Dr. Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist. He earned his PhD in the history of astronomy at the University of Southern Queensland, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. In 2014 he was named a contributor to Encyclopedia Britannica. He is the author of 14 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honor in 1990 by the International Astronomical Union based on the recommendation of its bureau located at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“Something poisonous was brewing in the royal chambers, those few narrow rooms that caused him more toil and trouble than the whole rest of the wide world.”
This line from fairly early in The Red Sphinx encapsulates the motive force that propels this swashbuckling story of 17th century France. The 'him' of this line is none other than Louis XIII, King of France but the poisonous plots apply equally to his chief minister of state, Cardinal Richelieu. It is Richelieu who was the inspiration for the title of this long-lost masterpiece by one of France's greatest authors, Alexandre Dumas. This is in fact the book that all lovers of The Three Musketeers have been waiting for their whole lives.
It begins shortly after the time when the Musketeers book ends. The text was actually published in France in 1865 and 1866 in a weekly magazine, but not published as a book since Dumas never finished the tale. An awful English translation was published in 1868 but quickly sank from view. It was not until 1945 that the original manuscript miraculously was discovered in a Paris garret. This was published in French the following year but it was not until 2017 that this superb English translation appeared. It is true to the words of Dumas, so now the whole world can enjoy his brilliance. A suitable ending has been added here in the form of an 84-page novella The Dove, first published in 1850.
Does The Dove really do the job of wrapping up the story of the Comte de Moret and Isabella Lautrec? asks translator Lawrence Ellsworth (the pen name of L. Schick of Maryland). “I would argue that it does – and in spades,” he replies to his question. While it leaves many loose ends, it does at least resolve the fate of these two central characters in the novel, and as an emotional gripper it doesn't get any better.
Dumas uses the real-life figure Comte de Moret, and his fictional love, Isabella, to weave a tale of derring-do including heroic rescues, swordfights (including duels), secret communications and undercover recon missions worthy of a James Bond movie.
This is a massive novel, weighing in at 800 pages. Fortunately for the reader, it is a page-turner. Dumas maintains a brisk pace throughout most of the book, although some may find his historical digressions to be nothing but padding. Others will welcome it as offering context for the complex international intrigues that permeate the book as various kings and emperors connive and fight for power in Europe.
Minor characters populate the text; their delightful delineation at the hands of such a master novelist are tiny gems in their own right. Chief amongst these are the King's fool l'Angely, who gets to say the most outrageous things to his royal master; Etienne Latil, the ultimate royal supporter and man of the sword; and the Duke of Savoy, against whom war is waged even as he conspires with King Louis' mother Marie de Medici.
While it may not rise to the iconic heights of The Count of Monte Cristo, Dumas has bequeathed us a truly excellent novel (with 64 evocative illustrations) which we can all regard as an amazing gift, delivered 150 years late.
The Red Sphinx (807 pages) is $26.95 by Pegasus Books.
Star Trek is very much in the news again: a new Trek TV show will premiere in September. At Windsor ComicCon recently, two stars of previous Trek TV shows made an appearance.
Denise Crosby appeared in several seasons of Star Trek: Next Generation, but she is best known as the young female security officer in the first season. "To be the chief of security in a traditional male role is what the late 1980s were calling out for," she told an audience in Windsor. Until then, Crosby said, women were either portrayed as a "beautiful soft woman, or a hard-assed tough bitch. I was adamant Tasha Yar (her character name) was not perfect. I was always looking for ways to examine her flaws."
Crosby lamented her audition for the role was not videotaped. It was a dual scene with Marina Sirtis, cast as counsellor Deanna Troi. In the audition, Crosby says she was essentially in a therapy session with Troi, worrying that she was never going to be good enough for the top security job. "You were the best in the class," replied Troi. "But Picard (the Captain of the starship) is so great, and such a visionary!" replied Yar.
"Troi was talking Yar back from the edge. Inside of Yar was a dichotomy: this fierce woman and a fragile little girl."
Denise Crosby, grand-daughter of the great singer Bing Crosby, has appeared in yet another major Hollywood franchise: the zombie-infested The Walking Dead. "I need to get on Game of Thrones," she joked. "It would be a trifecta!"
Also appearing at Windsor ComicCon was Garrett Wang, best known for his role as Ensign Kim on Star Trek: Voyager. Wang was far from sanguine that his character was never promoted in the seven years of the TV show. Once he met another fellow named Harry Kim (in real life), who was in the navy when Voyager was on the air in the late 1990s. "He got crap everyday from the crew mates," Wang said, but he tried to commiserate with Kim. "We were the same," he said to the navy man. "No," Kim replied, "I was promoted!"
Wang said in response to all this that his character was "the Rodney Dangerfield of Star Trek, the punching bag of Voyager."
In one episode Ensign Kim got to kiss the alien 7of9, played by the beautiful Jeri Ryan. "We each have full upper and lower lips. It was like two Sealey posturpedic mattresses banging up against one another," he said playfully. The show aired when Wang and Ryan were watching along with her young son, who exclaimed "Mommy kissed Garrett?!"
Wang had various controversial remarks to make on the Trek movies. Nemesis should have been a Voyager film, and Insurrection should have been a DS9 film." He was referring to the final two movies starring the crew of Next Generation, which were both flops. As for the current series of movies, he decried the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan. "The first Klingon he encountered would have broken him over his leg like a popsicle stick," said Wang. "The Rock should have been cast as Khan," a suggestion that elicited a lot of approval from the Windsor audience.
Photos with this article are copyright by C. Cunningham
Both Star Wars and Star Trek dominates at Windsor ComicCon this weekend. In the first of two reports, this Sun News article will deal with Star Wars.
Headlining the convention from the original Star Wars movies from 40 years ago is Billy Dee Williams, shown in the photo above. Williams, who said he would be willing to appear in the Star Wars 9 movie, maintains Empire Strikes Back was the best of the series. As a young man on the set of the first Star Wars film, he said "it was like being in an adult toy store." But the role he played then still carries some baggage today.
Back then he remembers "little kids accusing me of betraying Hans Solo. Forty years later I'm still try to explain it to fans!"
Asked about why he was such a cool dude on screen, Williams said he "grew up in an era in which individualism was important. The whole idea was to present myself, win or lose, in some unique fashion."
Having acted for 60 years, he has seen a lot of change in how movies are presented. "There is a new trend in action films. Movies somehow reflect what is going on in the world: the look and feel of movies is generational. We are at another juncture now."
Another actor from the original Star Wars trilogy is also in attendance in Windsor, which is his hometown. Angus MacInnes is making his first Canadian convention appearance this weekend: he played Gold Leader in Star Wars Episode IV.
When Star Wars was being cast by a then-unknown George Lucas, MacInnes was in London. "Almost every American in London got called for an interview with Lucas. Apparently he had a score card where he graded applicants from 1 to 10. Those graded 4 or 5 became Storm Troopers, a 6 or 7 became a fighter pilot, an 8 became an Admiral of the Imperial Fleet."
He recalled that "doing a battle scene was a little terrifying. Dying in movies is really fun but it cuts you off from the sequels!" What he remembers most fondly was "standing beside Carrie Fisher for a whole shot. In hindsight I remember her as very sweet."
When it came time to shoot his scene in the cockpit of a fighter, MacInnes said he could not remember his lines and for some reason Lucas "was not going to give me my cues." After sweating through several takes, "I really thought they were going to fire me on the spot. Lucas suggested instead that I read the lines."
That prompted MacInnes to tear pages out of the script and tape them to his legs and the interior of the cockpit! While people were jostling the platform on which the cockpit set resided to give the impression of motion, MacInnes read the pages as he looked down and around, finally getting through the scene.
He said the "demand on improvisation is really high in movies. It was a huge challenge at first, but I fell in love with it."
Both Williams and MacInnes will be at the convention tomorrow, Aug. 13 for photos and autographs. It is being held at Caesars Windsor. Visit their website for details: www.windsorcomicon.com
Photos with this article copyright Dr C Cunningham