Sparking a World
By Catrin Pitt
Copyright © 2008 by Catrin Pitt, All Rights Reserved
The kid comes
home in the usual panic: a forgotten assignment is due in a couple of
days, 500 words on what Leonardo da Vinci was good at other than
painting. Not a problem. Being a writer and a hoarder of all books
interesting, you drag out the couple you have on the genius and flip
them open to show your kid the wonders of the man. One sketch catches
his interest, that of the tank. With renewed vigour he reads and then
writes, the 500 words achieved easily.
That night you
sleep well, knowing that your job as a parent has been done.
image keeps returning to your mind: da Vinci's human-powered
helicopter. Overlaying itself on your real life, this image coalesces
into something modern, something writable. Real life, the mundane, the
normal, the insignificant, becomes your inspiration.
starts working; a story is created in a contemporary world where the da
Vinci helicopters are a form of transport, Vits (short for Vitarolla).
You see a man, the only son, who flies one of these crafts, as a crop
duster on the family farm. He dreams of joining the military, but the
family is against this. His father needs him to take over the farm,
soon; he has an incurable disease that he is keeping secret. His mother
worries about his safety. His older sister, about to marry to another
farmer's son, wants him to stay, not only for the family's farm but for
her fiancé's farm; her brother can do the work for both farms, no need
to pay someone else. His younger sister is okay with it, but not just
yet. Big brother is teaching her how to fly in secret. No one will
take on a woman as a pilot, so when he leaves the family will have to
let her fly the Vits. But she can't fly solo yet.
To add to the
conflicts, the woman everyone has marked as his future wife can see her
chance of gaining control of not only one farm but maybe a second (the
sister-in-law's) slipping away, so she plans to trap him into marriage.
A story has
begun, all because you want to use this cool machine. Nice.
Words start to
appear on the PC screen: the opening scene, the second, the third. All
is good, all is well. Then it goes to pot. Holes appear, big enough to
drive a eighteen wheeler through.
Sure Jimmy, the
son, flies the Vit on the farm, but why did the Vitarolla come into
being instead of the aeroplane? Da Vinci drew this machine way before
the Wright Brothers created their successful flying machine. Da Vinci
drew lots of machines, some of which have been tried out in current
times and found to be workable. Were they tried out by da Vinci
himself? Did he just draw sketches for the sake of drawing or was there
some ultimate purpose? And if they were built, did they fail or
questions your world. Your imagination answers, with a mix of truth and
fiction. Da Vinci wasn't a rich man; he needed a patron, a sponsor.
One such sponsor needed his talents as an architect and engineer, for
his buildings and his army. But what need did he have for machines that
did not have an immediate use? The Church also forced its influence on
the genius, halting his clandestine practice of dissecting bodies and
studying the human form. To soothe the ruffled feathers of both his
patron and the Church, da Vinci painted. At least the forbidden
practice could be excused under the guise of advancing his art.
question becomes "What would change to allow da Vinci's flying machine
to become a reality?"
You dream about
that question, when it doesn't keep you awake at night. Images flash
before your eyes as you drive the kid to school. Slowly an idea
Could it be
that the Church's influence was weaker, that the fighting between the
dominant families of the time less prevailing? Da Vinci could have been
from a rich family, able to indulge and experiment without worry of cost
Given that you
can change history, change the world, you decide that in a time when
wagons were the most advanced form of transport, a new flying machine
appeared: the Vitarolla. At first it was a status symbol. Only the
richest families could afford to be flown and the machine was capable of
only transporting one person. It also required two men to power the
machine. Not very practical, but as time goes on, as da Vinci and
others like him developed the idea, the human powered machines became
mechanised, first powered by steam, then by petrol, now by solar power.
All efforts went into advancing the machines currently used, rather than
in the development of the lowly wagon.
But the flying
machine, in these early years, was not suitable for the mass
transportation of goods or even many people. The wagon remained the
most suitable method, until disaster struck. A weird strain of equine
flu struck decimated the equine population, killing most of the stock
and making infertile those that survived. The horse became a rare
and mules, the wagon is reduced to being pulled by men. That in itself
poses a whole new problem for your muse to solve. Who would subject
themselves to becoming a pack animal? The idea of forced labour creeps
into your world. There will be no outcry about this in your new world;
the Church is ineffectual in promoting the importance of human life.
Government is ruled by the rich and powerful with no active conscience.
There is still
the problem of transporting goods efficiently over land. Fighting
copiers of his Vitarolla, da Vinci throws his mind into solving this new
problem. He creates a robot horse. It doesn't work as well as the Vit,
so he modifies it, reducing the mechanical creature to the bare minimum,
and creates a box-like structure with multiple legs. Boxes can be
driven by one person and linked to others, almost like a centipede.
Your world is forming.
As you go about
your daily business in the real world, every thing you see, the most
mundane and ordinary things take on a new light. Would that have
existed in your Vit world? Cars certainly don't. The Vit and the Peed
are the only mechanical forms of transport. The Vit is obviously
airborne and the Peed doesn't need roads, doesn't even need flat land --
its many little legs can traverse the terrain as it is -- so the city
isn't scarred by black tracts. Houses have flat roofs for the Vits and
sheds for the Peeds. Houses sit on more land, since there are no roads,
just grassy alleyways between buildings. Everything is greener.
The sky is also
different. Instead of blueness above, the sky is streaked with
movement. Is it random or are there corridors? Do the Vits move on one
level or, since they have vertical space, are different altitudes used
for different purposes: direction, number of people carried, cost of Vit,
position within society?
Has a child
born in this society ever seen a sunset? The stars? Clouds? Do they
see horses in the zoo or a museum? If horses aren't around to ride,
what is the equivalent of a pony club? What sports would have developed
in a society where flight was available to all but the poorest of the
poor? What do the cool and the rich kids do for transport? Do they
have their own individual Vits or Peeds? Or is it cooler to walk?
answers build a society, its people, their culture.
A world is
sparked. All because your kid didn't do his homework on time.