary of the novel:

“… eight minds joined together to facilitate more complex tasks than a single human Component could manage.”

Could you summarize Sense8 any better than that? Who are the creators of Sense8? Yep, the Wachowskis. Again, not a knock on them but an opportunity to lift up a great novel that has outsized influence when compared to its popularity.

Comics – The Last Heroes

The Last Heroes is a comic book compilation of issues #1 – 4 of Edge by Steven Grant and Gil Kane. The first three issues were released by Malibu Comics in the mid-1990s. Issue #4 was not released until this compilation in 2004. It’s a gritty, dark story with a slick, bright art style. Steven Grant writes in the Afterword, “Despite the earnest trappings, I always viewed The Last Heroes as a comedy.” Sometimes contradictions like these work but not in this case. There is an adequate vision for the project (superheroes originate in a lab but the chance of creating any new superheroes is destroyed) however the execution is lacking. First of all, nearly every superhero has a cosmetic change (hair and/or costume) in a four issue series. Not cool. I am repeatedly confused as to who is doing what. Even in the last panel. Second, in a sea of fantastic super powers, the guy taking out super heroes is doing so by shooting tiny needles from his wrist. He never once uses the laser pistol or short sword that hang at his side. He just uses the needles again and again from the first issue to the last, until someone eventually comes up with a brilliant plan to put on a suit of armor the needles can’t pierce. Lame. Finally, the story simply falls flat even when the art succeeds. The speech given at the end the series is a prime example. Mr. Ultimate looks impassioned with fist clenched, mouth wide and eyes filled with madness, but it doesn’t match his ending words, “We accept nothing short of victory, but true victory requires help. We want the best for everyone. Trust us.” No crescendo. Time to move on. Rating: 386

Jack of Shadows

Jack of Shadows (1971) by the much celebrated Roger Zelazny has an epic geographic and metaphysical scope but many of my favorite moments occur early in the novel before Jack discovers his world remaking ambitions. His intensely personal journey through The Dung Pits of Glyve is the highlight as Jack’s desperation, hunger, exhaustion and hatred direct his actions. These actions provide incredible insight to Jack’s character and rationale to what he’s becoming. At this point the story is much like a classic sword and sorcery tale, blade in hand, challenging mysterious forces, consumed with revenge and pining for his fair maiden. But that arc changes rapidly as Jack’s power increases. He becomes less mortal and more evil incarnate. When Jack is no longer the shadowy thief I fell in love with in the first few chapters, I find myself wishing for his turn back to himself. I find myself wanting at least one full novel of Jack the Thief. Then perhaps a novel of revenge as Jack the Avenger, a storyline which this book flies through. Then Jack the Annihilator with more about Jack’s love for Evene (Latin for “to come to pass”) as the final book of the trilogy. Am I asking too much? Yeah, well I’ll take what I can get. In Jack of Shadows the ending is beautiful and worth a bit of toil through the chapters of grand darkness. Rating: 757

The Sinister Studios of KESP-TV

The Sinister Studios of KESP-TV (1983) by Louise Munro Foley has two major branches in the story. One branch ends quickly so the bulk of the book offshoots from one storyline. This makes a fairly cohesive gamebook and makes your choices feel meaningful. You never end up surfing on an alien planet or being eaten by a giant. The narrative builds in a way that makes sense. The author also makes the mundane exciting. In this book it’s a work-study program and in her The Train of Terror it was a trip to see Aunt Kate. Unfortunately, there’s just not enough content. Another 20 pages would suffice. But as it is, you exhaust the pathways too soon. Rating: 490

The Train of Terror

The Train of Terror (1982) is a Twistaplot gamebook written by Louise Munro Foley. Before I get to the contents of this gamebook, I’m addressing a curious dedication in the opening pages:

This book is affectionately dedicated to Don Foley, who made a choice a few years back and has been riding a train of terror ever since.

At first I assume that Louise is jokingly referring to getting and being married. However, Don and Louise married in 1957 then divorced sometime around 1976. So she is clearly poking a stick at Don for his misery after choosing to divorce her. I already like Louise.

Even though “Terror” is in the title of this book and there is a creepy as heck guy with a knife on the cover, The Train of Terror is more in the spy genre. There are some horror elements but these only succeed in making the book feel uneven. When the author sticks to the mysteries surrounding double agents, this book is at its best.

There are some fun fake choices:

If you have a red dress, turn to PAGE 34.

If you wouldn’t be caught dead in a red dress, turn to PAGE 34 anyway.

And silly opportunities to opt out:

If you decide to go with your wits instead of his gun, turn to PAGE 82.

If you decide you’d prefer a nap to a shootout, close this book, shut your eyes, and wait until you hear the conductor announce “Twin Falls!”

The Train of Terror abounds in humor and folksy comments like “curiosity kills more than cats” but, it’s the psychotic image on the cover that sells tickets. All aboard! Rating: 503

Golden Sword of Dragonwalk

Golden Sword of Dragonwalk is a Twistaplot gamebook by the prolific R. L. Stine. It was published in 1983, nine years before Stine’s Goosebumps series began.

I speed through the first few choices, skim reading and this is the end of my pathway:

“In a few days, Grandma Carmen’s once quiet neighborhood is overrun by evil. Dragons roam the sidewalks, chewing up the hedges and swallowing pedestrians whole. Sorcerers change babies into toads…” (18)

Well yes, only children and rather silly adults enjoy such nonsense. Being rather silly myself, I restart. On page 5, I find a Morton’s Fork with one choice sending me directly to page 8 and the other having me read page 11 before sending me to the same page 8. I then have to choose which order I will fight the big dragon, middle dragon and little dragon. Six paths to choose from. Here are my choices and their results in the order I choose them.

  1. middle, big, little – I’m DEAD but it seems to give a clue to fight the big one first.
  2. big, middle, little – I’m DEAD but the wizard says never fight the big one first. Sigh.
  3. little, big, middle – I kill the little one. I kill the big one. Then…

“… the look in the dragon’s eyes is not one of anger, but of grief. With its two companions gone, the middle dragon has lost all its fight. It offers no resistance as you plunge the Golden Sword through its heart.” (29)

Considering this is a book for kids, Mr. Stine got away with murder.

How Tall is a Giant?


INTRODUCTION TO SCALING – Prerequisite for 5.NF.B.5a/b – This lesson addresses only one dimension when considering scale thus it may be used as a precursor to thinking about multiplication as scaling using a pair of factors.

CONTEXT – The height of a giant can vary greatly. The evidence of this comes from Giants, a tabletop RPG supplement written by Bruce Humphrey and published in 1987 by Mayfair Games Inc. According to this “reference for the society of giants,” there are many races of giants and though scholars have scoffed at their physical impossibility, their existence cannot be denied. Instead of delving into the biology of giants (see Giants pages 5 and 6 if you must), our focus today is on their height.

Fire Giants, 12 feet tall, impetuous and powerful warriors

Titans, 24 feet tall, first giants and progenitors of the other giants

Sea Giants, 18 feet tall, noble and personable giants from the depths

Frost Giants, 15 feet tall, resilient hermits from the icy realms

Hill Giants, 10 feet tall, aggressive and stubborn hunters


Q1:  How many feet taller is each race of giants when compared to a 6 foot tall human?

Q2:  How many times taller is each race of giants when compared to a 6 foot tall human?

Q3:  How many times shorter is each race of giants when compared to a 60 foot tall sauroposeidon?

Q4:  How many times taller is each race of giants when compared to a 6 inch tall tufted titmouse?

Activity:  Draw a picture of yourself and a representative of each giant race, all to scale in regards to height.


Activity:  Make a new race of giants. What will they be called? What characteristics will they have? How tall will they be? How will the height of the new race compare to the heights of other giants and animals?