The Dark Circle - Linda Grant

**** The circle of former TB patients

This book by Linda Grant, whom I had already quite appreciated in “Upstairs at the Party”, transports the reader to a British sanatorium in the 1950s where tuberculosis patients were kept, or perhaps the most correct word is segregated. The story takes place at a time when streptomycin had already been discovered, but had not yet arrived in the UK, so the characters live in the hope that they can be cured sooner or later and not end up like all their predecessors.
The story specifically follows two teenage London twins, Lenny and Miriam, who are sent to a sanatorium in Kent by the British National Health System. Here they live with people from a very different social background, but the disease that unites all of them smooths out the differences and allows the creation of very close relationships.
The author uses tones that are sometimes light in telling the stories of the protagonists, but alongside this she describes the painful, cruel and useless treatments, as well as the psychological abuse, to which all patients are subjected. The contrast between the two leaves its mark as you read, as you go from laughter to horror, anger and sadness, and makes you mull over when you close the book.
The characters come out of the pages and their banal daily vicissitudes, in the way they are shown to us by the author, become almost compelling, as well as one is shocked to enter the sick mind of the doctor who is supposed to cure them.
For me it was also an opportunity to learn more about the historical period in relation to the clumsy attempts to treat tuberculosis, before effective and definitive cures were available.
I didn’t put the fifth star on because of the bittersweet ending. Perhaps it was difficult to come up with a better one, given the story, but, as happened with the other book by the author that I read, I had the distinct impression that there was a drop in tension and excessive dragging into the final part of the book.

The Dark Circle on Amazon.

Blue Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson


*** A look into the future, but without a plot

It was really difficult for me to finish reading this book. If I hadn’t purchased the print edition, I probably wouldn’t have gone beyond the first 30-50 pages. Yet I had read the previous ones, “Red Mars” and “Green Mars”, and thought I was prepared.
Well, I was wrong.
“Red Mars” actually had a nice, intriguing storyline, starting with a murder and then taking us back to make up what had happened. It was full of pure scientific speculation in the field of astronautics and the colonisation of Mars. Sure, those parts were long, but they were well balanced with the events narrated, and since I found them interesting, their reading had gone smoothly. Less interesting were those related to psychological topics, which in fact I’m not at all ashamed to say I skipped. However, despite everything, it had a plot that, for better or worse, developed throughout the novel. There was a bit of intrigue, even suspense, which made me want to keep reading to find out what happened next (or what had happened before). Although I did not appreciate the ending, I had no doubts that I had read a novel with all the elements necessary to be defined as such.
With “Green Mars”, things got more difficult. The author focused more on the individual stories, one by one, which tended to end when I began to get attached to the characters. The minor appreciation I had in reading this book led me to delay reading the last of the trilogy for several years. I only started reading it because I already had it and it seemed only right to get to the end of the story.
What I would not have expected was the absence of a real story.
“Blue Mars” is Robinson’s attempt to imagine the future of humanity’s conquest of space, starting from Mars and then going beyond. World building is, in fact, exceptional and represents the reason why I decided to give the book three stars, instead of the two that better reflect my feelings.
Robinson certainly did some huge research to write it. And he shows an immense fantasy. I can only bow to these two aspects.
Moreover, with his beautiful prose, he describes a terraformed Mars that is certainly fascinating.
But he forgot that he was writing a novel, which, as such, needs a plot, in which the characters must have a purpose to achieve, conflicts to deal with and a growth of some kind, and above all that the reader expects a story arc.
But there was none of this.
Each part is narrated from the point of view of a character, but in fact, nothing or at least nothing relevant happens. We continue to move forward in the decades and to pass from one telling to another of political developments and the description of places. Through numerous long pages, full of reports, everything is told and almost nothing is shown. The few real scenes, that is, those in which the characters interact or even speak to each other, add nothing to the narrative, since there really isn’t one. The characters are in fact just a side element.
The reason it took me over four months to read this book is that it bored me terribly.
And, when I was not bored, I felt a sense of sadness for the glimpses of existence (often depressing) of the characters that the author threw there, from time to time, to avoid turning the book into a speculative essay on the future.

Blue Mars on Amazon.

Viruses and self-publishing at . . . a distance

Also in this strange 2020 that has just ended I managed to teach a class titled “Self-publishing laboratory in multimedia systems” for the students of Communication Sciences and Communication Sciences and Techniques of the University of Insubria (Italy) and to participate as speaker at one of the conferences of the cycle “Scienza & Fantascienza” (Science & Science fiction) organised by the same university, only this time I did it at a distance, staying at home in front of my computer screen. It was a different way than usual of dealing with these two commitments, which had both its good and bad sides.

As for the laboratory (from which my Italian book “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” is based), the fact that I didn’t have to go to Varese allowed me to spread it in a longer time span. We had two lessons a week between 12 and 23 October: two on Mondays and two on Fridays. This also allowed the students to have more time to assimilate the concepts and prepare the publication simulation project.
Another non negligible advantage is the fact that having to participate from home has made participation in itself easier. In my case it meant avoiding travelling from Cagliari and the expenses related to my stay in Varese. In the case of students, it allowed more of them to participate, since they too, in their own small way, no longer going from home to university, from one site to another and from one classroom to another, ended up with more time available. And in fact this year I had 24 students who successfully completed the laboratory.

On the other hand, the disadvantage was the lack of live interaction, in person. Throughout the lesson, they and I were both in front of a screen. I was speaking and I could neither see nor hear them, except when they had a question to ask me or I would ask them something. Silence is the worst thing, but even looking at a screen with icons and names gives only the slightest idea of having someone on the other side who sees and hears you.
I missed to be able to see in their faces how they received what I was talking about and to realise if it was necessary to repeat some concepts. I missed hearing their exclamations, the real-time comments and also the laughs, both during my lectures and the exposition of the other students’ projects; all things that make lessons in person a stimulating and satisfying human experience.
Furthermore, while it is true that having to work from home is comfortable and has made me save money and time, I missed spending a week in Varese, the city, the friends I have made over the years (including a feline one), breathing the air of the university environment, even the campus canteen and the restaurant where you always ended up having dinner. These are all things that give me a great sense of satisfaction, but also of professional fulfilment, and which this year I had to do without.

Despite all this, I am very satisfied with how the laboratory went. Also this year the students showed participation and interest, as much I was able to appreciate that from a distance. And they proposed publication projects among the most varied. Once again spanning among many literary genres.
In the second and third photos of this article you can see two of them, an essay and a novel. These are screenshots (appropriately pixellated for privacy reasons) that I saved live during the lesson.
In the bottom right corner you can also see that I’m there, with my sci-fi background!

And then there was the conference, which was held in the afternoon of 14 October, as part of the series of conferences “Scienza & Fantascienza 2020 - Non solo virus. I nemici invisibili (Science & Science Fiction 2020 - Not just viruses. The invisible enemies)” and titled “Portatori di morte... ma anche no: i virus e la vita sulla Terra e oltre la Terra” (Bearers of death ... but also not: viruses and life on Earth and beyond the Earth”). The topic is that of both negative and positive role of viruses in real science and science fiction.
The speakers of the event, organised and moderated by Paolo Musso, were: Sebastiano Fusco (science fiction critic), Antonio Serra (Sergio Bonelli Editore, creator of “Nathan Never”), Silvia Corbetta (Sergio Bonelli Editore, designer of “Nathan Never”), Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli (biologist and science fiction writer), that is me, and Alberto Vianelli (biologist, University of Insubria).

The entire conference is available in the video below (the first photo of this article comes from that video, where you can also admire, for the occasion, my Martian background), which unfortunately is in Italian.
My speech (starts at 1:19:33), in particular, deals with the role of a virus in the plot of “Red Desert. I can’t go into too much detail, as it contains heavy spoilers about the series. I can only tell you that I emphasised how the virus represents an element of conflict in the story. It does not generate a pandemic, but it is both a means of a possible alien invasion (it’s an alien virus) and an element that causes an evolution in infected people. The typically negative role it usually plays in fiction is much less clear here and is characterised by more positive shades.
I can’t say more. You will have to read the books of the series and, in the future, as soon as they are available in English, the remaining ones in the Aurora Saga.

The other interventions were also very interesting, but my favourite was that of Alberto Vianelli, who spoke about viruses from a scientific point of view and, even if we had not agreed in advance, his speech connected perfectly to mine.

But I want to say that, as far as this type of event is concerned, remote participation had some unexpected advantages. Even though we weren’t all sitting next to each other, I had the impression at times that we were really facing each other, perhaps around a table. I didn’t see the audience, except in the form of a list of hundreds of names, so it almost felt like we were having a long and interesting chat with friends, despite the distance between us.

In short, all in all it was a good feeling and an undoubtedly positive experience.
But I hope that in the future we can all go back to being in the same room again, to collect in real time the reactions of the audience, the looks, the smiles, the nodding heads and, let’s face it, even the applause.

New year, new resolutions: 2021

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Of course 2020 was a year out of the ordinary, huh? I imagine that many of you have seen your resolutions become rubble and I must say that it has affected me in part too. I had, in fact, decided to dedicate the year that is ending to promote my books more in events outside the Internet and, instead, every slightest prospect I had has, alas, badly fallen through.
In reality, I have been so busy writing and publishing two books, that perhaps I couldn’t have devoted too much time to live events such as presentations and book fairs, but I certainly would have preferred to have made this choice by myself and not be forced by a global event.

Oh well, all in all, at least from a publishing point of view, my year wasn’t too bad. What really took its toll on me, on a personal and in some cases also professional level, is not having been able to leave Sardinia (it hadn’t happened for at least 20 years), not having attended a concert, having gone to the cinema just five times (undoubtedly another absolute negative record), not having set foot in a theatre, not having been able to cheer my football team at the stadium for so many months (and who knows for how long) and in general having had to do without those experiences of interaction and collective sharing that for a person like me, who normally works at home and usually spends several days in a row without seeing or speaking in person to anyone (even without a lockdown), they are essential for me to feel part of the rest of humanity. Which is no small feat, if you consider that often, for an author, such interactions are the fuel of fantasy. And they are even more so for those like me who love writing about the future with an optimistic look. It was hard not to be influenced by all this matter-of-factly negativity and above all by the sensationalist way in which it was and still is continuously presented to us.
Fortunately, we still have the freedom to turn off the TV and control within the Internet how information reaches us, and above all not to let the information, true or false, control us.

Anyway, in one way or another, this year is now over and I’ve come out with a respectable outcome. In fact, I achieved three of the four objectives I set to myself a year ago. And, in all honesty, I don’t think I could have done better anyway.

Here’s what they are:

- I finished revising and published my first non-fiction book: “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore”. Halfway between an essay and a manual, with its more than 139 thousand words, this book published on 30 May is based on the self-publishing laboratory that I teach at the University of Insubria, but compared to this it is definitely expanded and a way to illustrate self-publishing in Italy and how to become a self-publisher or improve your existing publishing business. Together with this book I inaugurated a blog of the same name on Medium (in Italian), where I address further topics concerning the three phases of a self-publisher: writing, publishing and promotion. Or, better, the three roles: author, publisher and entrepreneur;

- I have finished writing, revised and published the last book in the Aurora Saga: “Nave stellare Aurora” (Starship Aurora). And this is the thing that makes me happiest, since it represents the end of a story that began almost nine years ago, when I tried my hand at the first draft of the first book of “Red Desert”. This novel with its 190,000 words is the longest I have ever written and in fact I have worked on it for almost two years (not counting its plotting while writing the previous ones). I am very satisfied with both the story and the way I narrated it, even though the creation process was very tiring. Indeed, the main reason for my satisfaction is precisely the fact that it’s finally over (the story, but also the series) and I was able to give it to my (Italian) readers. The book came out on 30 November and I’m just now getting the first sensations from those who have read it (eh, yes, it takes a while to read it!);

- I have read a lot of books again this year, most of which are quite long, just the way I like them. Instead, I was quite lacking in terms of reviews, but unfortunately I could not keep up with it, not so much for the number of books read (which I neither know or care about), but precisely because, having published, and in part written, two very long books and tried to carry on a new blog, I have little time left and desire to write more, and above all the concentration necessary to do so, given the particular situation we are experiencing.

And the resolution that I was unable to meet?
Well, the same as last year! I have not finished translating “Sindrome” in English (Syndrome). I barely had time to review the already translated part and do three short translation sessions. And well, it just wasn’t possible. So be it.

What else have I done this year?
Despite the impossibility of travelling outside my homeland (Sardinia), I still taught for the fourth time the “Self-publishing laboratory in multimedia systems” for students of Communication Sciences and Communication Sciences and Techniques of the University of Insubria. In fact, I didn’t go to Varese, but I still taught the laboratory remotely and with the same method I was able to participate as a speaker at a conference on viruses between science and science fiction. I will talk to you about this in an article very soon. If you read Italian, take a look here.

I also followed 7 MOOCs. The most interesting were the space ones: “Space Mission Design and Operations” from EPFL, available on edX, and “Atmospheric Chemistry: Planets and Life Beyond Earth” from the University of Leeds, available on FutureLearn. The first focuses mostly on the physics of space flight and then gives a nice roundup of past and present missions. The second, on the other hand, deals with the relationship between the chemistry of the atmosphere and the possibility of life even beyond Earth; therefore it ranges in the field of astrobiology. 

Then I still tried to make a little holiday, even if I didn’t go too far from home. I spent it on the beautiful Oristano coast, which I took the opportunity to get to know a little better.

I participated in an episode of FantascientifiCast in which Omar Serafini and I had the pleasure of interviewing Giorgia Sinicorni, the Italian actress of the French science fiction TV series “Missions”. I also recorded a second episode of the podcast, dedicated to Wells’s “The War of the Worlds” in its various incarnations, which has yet to be published (Omar?).

Finally, I continued to experiment with Facebook ads to promote my books, encouraged by the results. I have also extended them to my non-fiction book and am starting to take some timid steps to advertise my books in English (the Red Desert series). I intend to continue using them in an economically sustainable way, investing only a percentage portion of what I collect as royalties. This way, if I still have good results, I will be able to increase the advertising effort to bring it also to the books (or retailers) that are currently excluded, while keeping it constant for the books already advertised (or the retailers towards which I already point the ads).

In general, I am very happy with how my books went this year, for which I saw a clear growth compared to 2019 (thanks to the two publications), which was in turn better than 2018. I am particularly pleased that this growth is gradual and largely linked to my actions. This means that I am managing to create a cause and effect relationship between my promotional efforts and the possibility of reaching new readers and it bodes well for me to continue along this path.

And now it’s time for my resolutions for 2021:

1) don’t let my work schedule cause me stress. This is undoubtedly the most important. I believe that it makes no sense to persist in this publishing business, if I do not get both an economic and personal well-being return. For this reason, from now on, and until further notice, deadlines are banned. I will work in advance and will resume setting dates when I have at least one more project ready than the one related to the deadline;

2) continue to carry on the blog on self-publishing on Medium, which, with the current publication rate, consists of writing no more than 26 articles for the whole year (even less, if I consider the holiday periods). At the same time, I want to increase my preparation on the aspects of publishing marketing and those relating to publication and promotion on the English-speaking market (and here there’s a link to the next points);

3) complete the translation of “Syndrome” and make sure that it is properly edited, in order to make this book ready for publication too;

4) begin and possibly also finish the translation of “Oltre il limite” (Beyond the Limit). From here you can understand that my next publishing goal (strictly without deadlines) is to publish the entire Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy in English (for “The Mentor” it will be the publication of a new translation) and to promote it properly on the English-speaking global market;

5) explore new possibilities to exploit the rights of my books. I believe that, with 15 books already published, the time has come to enhance them and focus on getting their stories to a greater number of people;

6) improve my image on the web with a careful use of the new opportunities provided by social networks and bring my communication channels (website, blog, social networks, newsletters, Telegram) back to the centre of my promotional activity, to assist ad efforts.

That’s about it. Although, in reality, it can encompass so many different things and how I will deal with it is still to be seen. I need to take stock of all the knowledge I have on this field, of what I can improve and of what I can acquire. So the next step will be to develop more strategies and try to pursue them, in the hope that this will lead to results, even if these will be completely different from the initial intentions. As already expressed in “Nave stellare Aurora”, what counts is the journey and sometimes this is able to surprise you far beyond your imagination. And never like now, after a year like 2020, do I realize how true this is.

I have not put the writing on the list, if you don’t consider that of the blog articles. I have no plans to write any new books in 2021. This does not exclude that I then decide to write something, but at the moment I have no projects. The fact that I have completed all the projects I had in progress makes me feel satisfied. Now I need to refill my creative well. I will resume writing when I have something new to say.

But is very likely I’ll translate (in Italian).
In fact, I recently got in touch with Richard J. Galloway for the Italian translation of his fourth book, so it means that it will also be published in English and you may soon know what happened to Amantarra and her friends who ended up on a distant planet.

I didn’t even put reading books on the list, because I read those anyway! Putting them as a proposition is a bit like making a promise to brush my teeth or watch movies and TV series. Too easy. Obviously I will read and I intend to read some good books, possibly long ones. And, since I don’t have to write, the fiction books I will read will be chosen solely on the basis of the inspiration of the moment and will be in the language that just happens (among those I speak, of course), without fear of unwanted influences on my writing.


Well, I’d say that’s all for this year-end post of mine too.
As usual, I want to thank you for following me up here. In 2021 (in June) I’m starting my 10th year as a self-publisher and I believe this is the best time to make some important changes to add to the substantial steps I have managed to take during this otherwise worth forgetting 2020.

Heartfelt thanks to all of you, relatives, friends, collaborators, colleagues and readers, who have supported me (and someone also endured me) in 2020!

Now it’s your turn to tell me (here or elsewhere) what your resolutions are for next year.
I wish you a good ending and a fantastic new start!

Cari Mora - Thomas Harris

***** Quick and ruthless

Nobody writes about evil like Thomas Harris, in all its nuances, ranging from fear to fascination. Also for this reason he is my favourite author, despite (or perhaps thanks to the fact that) he isn’t very prolific. Therefore, when I learned that a new book of his was about to come out thirteen years after the previous one, I was looking forward in anticipation of his reading. Obviously, I didn’t buy it as soon as it was published. Like all the books of my favourite authors, I let it mature, I looked around, I read the unflattering reviews that it collected and, with every bad review I came across, I felt it would be a great read. And I wasn’t wrong.
“Cari Mora” is concise. A captivating prose with no frills or unnecessary information. Each word is a precise brush stroke on the protagonists of this story and on the ruthless world in which they move, where nobody is good, but everyone is bad or damaged (or both). Someone more, someone less.
It’s quick. There are no reflections, pauses. Everything happens very quickly. It looks like a story designed to be turned into a film. It would be a great film in the hands of the right screenwriter and the right director.
The title is nothing more than the name of the main character, but the author doesn’t just linger over her. He enters deeply the minds of the supporting characters and in particular of the antagonist. And a shiver runs through your back as you face, even if only for a moment, the thoughts of the latter. But there is no time to mull over it, because the story continues, fast and inexorable.
As in all Harris’s books, you can’t just stop reading. The book calls you during the day, it demands your attention. I’m not a compulsive reading person who forgets everything else to read. Only Harris’s books have this effect on me.
The most exciting part is undoubtedly the ending, in which you feel in serious danger like Cari, but fight for your life, breathless, your heart racing. Here the character expresses itself to the fullest and shows a glimpse of the immense potential it possesses.
If I didn’t know how much Harris is reluctant to write with a certain frequency, I would think that “Cari Mora” has the purpose of presenting this character (and that of the policeman), as the first of a series of books. But perhaps what Harris wants is only to offer us the elements for our imagination to go ahead on its own. Or we must expect a TV series inspired by this novel in the future.
I don’t know. I only know that I hope Harris will write again.

Cari Mora on Amazon.

“Missions”: a bet won for European science fiction

Lately I’m quite interested in European productions for what concerns TV series, so when last autumn I found out that Rai 4 broadcast a French science fiction series set on Mars, I immediately threw myself at it. I admit that I didn’t have very high expectations, since it was evident that it was a production with a limited budget, and instead, I had to change my mind.

Missions” (whose title can be pronounced in both French and English) is a French series created by Ami Cohen, Henri Debeurme and Julien Lacombe and produced by Empreinte Digitale in 2017. So far it includes two seasons, but a third has already been commissioned and is in the pre-production phase. Each season consists of 10 episodes of approximately 20 minutes each.
The cast, mostly French, also includes the Italian actress Giorga Sinicorni, in the role of Alessandra Najac, which is one of the most controversial and therefore most interesting characters in the series. Omar Serafini and I had the pleasure of interviewing her recently on FantascientifiCast (in Italian).

The series follows the ESA mission Ulysses 1, the first manned Mars mission. While the spacecraft is arriving at the red planet, the crew is informed that a NASA mission, Zillion 1, in which nuclear propulsion was used, arrived earlier, but there is no more news from the astronauts, therefore Ulysses 1 has become a rescue mission. In the meantime, a third mission is coming, Zillion 2.

A particular aspect is that both missions are financed by private individuals. That of ESA by William Meyer (Swiss billionaire), who is also part of the crew. That of NASA by Ivan Goldstein (American billionaire) and is carried out by his company called, in fact, Zillion.
I couldn’t help but see in these two characters a sort of “good” and “bad” side of contemporary public figures in the private aerospace sector. Meyer’s character, in particular, with the desire to go personally to the Red Planet immediately reminded me of Elon Musk.

 The series also opens on the story of the Russian cosmonaut Vladamir Komarov, who died during the Soyuz 1 mission in 1967. It’s an original choice, which allows the public to know more about this late space hero.

I can’t say too much about the plot, which is characterised by continuous twists developed throughout the serialisation. In each 20-minute episode, the plot goes on seemingly slowly, then accelerates towards the end and leaves us with a twist.
Fortunately, three episodes were broadcast by Rai 4 in the same day (then made available on Rai Play)!

The story includes a set of elements already seen in Mars and non-Mars science fiction, but the peculiarity lies in the way they are mixed.
Among the original aspects there is the character of Komarov, or rather of something that seems him, which has an important role within the plot. And in this regard, a series of flashbacks allow us to know more about the real Komarov, even if he turns out to be marginal in the story. However, it’s interesting and adds a European touch to the narrative.

The whole series is full of flashbacks, which provide information on the characters. In the second season, in particular, they serve to explain what happened in the past five years after the end of the first.
This alternation of different timelines allows you to discover the story little by little, providing unexpected twists.
It’s a narrative choice that I particularly love, since it is able to surprise the viewer (or the reader), showing them certain information only when it can obtain the maximum effect.

The first season cost 1.5 million euros and was shot in just 27 days. And despite this, the result is truly commendable. But it’s in the second that, against a budget increase of up to 2 million (therefore certainly not stellar), we observe the opening of the story to new possibilities, which are accompanied by more vivid visual effects and the use of a greater number of settings, which make it even more realistic.

There is a strongly mystical element in the story, although a scientific touch is given to it, or an attempt is made. Here I have found disturbing similarities with “Red Desert”, although more in form than in substance. There are connected minds, a biological element, artificial intelligence that rebels, a protagonist who secretly comes out of a Martian base and then gets hurt (and then is saved), people who suddenly die in accidents or in mysterious circumstances, people who lose it and kill, affairs among the character. But there’s also something else that has nothing to do with my Martian series, for example, portals that remind me of Stargate and other supertechnologies of unknown origin (at least so far).

Despite the small budget, the visual quality is very good. There are some simplifications, both scientific and with regard to some technical aspects (such as the space suits, which are obviously not pressurised), but this does not negatively affect the result, since we are totally taken by the events occurring to the characters, that the details have very little importance. The direction, photography and editing are very well done, and the never cumbersome music underlines the story effectively. The whole is characterised by a certain sense of reality. One has the impression of dealing with a very near real future.

I’ve read, on social networks and in articles on other blogs and magazines, some negative opinions on dialogues, but I don’t agree. We are too accustomed to Anglophone products and this is, instead, a French product. And you can also see it in the dialogues. Indeed, the excellent work of adaptation and dubbing, at least in my language (Italian), manages to blur any “theatrical” excesses and also makes this aspect suitable for everything else.
Maybe Giorgia Sinicorni’s self-dubbing (in Italian) tends to stand out a bit in the set of voices, but it’s something inevitable, since she isn’t a voice actress and at the same time the Italian voice actors are so good that they would make anyone make a bad impression. In any case, this small detail tends to disappear in the second season, partly because there has certainly been an improvement in Sinicorni’s voice performance and partly because we have got used to her voice, thanks also to the fact that the character has a larger role in the story. And, let’s face it, being the only Italian character in the series, it makes sense that she “sounds” different from the others.
However, to appreciate the performance of Sinicorni, I recommend watching her show reel, in which there are two clips of scenes from this series: one in French and one in English.
Perhaps it would be worthwhile to watch again the two seasons in the original language, as soon as Rai Play will make them available again (in Italy), which will surely happen with the release of the third. In the meantime, the French version of the first season is available on DVD and Blu-ray on Amazon.
Below, however, you can watch the trailer.

Although that of “Missions” is a story in which the aspect that goes beyond science has a role of some importance, I found myself comparing it to the drama portion of the docudrama “Mars” by National Geographic. The direction it takes is completely different, because there are different purposes, but concerning general quality, making the due proportions of budget, I believe that “Missions” has nothing to envy to the American series.
Also, I think it looks a lot like (and maybe has been influenced by) “Defying Gravity”, an American series from 2009, cancelled after the first season, in which the same elements are mixed (relationships between the characters, a mystery that goes beyond science, space exploration in the near future) and the same techniques (flashbacks), but obviously with a different budget. I admit, too, that I was inspired by it when I conceived the plot of “Red Desert”. It’s in a certain sense the same type of science fiction, which, starting from distinctly hard elements, mixes them with something softer, not well defined, capable of stimulating the spectator’s imagination.

In conclusion, I really appreciated the imaginative effort of this series, supported by an excellent script, with a fast pace and capable of continuously giving rise to new questions. If I’d had both seasons available since the beginning, I would have seen them in two or three days, so much was my curiosity at the end of each episode.
In any case, all this, together with a good cast and a very well-finished visual component, in my opinion, makes “Missions” a bet won in the context of European science fiction.

Immortal - Dean Crawford

** Deceived by an inappropriate comparison with Crichton

This is a classic example of how bad marketing choices can harm a book. On the cover is in fact written “Michael Crichton for the next generation” referring to the author of the book. Well, Crawford has nothing to do with Crichton, nothing at all. Anyone like me who has bought his book expecting a techno-thriller focused on a scientific topic and supported by careful research is bound to be disappointed.
The only vaguely scientific thing there is the basic idea, i.e. that some bacterium is able to prolong human life. But there’s no more than this.
The only positive elements of this book, as far as I am concerned, are precisely the basic idea, but it wasn’t developed from the scientific point of view, some nice jokes of the characters, even if at a certain point they are too many, and some twists, that would have been interesting if I hadn’t stopped reading a thousand times, since the story just couldn’t appeal me.
But it’s not the fault of the book itself. The point is, it wasn’t the book I wanted to read.
This is the classic commercial action thriller (nothing bad in itself, but, again, it is not for me) with the usual stereotyped characters: the old super rich villain (for no particular reason) on one side, the infallible hero on the other, with a joke always ready and that, despite meeting the worst possible situations, doesn’t get even a scratch, and a partner who is the usual cliché of a strong and irascible woman with whom the hero has a relationship that seems to transcend friendship, but never goes further.
They are elements that, with the mere replacement of the bad guy, allow you to create a theoretically infinite series of this type of thrillers, readable in any order and in which the main characters, being completely two-dimensional, do not undergo any growth.
I repeat, I have nothing against this type of books, apart from the fact that I prefer to read something different, but the point is that they have absolutely nothing to do with Crichton. Since the publisher tricked me into buying by deception, the negative review is a must.
I am sorry for the author, because it is evident that he can do his job very well.

Immortal on Amazon.

The Moon and self-publishing in Varese

In 2019, during which the fiftieth anniversary of the first landing on the Moon was celebrated, I returned to Varese to teach, for the third time, my “Self-publishing laboratory in multimedia systems” for students in Communication Sciences and Communication Sciences and Techniques at the University of Insubria. And in conjunction with this course, I spoke at a conference, together with three other speakers, dedicated to the day of the landing of Armstrong and Aldrin on the Sea of Tranquillity, which took place on 20 July 1969.

Compared to previous years, first of all I managed to go to Varese in October, for the first time not just before the end of the semester, which also had a good impact on the students, who were able to attend the course in a much more relaxed way. In addition, I managed to combine everything (course and conference) within one week.
This full immersion was, as far as I’m concerned, very satisfying. I had less time to be a tourist (to be honest, I didn’t have any at all), but on the other hand I was able to create a productive routine, without interruptions, of five days in a row. Furthermore, I saw the same positive effect on the students, who at the end of the course presented, as always, some very interesting projects and who showed that they liked the topic of the lessons and the way it was taught.
In fact, I should say female students, since for the first time ever they were all women!
This surprised me a bit. In past years, men had been at least one third, although the female presence had always been predominant (as it is within the two graduation courses), but this time there wasn’t even one.

As I said, in five days I taught the four lessons and gave my lecture at the conference. The latter, entitled “The day of the Moon”, took place on Wednesday 16 October 2019, just in the middle of that week. Together with me were the journalist Fabio Pagan, Piero Benvenuti (former Italian Space Agency commissioner and former general secretary of the AIU) and, in connection from Paris, the astronaut Franco Malerba (the first Italian astronaut in space!).
The event, organised by Paolo Musso as part of a series of meetings titled Science and Science Fiction 2019, was welcomed by a very large student audience (over 300), partly gathered in one of the largest classrooms in the Monte Generoso pavilion at the Campus Bizzozero in Varese and partly connected in teleconference from Como. As usual, it was recorded and is now available at this link (in Italian).

In about three and a half hours, we had the opportunity to retrace the endeavour of Apollo 11, thanks to the words and images offered by the great Fabio Pagan, who managed to take us 50 years in the past and let us experience the emotions of that time.
Well, in my case, not really, since I wasn’t born yet! But it vividly reminded me of what I felt in the summer of 1989, for the twentieth anniversary, when as a teenager (I was 14 years old) I watched a television special on Rai Uno with the original videos of the landing. I remember that at the time I had felt transported to the Moon together with Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins. My imagination, which had already been made into fertile ground by watching various science fiction films, was stimulated, so much so that I think that from that moment on I changed the way I look at our natural satellite. Perhaps it was from there that my passion for space began to emerge, from a scientific point of view too, which then would have brought me closer to Mars and ultimately to imagine stories set in the future.
The Moon, in my mind, is the symbol of space that we can all see and which at the same time is unreachable for the common person. Not surprisingly, when we desire something impossible, it is said that we want the Moon. Yet we went to the Moon; 12 men walked on it. It is therefore the unreachable that becomes reachable, the impossible that becomes possible.

The other significant part of the conference was the very interesting speech by Franco Malerba who spoke to the audience about what awaits us in the future of space exploration, while Piero Benvenuti and I were asked to have our say on both topics.
In the photos, from above, you can see: Piero Benvenuti and me, Fabio Pagan, me again during my speech and Franco Malerba in connection from Paris. All the photos of the event are available at this link (thanks to Luigi Labate for the photographic support!).

As far as I’m concerned, I wanted to combine the scientific topic with the science fiction one, talking about three relatively recent science fiction novels that have precisely the Moon as one of the main settings.
I started with “Limit” by Frank Schätzing, originally published more than ten years ago, which shows a slightly too optimistic technological advance, being set in this new decade, which however manages to make the reader dream, literally by bringing him to the lunar soil, in hostile, lethal and for this reason mysterious and fascinating places (you can read my review of “Limit” here).

If you think about it for a moment, unlike what happens with Mars, which visually reminds us of Earth (it seems you are looking at photos of an Earth desert), in front of the images from the Moon there is no doubt in our mind that there we are looking at an alien context, in the meaning of non-terrestrial. Think about it: its white/grey ground, the always black sky, whose contrast with the blinding white prevents you from seeing the stars, Earth that seems close but very distant (almost 400 thousand kilometres!), the clear shadows, the days that last 14 Earth days and so the nights, the huge temperature fluctuations, the craters at its poles with the edges so high that they are almost always illuminated by the Sun, while their bottom has not been reached by any light for 4 billion years.
Can you imagine a more terrifying place to be alone?

The second book I mentioned is, of course, “Artemis” by Andy Weir (here you can read my review), published in 2017, which found itself more or less casually (we will never know) to share its name with NASA’s new lunar program.
This novel is also essentially a thriller, but in a very accurate sci-fi context, that of a city on the Moon: a huge pressurised housing structure in which a lot of people live, not all with the best of intentions. Although the vicissitudes of the protagonist are all in all very terrestrial (in terms of motivations), they are however narrated in a much more rigid and dangerous environment than Earth, where a person’s mistake can really kill everybody.

Finally I talked about “Red Moon” by Kim Stanley Robinson (here is my review), published in 2018, which narrates about a Moon divided between Chinese and Americans, focusing however on a Chinese point of view. The socio-political aspect here is more important, but there is also some breathtaking landscape, such as the view of Earth rising in the libration areas (those areas of the Moon that are turned towards our planet only for short periods during the lunar month). Well, imagine being there and seeing Earth popping up from the horizon, very slowly.
It seems incredible, but one day someone will be able to admire that view!
An interesting thing about Robinson’s book is that it narrates about a future in which humans have created bases on the ever-lit edges of the craters at the poles of the Moon (Peaks of Eternal Light), just as NASA plans to do. Except that for the author it will be China the country to grab the South Pole, more suitable for this purpose, which instead is the actual goal of the Americans.
Who knows how it will end in reality?

If you remember, I myself in “Red Desert” imagined a NASA outpost in Shackleton Crater (South Pole), calling it Armstrong Lunar Base. Furthermore, although I have never written (at least so far) a book entirely set on the Moon, I let myself be taken by the old fascination for our satellite and I put some lunar adventures in two other books. One is “Ophir. Codice vivente” (Ophir. Living code; only available in Italian so far). The other is “Nave stellare Aurora” (Starship Aurora), which I am currently writing, and the second part of it, which I had finished writing a few days before leaving for Varese, takes place exactly on the Moon.
I must say that in a sense I still felt there.

And this is the effect that I think ordinary people feel when talking about space travel. We feel a bit part of it. We are fascinated by the mystery, by the ability to reach something so far thanks to science. Even if what we want to achieve is far in space, but also in time (due to travel times), observing what space research has done so far makes us believe that any obstacle that exists between us, as humanity, and that space objective may sooner or later be overtaken.
In this regard, I urged the attending students of Communication Sciences (most from the first year) to understand the importance of being able to communicate space sciences effectively. Those of them who will work in this field of communication will have a fundamental role in inspiring people and in ensuring that a common desire, involving people at all levels, develops and spreads, to carry out this kind of research, even if a part of its outcomes will be enjoyed only by future generations.
I think that everything related to space sciences can only inspire us to do more and more for the development and well-being of humanity. On the other hand, if we were able to send two probes to the border of the Solar System and beyond (the two Voyager probes), who can stop us?

Going back to the course, I must say that I am very happy with the participation shown by the students. They attended it with interest, asked pertinent questions and then proposed extremely interesting projects, from a graphic novel to a historical fantasy (the cover of which can be seen in the last image), from stories taken from reality to a thriller about Lady D (really!), going through a romance novel: a collection of publishing proposals for all tastes and with a considerable dose of originality.

As I have already mentioned to them, I am working on a book that follows and expands the topics of the course. It will be titled “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” (only available in Italian, as it’s referred to the Italian market). It is a huge volume of over 129 thousand words, in which I try to explain self-publishing to those interested in this publishing model, whether they want to try it in person or not. I think it will be useful both for those who do not know where to start and for those who need to reorganise and expand their knowledge so that they can try to put it into practice. It is also my first experience with a non-fiction work and I admit that I really enjoyed writing it.
The book is currently under revision and will be published by the first half of 2020.

Midaq Alley - Naguib Mahfouz

***** Irony, drama and chatter towards oblivion

This is the second time that I run into the wonderful pen of Mahfouz. The first time was with a collection of historical novels set in ancient Egypt. This time, through this short work, the author narrates about an almost contemporary Egypt. “Midaq Alley” was in fact written in 1947 and tells the story of the inhabitants of an alley in Cairo towards the end of the Second World War. However, this is not a realistic representation of the life in an alley in his city, but a splendid attempt to recount the thousand facets of humanity through its inhabitants.
In fact, in the Midaq Alley, people of the lower and middle classes live side by side, and for some reason others belonging to higher classes end up running into them. Each character represents a type of individual: the virtuous, the proud, the corrupt, the greedy and so on. This is not a slice of real life in the classical sense of the term. The author doesn’t want to create realistic characters, but uses them to show the reality of human nature, in its strengths and miseries, making each of them an example brought to excess.
All this happens through a series of episodes that oscillate between irony and drama, in which the characters go one by one to meet their fate, while the alley continues to be always the same. The clamour for every event, even the most tragic, is lost in a short time among the ceremonious chatter of its inhabitants until it falls forever into oblivion.

Midaq Alley on Amazon.

New year, new resolutions: 2020

Isn’t it a bit strange for you too to see this year that is about to start made by two identical numbers? In the 2010s we reached the imagined future of science fiction films such as “Back to the Future” and “Blade Runner”, but in the next few days the 2020s will begin and I can’t help but think that there are no more excuses: the future is now. This means that I have to roll up my sleeves and make the things I care about happen. This is especially true of my publishing activity.
2019 was the first year since 2012 that I didn’t publish any books, but at the same time it was one of my most productive years. In fact, I wrote over 220 thousand words divided into two projects, which will see the light in 2020, and I continued a third that will develop immediately after and throughout 2021. To all this new ideas and prospects are added, which are still in the planning stage.

But, as always, let’s see first of all what resolutions for 2019 I managed to keep. Again this time they are three out of four, but I haven’t totally put aside the missing one, unlike what had happened in the previous year.
Here they are:
- I completed the first draft of “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore”. In fact, I’m already well on track with the editing process. Although I have just found out that I need to add a new short section (since just ten days ago Amazon Advertising was made available in Italy and I can’t help but include information about it in the book), the book will be published in the first half of the new year (probably in April);
- I started the first draft of “Nave stellare Aurora” (Starship Aurora) and am well over half of it, since I have reached the third part out of the four planned. I started it just this month with the writing of chapter 10 of the book and I will continue immediately after the holidays, and I am quite in line with my schedule;
- I have read many beautiful books, some unexpectedly. This year I have taken up an old practice, namely that of reading several books at the same time. There were times when they were even six! This allowed me to carry out readings that otherwise I would have abandoned, since I hadn’t feel immediately involved at the beginning of the story. And in doing so I discovered beautiful stories. In addition, I have also continued to read non-fiction books constantly, the content of which is already coming in handy. Finally, the parallel reading of several books allowed me to keep Italian and English trained at the same time, without one language having an excessive effect on the mastery of the other. It’s always difficult to make sure that my writing in Italian is not adversely affected by my constant use of English and, conversely, that the English translation of my books is able to proceed without suffering the interference of my native language. However, I believe that this year there was a further improvement in my ability to profitably use these inevitable forays of one language into another, both to enrich my writing and to reach a more natural use of English during the translation process, and at the same time it’s becoming more immediate for me to switch from one to the other, while keeping them as separate as possible in my mind.

And then there is the purpose that I have not been able to bring to the end, namely to complete the English translation of “Syndrome”. I have to say that for long periods, especially in spring, I have been constant, although translating into English is a much slower operation than writing and obviously translating into Italian. Then, however, the other two projects I was following, the first draft of “Nave stellare Aurora” and that of “Self-publishing lab”, to which the revision of the latter was added, took away all my time, forcing me to stop working on “Syndrome” at just approximately 18 thousand words, against the expected 84 thousand ones.
I’m definitely behind with this project and, at least until April, I will continue to have little time for it, but then things will change.

What else did I do in 2019?
To begin with, I once again taught my “Self-publishing laboratory in multimedia systems” at the University of Insubria, in Varese, to which a conference on the Moon landing (together with Fabio Pagan, Piero Benvenuti and astronaut Franco Malerba) was added. I’ll speak about this extensively in one of the next articles in this blog. In the meantime you can watch the two videos of the conference “Il giorno della Luna” (in Italian), by clicking here.

Furthermore, I attended four MOOCs , the last of which I finished just a few days ago, passing the final test with full marks (how nerd I am!). Probably the most interesting of these four was “In the Night Sky: Orion”, which starting from the constellation of Orion, takes students on a space journey between stars, black holes and galaxies. But I also want to suggest “Mindshift: Break Through Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential”(the one I just finished), which taught me a lot of interesting things, including the scientific reason (I didn’t even know it existed) why men are statistically more attracted by scientific subjects compared to women, although there is no difference in the predisposition to them due to gender. The reason is related to the lesser tendency to verbal activity of men, caused by hormonal differences. And, after all, it did not surprise me at all, since it’s known to anyone that we women speak much more! But now I know that there is a scientific explanation that has implications for other areas as well.
It’s clear that on this topic (but also on other treated in the course) I feel a bit of a statistical anomaly, even if, on second thought, I love science, I have always found it extremely stimulating to work in the scientific field and to study and understand the science behind everything around me, but I realise that talking or writing about science (even that of fiction) is completely natural to me (coincidentally, what did I find myself doing?). And, when something is easy for you to do, it tends inexorably to attract you.
If I have intrigued you, take a look at the videos of the course. It’s free.

Going back to my 2019, what else did I do?
I travelled a little. In addition to having granted myself two short forays in Milan complete with a rock concert (Tears For Fears and Def Leppard), I had two real holidays, including a cruise. Moreover, I attended an interesting conference organised by the Italian Space Agency here in Cagliari (Sardinia: A Gateway to Space) and I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Sardinia Radio Telescope. And above all I forced myself so have total breaks of 2-3 days immediately after every 4-5 of continuous work (each of which always includes over 12 hours of work).

Furthermore, I continued to carry out the advertising campaigns on Facebook for my books, also extending it to thrillers (I had started with the Aurora Saga). I have had good results for most of the year and now, after a break during the Christmastime, starting from 1 January I’m going activate a new campaign and we will see how it goes.

Finally, as I said above, I have always dedicated (and intend to continue to do so) a part of my time to reading and learning new things related to various marketing activities to be applied to the promotion of my books. And I will use what I learned shortly as I wait for the release of “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore”. I’m in fact preparing a publication dedicated to it at Medium (in Italian), which I’m going to launch shortly, separated from this one, in which I speak more generally about myself and my work. It will probably be a short-term project, but it will allow me to test some promotional strategies, in view of the publication in English of the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy.

And now we come to the resolutions for 2020:
1) finishing with the editing of and publishing “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” and see how it goes, also thanks to the use of the aforementioned publication. This is my first non-fiction experience and I don’t know exactly what to expect in terms of response from my target audience, who are my self-published colleagues, but also anyone interested in this publishing format. It is difficult to make predictions, because there are not many products of this kind in the Italian market (not as many as those in the English-speaking market). Whether or not it is an isolated experience will depend on the results I have.
2) completing the writing, editing, and publishing “Nave stellare Aurora” on 30 November. This will be the most demanding project, since I have just passed the half of it (which consists of over 105 thousand words). I had speculated that a 160,000 word novel would come out, but I’m afraid it will be longer;
3) completing the translation of “Syndrome” into English, this time for real. The delay in this project necessarily moves forward my intention to start publishing the trilogy in English by the end of 2020, but only by a few months;
4) as always reading many beautiful books and above all continuing to ensure that a part of them allows me to improve my knowledge and skills related to my work.

For 2020 there are then some hopes.

I hope to repeat my autumn experience at the University of Insubria. I would also like to participate in other events that allow me to promote my books and there may already be possibilities in this regard.
I would also like to schedule the publication of the English edition of the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy. Linked to this is the idea of writing a short prequel in Italian, which should then be translated, to be used as a promotional tool in both markets. A ready-made outline and title already exists for this prequel: “Evidence”.

Finally, I want to take advantage of what remains of this eighth year of my self-publishing activity and the beginning of the ninth one, in which I will finally close the Aurora Saga, to decide which direction to take in relation to what will be my future projects, finding the right balance between the two genres in which I am writing, science fiction and thriller, to which non-fiction is now being added, and my desire to make more of my books available in English, in order to increase my earning potential.

Although there is so much more in my head, that’s all for now.
As always I take the opportunity of the arrival of a new year to express all my thanks to the people who support me, whether they are friends, family, collaborators or readers.
Many thanks to all of you.

And now it’s your turn to tell me about your resolutions for the next year.
Meanwhile I wish you a good end of 2019 and above all an even better 2020!