Lucy in the Sky

The film is inspired by the true story of Lisa Nowak, a former NASA astronaut who was arrested for attacking the girlfriend (also an astronaut) of another astronaut with whom she’d had an affair.

In the film, the protagonist, played by Natalie Portman, is called Lucy Cola, a highly trained astronaut, who thanks to hard work and evident talent is selected for a ten-day mission on board the ISS (International Space Station).

On returning, however, Lucy feels changed. Everyday life on Earth seems to her empty and useless compared to the experience she lived.

Her husband, who works as PR at NASA, is unable to understand the psychological change she has undergone. And so she, who in the meantime continues to train to be able to participate as soon as possible in another mission, befriends Mark Goodwin (played by Jon Hamm, that one from Mad Men), also an astronaut (divorced and with two young daughters), and two other colleagues, finding in them for the first time people who share the same mood. Mark’s friendship, in particular, leads to an affair, in which however she seems more interested than he is.

I can’t tell you more to avoid any spoilers, as the cinematic story, despite having the same ending as the real one, gives its own interpretation to subsequent events.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the film, and I’m pretty surprised that I only found negative reviews on the web. I believe that this is a beautiful psychological analysis of a character offered to the public by exploiting the potential of cinema. In this regard, the director’s choices are quite original. For example, the choice of continuously changing the aspect ratio of the image to contrast the expanded vision (of the cinema screen) of being in space, or even just of living situations that bring back the thought to that experience, to the 4:3 of TV used to narrate that silly everyday life in which Lucy can no longer find her own dimension.

But what is particularly beautiful is Lucy and the way Portman portrayed her.

I felt a lot of empathy towards her. Although her behaviour in the end was obviously exaggerated (and in any case it does not seem to correspond to the real facts), I could understand the exasperation she felt in feeling alone and betrayed as a woman in a world of men who accuse her of being “too much emotional” (even if in her work she is precise and cold as none of them know how to be), in having lost everything that mattered to her (returning to space and a family person very dear to her).

I believe that anyone who has had great disappointments in life (in the private or professional domain) can understand the state of mind of those who, having reached the apex of something, feel ill-suited to returning to “normality”, as if they feel like an alien trapped in a monotonous and insignificant world.

In short, I loved it.
If psychological dramas with an astronautical background appeal to you, I suggest you watch it.

Angels Flight - Michael Connelly

**** A formidable and very human detective, who however revels in his own misfortunes

Harry Bosch is undoubtedly one of the best literary detectives I have ever come across. Since the first book of this series, “The Black Echo”, I immediately found myself in tune with him, with his tearing apart the rules to find the culprit, with his weaknesses and his sad past. What makes these novels by Connelly real crime thrillers is the way in which the protagonist is personally involved in the cases he works in, so much so that the cases themselves are a tool of conflict that contributes to the evolution of the character. The problem arises, however, when the series gets longer and, in order to continue to have a protagonist who takes some personal demons with him (i.e. a flawed hero), every time that in a novel his life seems to take a positive turn, in the next one, what he got has to fall apart.

It was what I feared would happen in “Angels Flight”, which is why after I finished reading “Trunk Music”, featuring a happy ending, I hesitated for years before going on. Unfortunately, I had already bought the book; otherwise, I would have stopped at the previous one.

Obviously, my bad feeling has come true.

In “Angels Flight”, we see Bosch dealing with a murder that took place on the Angels Flight funicular. The victim is a black lawyer who is famous for cases against the police.

As always, Connelly expertly mixes fictional events and characters with real ones, giving us a realistic picture of social tension in Los Angeles in the late 1990s. What I particularly appreciate about this author is precisely the care he puts into detail, a sign of in-depth research work and a remarkable understanding of the subject. In this credible context, our Bosch moves, navigating among the press, colleagues who get in the way, intolerance towards the rules and the people who are under investigations. He does it as always with wit, following the evidence and his own intuition, and also risking his neck.

In this novel in particular, investigations lead him to discover inconvenient and unspeakable truths, which tend to lead him astray. The culprit will eventually turn up. I admit that I had guessed their identity simply by ruling out the others. But here the author adds a master stroke, giving us an unexpected and dramatic ending, and at the same time a perfect one.

What I didn’t like about this book, however, concerns the personal sphere relating to Bosch. As I imagined, the balance and happiness he finally achieved unexpectedly (and perhaps too easily) in the previous book are immediately shattered, and eventually he finds himself back to where he started. His character undergoes an involution whose purpose is to make sure he is the same flawed hero in later novels (which I have no intention of reading).

In particular, I did not appreciate the evanescence of an important character like Eleanor Wish, who in the first book of the series was crucial in defining Bosch in the eyes of readers, but who both in “Hard Music” and “The Spider” looks more like a soulless puppet, whose purpose is to bring him up and then make him fall again (poor Bosch!). It’s a shame, because I liked Eleanor, and she deserved a lot more substance.

Angels Flight at Amazon.

The Prometheus Deception - Robert Ludlum

***** Prophetic

I really like Ludlum’s books, although I realize how the author often reuses the same types of characters (especially the protagonist, who, in the end, is always the same) and the same themes. He has the ability, however, to readjust them to situations, settings, and plots that manage to maintain a certain amount of originality. In particular, I am fascinated by his older works, precisely because they show a present that is very different from the current one and in which a spy’s (or similar figure) life was made a little easier by the fact that technology did not permeate every aspect of reality.

“The Prometheus Deception”, on the other hand, is one of Ludlum’s last books (the penultimate, if I’m not mistaken), in fact, it is from 2000, so while reading it, you find yourself inside a more familiar reality. This is even more true thanks to the author’s ability to imagine invasive privacy technologies that, unfortunately, have largely become reality. The incredible thing is that he wrote about it before the 11/9 attack happened, but at times you get the impression that he had the chance to peek into the future to get inspiration.

To tell the truth, I guess Ludlum didn’t really believe that what happens in his book had a chance to come true. His was obviously a creative endeavour. Often a writer shows extreme scenarios just for the sake of trying to imagine the consequences and to create a conflict where throwing their characters almost in jeopardy, to see how they cope. In doing so, however, he was nothing short of prophetic.

Sure, it’s a long book with a truly complex plot, unfolding through a series of characters’ turnarounds and twists around every corner. On the other hand, the word “deception” in the title gives you a hint about that. You have to be patient and go all the way to be able to put all the threads together. When there are a few pages to go, it really seems all lost for the protagonists, but even then, there will be a nice twist, which will change everything, again.

The Prometheus Deception at Amazon.

New year, new resolutions: 2022

We’ve come to the end of a year again almost without realising it, right?

I must say that this 2021 has been very peculiar for me in various respects. My publishing activity is certainly one of them. At the end of 2020, in fact, I had decided to not write anything new for at least a year, since I had no more pending projects and, above all, I didn’t want to. And it certainly was very easy to follow this up!


I must say that from time to time over the months, even recently, the thought of telling some new story entered my mind, but the idea of going through the writing process and the prolonged commitment that it requires made me run away from such a thought. There were other things I wanted to do, although no less demanding in terms of time spent, but certainly lighter and more pleasant on a mental level (at least for me).
Creating an invented reality is exhilarating, but the unknown factor that must be faced every day in pulling something out of nowhere that is interesting and that works, and that maybe entertains those who read it, can be exhausting and anxiety-inducing. Instead, when it comes to return to what has already been created and defined (so there is no longer that unknown factor) and propose it again in another form that allows it to reach a wider audience, at least in theory, everything becomes more measurable and controllable, and therefore relaxing, despite the hours of work dedicated to it every day.

I’m talking about translations.

If you look at my resolutions for 2021, you will see that they included the translation in English of the two remaining books in the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy.
Well, I did it! And I managed to do it within the schedule I set over the course of the year.
I completed the translation of “Sindrome” (Syndrome) by May and that of “Oltre il limite” (Beyond the Limit) by November. At the moment, the second book of the trilogy, after being edited, is in the hands of my proofreader, while I have just sent the third to my editor.


It was a long job, and I was struggling to see the end of it. And it was made even more difficult by the knowledge that the text I was working on would become a published book in a fairly distant future (more on that later) and, as always, with uncertain results. All long-term commitments require perseverance and discipline, and carrying this out for 12 months (starting December 2020), without having a minimum of short-term gratification, wasn’t easy.
On the other hand, however, the process of transforming my novels from their original form in Italian to that translated into the language spoken in the place where they are set (London), and “hearing” the characters speaking in that same language, was exciting at times.


To do it in the best way, during these 12 months, I only read novels in British English (I have started reading in Italian again a couple of weeks ago), I watched almost exclusively TV series and films in this language; in a nutshell, I tried to create a sort of full immersion for what concerned fiction in general. And I liked it, of course I liked it. If it were up to me, I would spend all my time studying and practicing foreign languages (not just English), because I enjoy it so much. Maybe I prefer to do it without deadlines, but I fear that the latter are essential if you want to translate books!


In short, I achieved two resolutions from those listed a year ago.
Unfortunately, I can’t say I did for the others.


I partially managed not to get stressed out, at least in certain periods, but then I realised that, if I hadn’t at least set deadlines, I wouldn’t have been able to translate the two aforementioned books. And with deadlines, inevitably a bit of stress arrived. However, in the last few months I managed to slow down and this December, despite some unexpected events (including my main PC that made a short stay in assistance), I managed my work in a way closer to the goals that I’d set regarding my personal well-being.

As I said a year ago, it makes no sense for me to concentrate completely, even on an emotional level, on my publishing activity, if in the end it doesn’t make me feel good. And I have every intention of staying true to this principle in 2022 as well. However, I realise that it is a gradual process that requires a certain organisation and the ability to distinguish, among the possible goals I intend to achieve, those that really matter and that have a minimal chance of being achieved, even if a remote one (where there’s a will there’s a way!).
Unfortunately, you cannot do everything. If I had to listen to all the ideas that come up in my head and all the projects that tickle my creativity, I would end up paralysed in the face of the impossibility of pursuing them all. It would take maybe ten lifetimes, if not more, to do it.
On the other hand, putting off indefinitely those few that I really care about, waiting to find the time and the means to dedicate myself to them in the best possible way, means never getting to do that. So, I might as well decide once and for all to program them and start working on them. If at the end of each of them I don’t achieve the desired results, it doesn’t matter. It means that I have tried and then I’ll be ready to devote myself to the next project, with no regrets.


Another purpose that I have only half completed is to continue to write on my blog dedicated to self-publishing on Medium, i.e. Self-Publishing Lab (it’s in Italian). I did it until June, then I started a holiday period that isn’t over yet.
The reason is simple: I didn’t know what to invent anymore.
Obviously I could have written about one of the thousand existing topics on self-publishing that everyone is talking about, but this was not the purpose of the blog. My intention was to create a virtual place in which I could offer a different, original point of view, and useful and applicable suggestions for one’s publishing activity that no one talks about, at least on the Italian market, precisely because they are roads less travelled. But, in order to do this, it’s necessary to experience firsthand what you want to talk about.

The translation of the books in the trilogy, especially of the third (about 120k words), didn’t leave me enough time to further deepen my preparation on publishing marketing, much less to put this in-depth study into practice. I decided to give priority to the completion of the translation, completely putting aside any other promotional activity both on the Italian and foreign markets, except, at least until November, Facebook Ads (which are now paused, too).
Managing multiple things together and taking care of myself at the sale time just wasn’t sustainable.
And for what concerns avoiding stress, I realised that an effective way to do it is stop trying to carry out multiple projects at the same time, risking to do it in an approximate way and dragging them for long periods, and instead try to dedicate myself to one of them at a time, but finishing each one more quickly.

However, the blog won’t be abandoned forever. As soon as I have something else to say, I will add new articles. But I must, first of all, update for the umpteenth time the bookSelf-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” (again, in Italian), of which the blog can be considered a companion, with the news relating to the self-publishing market that have accumulated since last July.
Also, I would like to leverage the blog content in a creative way (i.e. recycle it), so that it can reach more people. I have some ideas on how to do this (including something for the English-speaking market), but I will only talk about them if and when I decide to put them into practice.


In general, however, I believe that I must somehow carry on the didactic aspect related to self-publishing, because it’s evident that there’s a need to learn by those who approach this publishing model. Proof of this is the fact that, despite having paused all the advertisements and, in fact, the same blog on the subject, “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” continues to be purchased spontaneously and, apparently (from the messages I receive), appreciated by those who buy it.
Moreover, I continue to do so with the university workshop that I teach every autumn at the University of Insubria (Laboratory of self-publishing in multimedia systems). Unfortunately, this year too it was taught remotely, but reached a new frequency record, although I have put a tighter limit on registrations than in 2020.
As usual, the students proposed some truly original publishing projects (see picture above). Some of them are really thinking of turning what was just a simulation into a real publishing product, while just recently I learned that a student of mine from last year self-produced his first book and is carrying out very interesting offline promotional activities with excellent local feedback.
I obviously hope that in 2022 I’ll be able to physically return to Varese and teach the workshop to the students in person again. We’ll see.


Then there are two more resolutions not completely fulfilled.


One is about exploring new possibilities to exploit the rights of my books. And to tell the truth I did some research on it, especially with regard to audiobooks. It’s an aspect that I would like to investigate, but I realise that it requires investments, and having to invest money in it implies making a commitment to have an adequate economic return. All this is possible only if there is a very specific publishing and above all promotional project behind it, which I don’t have the time or energy to deal with at the moment.
On the other hand, as regards other types of exploitation of my rights, I postponed any investigation entirely to 2022.


The last resolution was to improve my image on the web.
Last January I changed a bit my Italian blog. Although it isn’t mobile friendly, I have improved its usability on smaller screens by increasing the size of the texts and icons.
Then I found suitable templates for my main (static) site. I really like one in particular. But then I didn’t go on and, as I turned around, the year was already ending!
I’m aware that updating my sites is the first fundamental step to take. If I intend to improve my activity on the web in such a way as to increase the organic traffic on my sites, I have to create a welcoming and functional virtual place, but at the same time I don’t want it to appear the same as a thousand others, at least for those who have the ability to view it on larger screens.


So, summing up, this 2021 didn’t go too badly. And this is even more true if I add that there is another activity to which I have dedicated myself during the year: I have translated into Italian the new book by Richard J. Galloway, “Saranythia Part 3. The secrets of the Margspakr” (which is already available in English).
I completed the first draft in early December and am now editing the text. Some beta readers from my publishing team will work on it in January. And I believe the book will be published in February!


What else have I done this year?

I attended two MOOCs (massive open online courses) on FutureLearn. Few, to tell the truth. But it wasn’t for lack of time or desire. Rather, I think I’ve already attended almost every course that interested me in this platform, so I’m having a hard time finding more. However, there are some still in my wishlist and I’m waiting for them to be re-started. Indeed, one will start in late January.


I had a nice holiday in the La Maddalena Archipelago last July (see picture above), but above all, after 24 months, in November I finally left Sardinia again to go to Turin to see the ATP Finals! (And I was even lucky enough to see a match with Djokovic. The photo below was taken by me.)

I must say that, even if I have always liked tennis, this year, thanks to the presence at high levels of several Italian players (in particular Berrettini and Sinner), I’m really passionate about it. Someone (?) calls me a tennis addict! I think it’s not bad at all as an addiction and I’m glad I have it. What do you think about it?

Moreover, since I was in Turin, I was a bit of a tourist and went to visit some places I hadn’t yet been to in my previous stays, such as the Basilica of Superga, the Royal Museums and the Palace of Venaria, and in particular the Mufant (it’s a science fiction and fantasy museum). Yes, I know, for an Italian science fiction enthusiast it was a serious lack, which I finally remedied (see picture below).

Well, after chatting for a long time about the things I’ve done and the things I haven’t done, it’s time to talk about resolutions for the year that is about to begin.

To tell the truth there is only one, which can undoubtedly be called my primary goal of 2022: complete the preparation of the English version of the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy. And by this I mean:

1) prepare all editions, i.e. ebook, paperback and perhaps also hardback (to be evaluated). I’d also like to produce an audiobook edition, but it’s an investment that requires further thought;

2) study a marketing plan for the launch and promotion over time of the trilogy on the English-speaking market;

3) schedule publication. In 2022 (perhaps in November) I’ll publish at most one, i.e. the new translation of “Il mentore” (The Mentor). The other two will follow approximately three months apart in 2023. The actual timing of publication depends on the previous point (without a marketing plan it makes no sense to publish). Also, I would like to write, and translate, a short prequel (a novella, of which I have already a title and an outline for years) to be used for promotional purposes, but I still don’t know if I have any desire (!) and time to write it, and then translate it. We’ll see.


Everything else, including the things I told you about in this article (and more that I keep to myself for now), will come later.
Hopefully, at the end of 2022 I will draw conclusions again here on the blog.


For now, however, I’ll stop, also because this post has become very long. In fact, I just don’t know how you got to read this far!

As always, I want to thank all of you, my family and all relatives, friends, readers, colleagues, collaborators… am I forgetting someone?
Thank you very much for your appreciation and support.


If you want, let me know what your 2022 resolutions are.
Meanwhile, I wish you all a good ending and, above all, an even better start of the year!

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

Immagine 七七的7 da
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.