Over the weekend, I read a recent posting on Facebook that accused Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich’s Civil War novels as being inaccurate when it came to historical aspects, that his facts were wrong, and making the South a little more sympathetic to slavery than portrayed in the history books. But, the truth of the matter is, that his trilogy (and this is mentioned on the covers of the books, so no could argue this point) is a sort of “alternate” version of the Civil War. Alternate universe versions of history have been a staple in science fiction for eons, and while Gingrich’s work may not be shelved in the sci-fi/fantasy section of bookstores, it is a fictional re-telling of a historical truth.
But the crux of any “alternate” re-telling (and the theory behind it) means major historical events happen in these other universes, its just certain aspects will make them unwind differently. So, the Civil War happens in this universe Gingrich has created, but certain historical events can be adjusted, such as characters motivations and other actions, to fit whatever story he wants to tell. Harry Turtledove has spent the last decade telling alternate histories of major historical events, and no one has criticized him for changing certain facts.
The only argument in this non-story might be that the novels are placed in the standard fiction section instead of the sci-fi/fantasy area. But these days a lot of authors command a certain amount of power and can actually dictate where their books should be placed. A few examples include Anne Rice, who’s vampire novels are shelved not in horror, but fiction. Walter Mosely is shelved in mystery, where he once started out in the African American section. Nicholas Sparks is shelved in fiction as well, though he’s considered a rare breed of a male romance writer (and a lot of women think that’s where he should be shelved, in the romance section).
So now that the long-winded introduction is done, here is the point of the posting. A few months ago, the premium cable channel Starz announced a new show called Da Vinci’s Demons, a series they describe as “a historical fantasy following the ‘untold’ story of the world’s greatest genius during his turbulent youth in Renaissance Florence. Brilliant and passionate, the twenty five-year old da Vinci is an artist, inventor, swordsman, lover, dreamer and idealist who begins to not only see the future, but invent it.” It was announced this week, that British actor Tom Riley had been cast in the lead.
Now history records, with some probability, that Leonardo da Vinci was a homosexual, as he and three others were once charged with sodomy in 1476, when he was 24. The charges were dropped due to lack of evidence, but while he kept his life private (and one would, considering the time period he lived in), he did live with another man, once a pupil, for 30 years starting in 1490. Whether it was a sexual relationship or not -the student was the face of the Mona Lisa apparently- is up for conjecture, as there is no real evidence.
The issue is, will Starz deal with this in their new series? Or, because they are calling this a “historical fantasy,” will they change those presumed facts by saying its a re-imaging, an alternate universe story of Leonardo da Vinci? While I realize this is cable, and Starz is the network that brings the world Spartacus in all its violent, gory, sexual glory, are they willing to deal with a hero of a TV series who is -again- presumed gay?
Series creator David S. Goyer makes no mention of if they’ll deal with this, but he says Riley came into the audition and was able to capture what they were looking for in da Vinci, a “tormented (person), because, as a true visionary and polymath, he was ostracized for his ideas as much as he was celebrated.”