Who doesn’t love Leonardo da Vinci? There’s so much to admire, from his curiosity about the world around him to the exquisite beauty of his paintings and the meticulous detail of his mechanical inventions. In 2009 a traveling exhibition of his machines came to Brisbane and I was so fascinated by his mind, they had to throw me out at closing time. His accurate sketches of the construction of the human body (courtesy of illegal autopsies) and his insights into how blood pumped and lungs work worked, were centuries before their time. And his observations about the movement of wind, water and animals continue to be awe-inspiring, even 500 years after his death.
Leonardo was awake to life, looking at the mundane through eyes that were so fresh, people have since speculated that he was either an alien or a time traveler. But assuming he was a man of his time, he clearly believed that he could make advances in knowledge, despite his lack of education, and he did. In spades. One of his inventions that really inspired me was his robot knight (my brain loved the science and my romantic heart loved the chivalry). I’d grown up reading Camelot and all the sci-fi classics, including Isaac Asimov’s many robot stories (I, Robot and Bicentennial Man are two of his better known). So I loved the idea of robots that could think and feel. I was also obsessed with space travel and followed NASA avidly, becoming thrilled all over again when space engineers studied Leonardo’s sketches to help them design “anthrobots”, complex robotic space explorers they planned to use on the International Space Station and on future Mars missions. In comments to the media, the NASA engineers said Leonardo’s “…anatomical drawings are unique and they gave the information needed to emulate the complex joints and muscles of the human body.” Amazing to think that 500 years later, people are still seriously referencing his work.
Personally, I’ve always wanted to write about robots, but because my first love is fantasy, I’ve not considered writing sci-fi myself. A few years ago, however, I was thrilled by the release of YA author Cassandra Clare’s Infernal Devices trilogy: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince and Clockwork Princess. Her automatons were powered by magic…
What a revelation! And what an awesome thrill ride that series was. Reading Young Adult novels makes me feel like I’m seventeen again, and I couldn’t help myself falling hard for the hero William Herondale. He is so very flawed! The poor heroine doesn’t know whether to kiss him or slap him. Then his secret is revealed and as a reader you ache for him. Truly beautiful writing. And inspiring. It made me wonder if the things I’d always wanted to write about — ideas inspired by Leonardo’s speculations — were possible within the realms of fantasy writing.
Much to my delight, I find that they are! My Young Adult fantasy novel Silk is based on the fact that Leonardo had such acute eyesight, he could sketch the movement of bird wings in flight centuries before slow motion film confirmed his accuracy. So if he could see birds wings in flight, could he also see other things that were only visible for a portion of a second? I don’t want to give away the plot (so I won’t) but suffice to say that my obsession with Leonardo and the research trip I took to Italy three years ago to uncover details about the society and landscape he inhabited, have now come to fruition in a Young Adult fantasy novel. I can’t wait for it to be published, but want it to be the best it can be, so I’m editing, editing, and dreaming about how exciting it will be to see it sitting on bookshelves.
I wonder what other fantasies my obsession with Leonardo da Vinci will create?