Two Neighbors

By John Hertz: (reprinted in part from No Direction Home 18) Where were you on May 2nd? It was the 500th death-anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). Did you take a cup, say a prayer, look up his work? Maybe you will yet this year. He was born near the town of Vinci; the farmhouse which is believed to be where this occurred, built in 1427, is now the Casa Natale di Leonardo, a museum, about 30 miles (50 km) west of Florence, in Tuscany, Italy.

There are celebratory exhibits at Florence, Milan, Rome; Paris; Krakow; in the United Kingdom, touring twelve cities, and at the Queen’s Gallery in London and in Edinburgh; two more were at Hamburg (first week of June) and New York (January-April).

He studied all things in nature with curiosity, patience, and care; science and art, so remarkably united in his mind, had there one origin – detailed observation [p. 199]…. indeed he was interested in everything. All postures and actions of the human body, all expressions of the face in young and old, all the organs and movements of animals and plants from the waving of wheat in the field to the flight of birds in the air, all the cyclical erosion and elevation of mountains, all the currents and eddies of water and wind, the moods of the weather, the shades of the atmosphere, and the inexhaustible kaleidoscope of the sky…. he filled thousands of pages with observation concerning them, and drawings of their myriad forms [pp. 200-01].

The subject [of The Last Supper] was superb, but from a painter’s point of view it was pitted with hazards. It had to confine itself to male figures and a modest table in a simple room … no vivid action could be brought in to set the figures into motion and convey the sense of life…. he portrayed the gathering at the tense moment Christ has prophesied that one of the Apostles will betray Him, and each is asking, in fear or horror or amazement, “Is it I?”… more than violent physical action; a searching and revelation of spirit; never again, so profoundly, has an artist revealed in one picture so many souls…. preliminary sketches … for James the Greater, Philip, Judas – are drawings of such finesse and power as only Rembrandt [1606-1669] and Michelangelo [1475-1564] have matched [p. 205].

There are several alleged portraits of him, but none before fifty [p. 214]…. He was not anxious to be read by the many. “The truth of things,” he wrote, “is a supreme food for fine intelligences, but not for wandering wits” [p. 215].

He wrote equally well on science and art, and divided his time almost evenly between them [p. 217]…. [In the Treatise on Painting] he urges: “Make figures with such action as may suffice to show what the figure has in mind.” Did he forget to do this with Mona Lisa, or did he exaggerate our ability to read the soul in the eyes and the lips? [p. 218]… It is hard for us to realize that to Ludovico [Sforza, 1452-1508], as to Caesar Borgia [1475-1507], Leonardo was primarily an engineer…. He developed a machine for cutting threads in screws … frictionless roller-bearing hand brakes…. three-speed transmission gears; an adjustable monkey wrench; a machine for rolling metal; a movable bed for a printing press; a self-locking worm gear for raising a ladder [p. 219].

Side by side with his drawings, sometimes on the same page, sometimes scrawled across a sketch of a man or a woman, a landscape or a machine, are the notes in which this insatiable mind puzzled over the laws and operations of nature…. Often the artist peered out again in the scientist; the scientific drawing might itself be a thing of beauty [p. 221]…. The anatomy of man he described not only in words but in drawings that excelled anything yet done [p. 224]…. more fertile in conception than in execution. He was not the greatest scientist or engineer or painter or sculptor or thinker of his time; he was merely the man who was all of these together and in each field rivaled the best…. not quite “the universal man”, since the qualities of statesman or administrator found no place in his variety. But, with all his limitations and incompletions, he was the fullest man [author’s emphasis] of the Renaissance, perhaps of all time [p. 217].

W. Durant, The Renaissance (1953; The Story of Civilization vol. 5)

We in the science fiction community cannot claim Leonardo. Some of his designs were not practicable in his day, which he did not know, not having carried them far enough, but he unlike e.g. Jules Verne did not purpose fiction. Conceptually he lived next door to us. The scope and quality of his imagination, and of his conjoining art and science, are inspiring.

From a 2nd to a 22nd, from a 500th to a 50th. June 22nd was the 50th death-anniversary of Judy Garland (1922-1969). Her death at age 47 ended a 45-year career; she had performed since age 2.

On the 29th Jerry Sharell on his Sinatra and Sharell program, Radio Station KKJZ, played her singing “Come Rain or Come Shine” (H. Arlen & J. Mercer, 1946) from her 23 Apr 61 Carnegie Hall concert, followed by Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) from Sinatra and Strings (1962); if you drink wine, like Corton-Charlemagne and Margaux.

That Carnegie Hall concert, to a sold-out house, was called “the greatest night in show-business history”; released as the two-record Judy at Carnegie Hall (1963) it was an RIAA-certified gold album (Recording Industry Ass’n of America; $1 million in retail sales).

Let us note, even without exploring, her spectacular work in Meet Me in St. Louis (V. Minelli dir. 1944), Easter Parade (C. Walters dir. 1948), A Star is Born (G. Cukor dir. 1954), Judgment at Nuremberg (S. Kramer dir. 1961); her last film, as it happened entitled I Could Go On Singing (R. Neame dir. 1963); her studio albums; her other record-breaking concerts in the United States and overseas.

Pertinent here is The Wizard of Oz (V. Fleming dir. 1939). Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is a fantasy; it imagines its creatures and events to be as real as the reader. The cinema Wizard is a dream sequence – although at the end Dorothy insists it was real. Let us pass over this, however recreant, for the achievement of imagination it disavows.

In its merits it is masterly. It turns on Garland. She is the fulcrum, the linchpin. Her cogency supports the fantasy. In fact she was 16; her believability as a child is the creation of an actress. It is she whom the characters meet, who by receiving them sustains them – even the Wizard. We do not even notice that her supreme song, ”Over the Rainbow” (H. Arlen & Y. Harburg) – which won an Academy Award – as she did; which became her signature – throughout hard times, hard knocks, hard moments of irrejectable applause roaring against residues of woe – is falsified: the dreams do not come true. The song is true. She made it true – by singing it, and creating or co-creating Dorothy, with beauty and truth.

She was three-ninths into her life. She was one-ninth of her life short of age 21. She did many more things and earned much more acclaim. This picture was a great moment: it is next door to us: and it has proved, to the surprise of everyone in it, remarkably universal.

Since Our Gracious Host found this picture, you might like a close look at the letters “Wizard of Oz”. They’re by Hirschfeld.

Pixel Scroll 5/4/19 Pixellation Of The Scroll Nation

(1) MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU. John Stratman posted a 16-bit “Super Nintendo inspired version of the trailer for Star Wars Episode 9.” SYFY Wire explains

His awesome contribution to May The 4th is a sly homage to old-school 16-bit video games of yore applied to the official trailer for Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.  Stratman is notorious for his slick remastered trailers in 8-bit and 16-bit style,

(2) HE DIDN’T MEAN IT. WIRED’s “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” podcast hastens to reassure us that “Ian McEwan Doesn’t Hate Science Fiction”. In case you care.

In a recent interview British novelist Ian McEwan seemed to suggest that science fiction is only about “traveling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots,” in contrast to his own novel Machines Like Me, which he says explores the “human dilemmas” involved with artificial intelligence. Science fiction fans bristled, questioning whether McEwan had ever actually read any science fiction, but McEwan now insists that he’s been misunderstood.

“I was a little taken aback at how some rather offhand remarks of mine should cause such a storm,” McEwan says in Episode 359 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “And actually I’ve read a fair amount of science fiction over a lifetime.” …

“I actually put a nod towards Blade Runner in Adam’s final speeches, after he’s been attacked by Charlie,” McEwan says. “There’s a very self-conscious nod to that famous farewell in the rain.”

And while science fiction works like Blade Runner are a definite influence on Machines Like Me, McEwan notes that there are many other influences as well. “I’d be very happy for my novel to be called science fiction, but it’s also a counterfactual novel, it’s also a historical novel, it’s also a moral dilemma novel, in a well-established traditional form within the literary novel,” he says. “I’m very happy if they want to call my novel science fiction, even honored. But it’s much else, that’s all I’m trying to say.”

(3) MARVEL CONTENT FOR LIBRARIES AND SCHOOLS. Rakuten OverDrive now offers Marvel Digital Graphic Novels to public libraries and schools.

Marvel Entertainment has teamed up with Rakuten OverDrive, the leading digital reading platform for libraries and schools, to offer 600 graphic novel and comic collection titles to public libraries and schools worldwide. Library patrons and students of participating public libraries and schools can borrow digital versions of renowned titles including Avengers, Black Panther, Amazing Spider-Man, X-Men and more. Visit overdrive.com to find a library or school near you.

Marvel Entertainment joins OverDrive’s catalog of millions of ebooks and audiobooks including over 31,000 graphic novels and comics from prominent publishers such as DC Comics, Image Comics, IDW, Valiant, Izneo and Titan Comics. Libraries and schools can select from this catalog to build their individual digital collections.

…Readers can embark on the Marvel adventure in a variety of ways. Public library patrons may download Libby or choose to read on a computer browser. Libby provides an easy, user-friendly experience and is compatible with all major devices, including iPhone®, iPad®, Android™, Windows® and “send to Kindle®” [US only]. Students of participating schools can use Sora, the student reading app, or enjoy via computer browser. Through the Sora app, students have easy access to both the school’s and local public library’s digital collections anytime, anywhere. In both cases, the title will automatically expire at the end of the lending period and there are no late fees.

Daniel Dern notes/adds:

1, Good news, free!

2, Takes a little patience. It looks like each library has a finite # of concurrent per-item licenses, so you may have to search other library systems, and hope that your credentials will let you borrow from it.

3, The price is right.

4, Like all digital comic reading, works best on a big-enough display, either your desktop, or an iPad Pro 12.9. Probably good ’nuff on slightly smaller tablets, but (I suspect) often frustrating in terms of any tiny print, etc.

(4) CINEMATOGRAPHY AS GENRE. NPR’s Mark Jenkins reviews “‘Shadow’: An Epic Tale Of Feudal China That Gradually Shades Into Fantasy”.

…While Shadow is loosely based on historical events, the story’s mythic nature is announced not by the movie’s story but by its look. The ravishing costumes and sets are all in black, white, and watery shades of gray, as if they’d been conjured from Chinese calligraphy and ink paintings.

One of Zhang’s visual signatures is a billowing sheet of brightly colored cloth, a device that dates to 1990’s Ju Dou, set in a fabric dying plant. The closest equivalents in Shadow are seen in the king’s receiving chamber, outfitted with more than a dozen large banners. They’re emblazoned with black-on-white script, its loose penmanship as traditional as Lao Zai’s spare score, composed for venerable Chinese instruments.

In the film’s first half, the only bits of color are the characters’ pinkish skin and an occasional sprig of gray-green vegetation. Later, of course, there will be blood.

Shadow doesn’t rush to battle, unlike such earlier Zhang martial-arts spectaculars as Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The movie spends about an hour sketching the backstory and observing the machinations that will lead to war….

(5) CUMBERBATCH LENDS VOICE TO TOLKIEN PROJECT. The Express reports: “Benedict Cumberbatch waives £7m fee for charity film”.

The star stepped in at no cost – and at short notice – to narrate the film about the death of the great-grandson of Hobbit creator JRR Tolkien from the devastating disease. Cumberbatch, who starred in the film version of the classic fantasy novel, commands up to £7.5million a film. But after hearing from Royd Tolkien, whose brother Mike died aged 39, he waived his fee in a secret deal.

The film portrays Mike’s battle with the neurodegenerative disease and the bucket list he left for actor and film maker Royd, 49, which included a canyon swing tied to a chair.

“Benedict made the most noble, private and breathtaking tribute to my brother,” Royd said. “On his deathbed [Mike] told me he’d left a secret list with 50 challenges I had to complete around the world.

“We made a film of my journey and the detailed narration is a key part.

“The budget was finished and I was devastated. It needed a big name, but I felt Mike’s spirit and just rolled the dice.

“Benedict is my favourite actor so I simply emailed to ask a colossal and free favour.

“I was on urgent deadline and realistically expected nothing in return.”

(6) TODAY’S BIRTHDAYS.

[Compiled by Cat Eldridge.]

  • Born May 4, 1858 E. Nesbit. She wrote or collaborated on more than 60 books, forty of which were children’s literature, at least some of which are fantasy or supernatural horror. I strongly recommend The Complete Book Of Dragons, the 1975 edition which collection previously unpublished material, and Man and Maid which collects most of her short story horror. (Died 1924.)
  • Born May 4, 1940 Robin Cook, 79. Well he is genre, isn’t he? Or at least genre adjacent? I’ve never actually read any of his best selling books so one of y’all that has will need tell to me how truly genre friendly he is. 
  • Born May 4, 1943 Erwin Strauss, 76. I’m not sure I can do him justice. Uberfan, noted member of the MITSFS, and filk musician. He frequently is known by the nickname “Filthy Pierre” which I’m sure is a story in itself. Created the Voodoo message board system used at a number of early cons and published an APA, the Connection, that ran for at least thirty years. Tell me about him. 
  • Born May 4, 1949 Kim Mohan, 70. Editor and author of the Cyborg Command RPG based on an outline by Gary Gygax. He was Editor of TSR’s The Dragon magazine for several years which led to his becoming editor of Amazing Stories from 1991 to 2000. 
  • Born May 4, 1974 James Bacon, 45. Editor along with more folk than I can possibly mention here of the Hugo-winning Journey Planet magazine from 2009 to the present. Also editor of Exhibition Hall, a Steampunk Zine he edited with Christopher J. Garcia and Ariane Wolfe for some years. 
  • Born May 4, 1977 Gail Carriger, 43. Ahhhh, lovely mannerpunk she writes! I think I first noticed her with the start of the Finishing School series which she started off with Etiquette & Espionage some six years ago. Moirai Cook does a delightful job of the audiobooks by the way. I also the two novellas in her Supernatural Society series as well. 
  • Born May 4, 1995 Shameik Moore, 24. He voices Miles Morales, the teen-ager who would become Spider-Man in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse which I review here.  It’s by far the best film I’ve seen this year and I urge you to go see it now. 

(7) COMICS SECTION.

  • Off the Mark remembers that Star Wars speed record a little differently.

(8) ISS BECOMES A GAS STATION. “Nasa instrument heads to space station to map CO2” – BBC has the story.

Nasa has sent up an instrument to the International Space Station (ISS) to help track carbon dioxide on Earth.

OCO-3, as the observer is called, was launched on a Falcon rocket from Florida in the early hours of Saturday.

The instrument is made from the spare components left over after the assembly of a satellite, OCO-2, which was put in orbit to do the same job in 2014.

(9) LIGO. Apparently there’s an app for that — “Gravitational waves hunt now in overdrive”.

…The alert on Mansi Kasliwal’s phone went off at two in the morning. Shrugging off the sleep, she squinted at the message. It was from LIGO, the Nobel Prize-winning scientific collaboration that operates gravitational wave detectors.

A far-off violent event had sent ripples in space-time through the Universe, to be picked up by LIGO’s sensor in Louisiana, and it looked from the data like there should be visible “fireworks”, too.

Thanks to the smartphone revolution, she could react without leaving her bed. A few taps on the screen, and the Zwicky Transient Facility, a robotic telescope on Mount Palomar, was reprogrammed to start the hunt.

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, and its European counterpart, VIRGO, have just completed upgrades that mean they should be spotting space-distorting events several times each week – collisions of black holes, of neutron stars, and even more exotic phenomena.

And since they started running again at the start of April, expectations are holding up: two in the second week; three last week.

(10) MONOLITH. “How Avengers put Disney at the top of the charts” – and Chip Hitchcock wants to know, “Will Endgame take the title for all-time inflation-adjusted gross from Gone With the Wind?”

Avengers: Endgame broke all box office records last weekend and has confirmed Disney’s dominance in global cinema.

More than 90% of the value of all tickets sold in UK cinemas last weekend was for Avengers: Endgame.

Within five days it had become the fastest film to break the $1bn sales barrier worldwide.

(11) EVERMORE. It may not be quite as hot a ticket as Avengers:Endgame, but the Utah theme park is making sales says David Doering: “While some suggested the park opening would be delayed, they are now selling tix for opening day on Saturday, May 25th. The show, called World of Mythos, sells regularly for $29/adult, $16/child )<14).on Saturdays,  $19 and $9 on Thursdays and Fridays. Mondays are discount day with $14/adults, $9 for kids.”

(12) SLOW HAND. Did he hurt the hand he painted with? Just which hand was that anyway? Analysts speculate that “Leonardo’s ‘claw hand’ stopped him painting”.

Leonardo da Vinci could have experienced nerve damage in a fall, impeding his ability to paint in later life, Italian doctors suggest.

They diagnosed ulnar palsy, or “claw hand”, by analysing the depiction of his right hand in two artworks.

It had been suggested that Leonardo’s hand impairment was caused by a stroke.

But in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the doctors suggest it was nerve damage that meant he could no longer hold a palette and brush.

Leonardo da Vinci, who lived from 1452-1519, was an artist and inventor whose talents included architecture, anatomy, engineering and sculpture, as well as painting.

But art historians have debated which hand he used to draw and paint with.

Analysis of his drawing shows shading sloping from the upper left to lower right, suggesting left-handedness. But all historical biographical documents suggest Leonardo used his right hand when he was creating other kinds of works.

(13) SHOUT OUT/BLOT OUT. Vanity Fair: “Mike Pence Got an Insane Game of Thrones Shout-Out During the Battle of Winterfell”.

[…] co-creator/showrunner D.B. Weiss […] shared with Jimmy Kimmel some of the challenges of their extensive production [of “The Long Night” episode]. In particular, Weiss revealed the long hours and night-shoots took a toll on series star Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), whose usual fluency with the “High Valyrian” language was reduced to improvising gibberish among his fellow Unsullied.

“At one point, Miguel [Sapochnik], the director, starts yelling at Jacob to improvise something in Valyrian … yell to your troops in Valyrian,” Weiss explained. “And Jacob was so tired and so delirious and so out of it that all he could think to yell was, ‘Mike Pence! Mike Pence! Mike Pence!’ So in one of those scenes when Jacob is yelling and pointing—whatever he was saying was dubbed over—but what he was actually saying was ‘Mike Pence! Mike Pence!’”

Not only were Anderson’s lines understandably dubbed in post, but Weiss noted the mask over Anderson’s mouth prevents any recognition of the “Mike Pence!” chant regardless. Probably for the best—Game of Thrones has a history of riling up Washington. […]

(14) COP ON A STICK. A new invention, still in development, promises to make the interaction between police and motorists they pull over safer for both sides. Gizmodo: “Imagine Getting Pulled Over By This Tablet on a Stick”.

Every year, millions of drivers are pulled over and during those stops thousands of assaults and physical altercations happen, resulting in injuries and even deaths to both police officers and suspects. On top of that, there’s also the risk from other vehicles when a stop is made on the side of a busy road. Reuben Brewer […] cobbled together [the first versions] in his garage, [but] he’s now developing his police robot for SRI International in the company’s Applied Technologies and Science Department.

[…] When officers pull over a vehicle,] the robot will help create a safe distance between suspects and the police while they both remain in their vehicles during testing. It’s a telepresence robot that extends on a long arm from a police cruiser to the suspect’s vehicle, facilitating two-way video and audio communications.

[… T]he robot is […] equipped with a barcode reader allowing a driver’s license to be quickly scanned, while a thermal printer can churn out tickets and citations that drivers can tear off like a receipt. As the robot moves alongside a vehicle it also subtly deploys a spike strip under the car, so should a suspect decide to flee, they’ll shred at least one tire in the process. […]

(15) KAMERON HURLEY. Paul Weimer considers the “genre conversation” that leads to Hurley’s new novel in “Microreview [book]: The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley” at Nerds of a Feather.

A future world where Corporations dominate the globe, have in effect become the superpowers that rule a rather tired Earth. For the lower classes, those who are not citizens, it’s a rather rough and precarious life. Dietz (who never gets a first name, and in a bit of ledgerdemain their gender is kept relatively unstated and understated) goes from a future and poor Sao Paulo, to fighting Martians on Mars, in what was once Canada, and far beyond. There’s just one problem: The lightspeed technology to move soldiers around has a strange effect on Dietz, and in short order starts to learn they are experiencing her future all out of order. Worse, thar futuie is a dark one in which the war they signed up for is far more terrible than they can imagine.

(16) GENRE IN NIGERIA. Charles Payseur visits a new frontier of sff in “Quick Sips – Strange Horizons 04/29/2019”.

It’s a special release from Strange Horizons to close out April, featuring two short stories and three poems celebrating Nigerian SFF. The works bring a fresh feel to fantasy that weaves magic and creation, persecution and resistance. It finds characters who just want to be free to live their lives being pulled into plots and intrigues that they want no part of but that threaten them all the same. And only through connecting to their power, their families, and the people they have chosen to surround themselves with can they fight back and perhaps fully embrace their potential. It’s a wonderful batch of short SFF, and a treat for readers hungry for more international SFF, so I’ll get right to the reviews!

(17) BEWARE SPOILERS. ScreenRant invites you to step inside the pitch meeting that led to Avengers: Endgame. (“Oh, it’s like Fanservice: The Movie!”) While amusing the viewers Ryan George pretty much gives everything away so BEWARE SPOILERS!

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian, JJ, Cat Eldridge, Martin Morse Wooster, Mike Kennedy, Chip Hitchcock, Chris M. Barkley, Carl Slaughter, SF Concatenation’s Jonathan Cowie, and Andrew Porter for some of these stories. Title credit goes to File 770 contributing editor of the day Anna Nimmhaus.]