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Author: Barbara Barrett

Tomorrow Isn’t Always Another Day: Remembering Howard Fast’s The Edge of Tomorrow

Tomorrow Isn’t Always Another Day: Remembering Howard Fast’s The Edge of Tomorrow

Howard Fast The Edge of Tomorrow-small Howard Fast The Edge of Tomorrow-back-small

The Edge of Tomorrow (Bantam, 1966) Cover artist uncredited

Books, like music, can evoke images of another time and place. When I picked up The Edge of Tomorrow recently, it triggered memories of Manhattan, Kansas, just before my husband left for Vietnam. It was mid-June 1966 when I drove from California to Fort Riley.

Manhattan was a whole new world. I remember heat and humidity so heavy it was like walking around on the bottom of a warm fish bowl. But there were awesome times too — a Harry Belafonte concert, thunder so loud I thought it would flatten me, and staring out a window all night during a tornado watch.

Yet, my most vivid memories are about food and friends. It was still early days for the anti-war protests and we were not aware of them. Uppermost in our minds was knowing our husbands or fathers or sons or brothers would be going to Vietnam. With so much uncertainty in our lives, we made the best of the moments we had and meals were about the only time life seemed normal.

The troops at Fort Riley trained twelve to fourteen hours a day. That left evenings and some weekends for relaxation. When Bob was home, his Army friends often stopped by for a beer and a chat. Many times, they stayed for a home-cooked dinner. During the five months in Kansas, I prepared a lot of food. Mostly from family recipes. So did other wives. We tasted dishes we had only heard about and exchanged recipes. One of my favorite memories centers around a feast those of us from California put together. We craved Mexican food but tortillas, pinto beans and hot sauce weren’t available in the local stores then. That problem was solved when we wrote and asked our families to send supplies. They were generous beyond belief. All our friends were invited. For a few hours, while we were eating tacos, enchiladas, refried beans, rice, burritos, guacamole and hot sauce, we were home.

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Mixing Hardboiled Film Noir and Magic: Cast a Deadly Spell

Mixing Hardboiled Film Noir and Magic: Cast a Deadly Spell

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Cast a Deadly Spell stars Fred Ward, Julianne Moore, and David Warner
Director: Martin Campbell; Writer: Joseph Dougherty
HBO 1991. 1 hours 36 minutes

Philip Lovecraft (Fred Ward) is a hardboiled Los Angeles private eye who is hired by Amos Hackshaw (David Warner) to find the Necronomicon, a book which contains the knowledge to destroy the world when the stars line up at midnight in two days. It was stolen from Hackshaw by his ex-chauffer, Larry Willis (Lee Tergesen).

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The Paranormal on British TV: The BBC’s The Ωmega Factor

The Paranormal on British TV: The BBC’s The Ωmega Factor

The Omega Factor DVD

Starring James Hazeldine and Louise Jameson
(1979. 10 episodes, 3 disks, 510 minutes)

Saturday night at the 2016 Windy City Pulp and Paper Show back in April, I had dinner with John O’Neill and several others, including Arin Komins and her husband Rich Warren. During our discussions about Blake’s Seven and The Sandbaggers, Arin mentioned another BBC program, The Ωmega Factor. Her description sounded fascinating, so I bought it on Sunday from a dealer.

The Ωmega Factor is a British series about the limitless potential of the human mind and this theme is explored through various paranormal abilities. The show stars James Hazeldine (1947-2002) as journalist and psychic investigator Tom Crane; Louise Jameson, as psychic investigator Dr. Anne Reynolds; and John Carlisle as psychiatrist Roy Martindale. Crane and Reynolds report to Martindale who directly supervises Department 7, a secret British government group that explores psychic phenomenon mostly for use by the military.

Mind control, poltergeists, possession, witches, experimental devices, haunted houses and out-of-body experiences are a few of the paranormal subjects discussed in the ten episodes that were produced. Here’s a look at each one.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: “My Very Dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” (Valentine’s Day—Robert E. Howard Style)

Discovering Robert E. Howard: “My Very Dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” (Valentine’s Day—Robert E. Howard Style)

One Who Walked Alone Novalyne Price Ellis-smallFor those of you who searched for the right way to describe your feelings for that certain special someone on February 14, Robert E. Howard might have been be a good source. After all, he was a wizard with words. And he did have a novel approach when it came to romance. As Bob Howard explains to Novalyne Price Ellis in her book One Who Walked Alone:

[M]en made a terrible mistake when they called their best girls their rose or violet or names like that, because a man ought to call his girl something that was near his heart. What, he asked, was nearer a man’s heart than his stomach? Therefore he considered it to be an indication of his deep felt love and esteem to call me his cherished little bunch of onion tops, and judging from past experience, both of us had a highest regard for onions. (106)

REH expanded this “indication of his deep felt love and esteem” in future letters to include:

“My very dear little Bunch of Radishes” or “My very dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” or “My dear Sausage and Big, Brown Fluffy Biscuits as well as sliced red beets with butter over them.” (110)

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Just Call Me Folklore: A Whimsicality on a Whimsical Character

Just Call Me Folklore: A Whimsicality on a Whimsical Character

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You’re from what newspaper? You want to write the story of my life? Oh.

No, no, it’s not a problem at all. Come in. Here let me take your coat. Go into the sitting room. There’s a fire going and it’s much warmer.

I have to admit that I’m a little surprised that you’re interested in me. I’m not as famous as some of the other characters my Creator brought to life. I admit that honestly. You wouldn’t know it to look at me today but there was a time I reached incredible heights. It seems like only yesterday I was almost a legend; so I’m only too happy to relive those days. Sadly, there are many today who don’t know my rich history or how distinguished I was.

Just sit down over there. Yes, yes, clear off that chair. You can move those books and all that memorabilia over a little. No, not too close to the fire. Better put them on the mantle. I’ll pour you a cup of tea. It’ll fortify you against the snow and the bitter cold outside.

Now, let me see, where shall I start? Of course! It’s always best to start in the beginning. I think I remember Bilbo Baggins saying that once? I could be mistaken though. The old memory isn’t what it used to be.

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The Thin Veil: An All Hallows Eve to Remember

The Thin Veil: An All Hallows Eve to Remember

Werewolves, witches, vampires, ghosts, goblins and demons are de rigueur for American Halloween celebrations. The creepier and scarier, the better. Homes are decorated with skeletons, spiders, eerie lights, webs and dark passages. Candles in carved pumpkins reflect grinning smiles and pointed teeth. Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies and orcs guard the doors. In the background wolves howl and the screams of the undead echo through the yard waiting for brave trick or treaters. Small children in their Pixar or super hero costumes approach warily, receive their treat and exit holding even tighter to mom or dad’s hand.

Ridgeway Grandfather Clock built in 1981 St. Michael’s Chime
Ridgeway Grandfather Clock built in 1981. St. Michael’s Chime

But not all the world shares our American Halloween traditions. There are cultures that celebrate All Hallows Eve as a night of magic believing at midnight the veil between the world of the living and that of the dead gets thinner.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part II of II

The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part II of II

British Hussars attack Russian guns at Balaklava

Read Part I here.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

There were four speeds for the cavalry:

Walk: not to exceed four miles per hour
Trot: not to exceed eight and a half miles per hour
Gallop: eleven miles per hour
Charge: not to exceed the utmost speed of the slowest horse

The Light Brigade started at a walk because the horses could not maintain the charge speed for over a mile. When the first line was well clear of the second, Cardigan ordered “Trot.” The more experienced men knew at that speed it would take them about seven minutes to reach the battery. As they trotted down the valley, ten Russian guns could reach them.

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The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part I of II

The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava, October 25, 1854, Part I of II

Hell Riders-smallIntroduction

At 11:10 a.m., on October 25, 1854, one hundred sixty-one years ago, the almost seven hundred men of the Light Brigade stood waiting. The Brigade moved forward when the officer’s trumpeter sounded the “Walk.” It was immediately taken up by the regimental trumpeters to the right and left, so that it could be heard by the whole body of cavalry. When the first line was clear of the second, the order came to “Trot.” The bugles sounded again and the regiment increased its pace to about eight miles an hour. The more experienced cavalry men were adept at judging distances and knew at this pace, it would take them at least seven minutes to reach the enemy.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of volumes have been written about the events during and leading up to that seven minutes. An in-depth analysis of the battle is beyond the scope of this article. The story for this anniversary is told as much as possible in the voices of the men who rode down that valley. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and facts are from Hell Riders The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade by Terry Brighton (2004). This is possible because the author, Terry Brighton, a British military history, using his unique access to regimental archives, draws on twenty years of research to tell the story of the survivors, in their own words. Only a small portion of their stories can be told here. This fascinating book is available online and is highly recommended.

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A Wizard is a Wizard is a Wizard — Except When He’s Harry Dresden

A Wizard is a Wizard is a Wizard — Except When He’s Harry Dresden

Skin Game Jim Butcher.-smallSkin Game, A Novel of the Dresden Files
By Jim Butcher
Roc Books (464 pages, May 27th 2014, $27.95 in hardcover)
Cover by Chris McGrath

Skin Game is the newest novel in the  Harry Dresden series, #15 in the series. I enjoyed it so much, I re-read it.

I’m a real Harry Dresden fan. He reminds me a little of Erle Stanley Gardner’s [aka A. A. Fair] detective, Donald Lam, a “brainy little bastard” who is always getting beat up, according to his boss Bertha Cool. Sounds like Dresden, but Harry has one up on Donald. Not only is Harry a detective, he is Chicago’s only professional wizard.

As if that’s not enough, he is also the Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, who, in this book, loans him out to pay off one of her debts. Trouble is the group of supernatural villains he must help is led by one of his “most dreaded and despised enemies.”

Their target? They plan to rob the personal vault of the Greek god, Hades, and they need Harry’s help.

It’s action filled and lots of fun.

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Mars: A Planetary Star

Mars: A Planetary Star

fourth-planet-from-the-sunJohn O’Neill’s August 5th blog article,  “All Eyes on Mars as Curiosity Prepares to Land,” focused on the suspense of waiting for the rover to land safely on Mars. The two-thousand pound (900 kg) rolling geology lab did in fact make a flawless landing on August 6th and with its touchdown, it revived interest in the Red Planet. From the description of Curiosity given on Jet Propulsion Lab’s website, the rover truly belongs in a science fiction tale.

  • body: a structure that protects the rover’s “vital organs”
  • brains: computers to process information
  • temperature controls: internal heaters, a layer of insulation, and more
  • “neck and head”: a mast for the cameras to give the rover a human-scale view
  • eyes and other “senses”: cameras and instruments that give the rover information about its environment
  • arm and “hand”: a way to extend its reach and collect rock samples for study
  • wheels and “legs”: parts for mobility
  • energy: batteries and power
  • communications: antennas for “speaking” and “listening”

The size of a small SUV, the rover has already begun its mission to “search areas of Mars for past or present conditions favorable for life, and conditions capable of preserving a record of life.” It is equipped to gather data, take photographs and then send the information back to JPL. In other words, Curiosity is our roving reporter on Mars. Kind of gives a whole new concept to being a “foreign” correspondent, doesn’t it?

With Curiosity running around on Mars, what better time is there to combine science with fiction and review some of the stories written about the Red Planet? A good start is Gordon Van Gelder’s anthology, Fourth Planet From The Sun. It was published by Thunder’s Mouth Press in 2005, about a year after the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity started to send back their photos of Mars. It is fitting that with the successful landing of Curiosity, we take another look at it.

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