Park Lane - Frances Osborne

*** Great premises, but plot full of flaws highlighted by the ending

I loved this book until before the last chapter, then everything collapsed. I was captured by the London setting just before the First World War, during and after it. The historical reconstruction is so accurate that it brings that period back to life in the mind of the reader.
I found particularly interesting the way in which people’s mentality is represented, above all the way in which women tended to feel insecure, inferior, for the simple fact of being women, aggravated in the case of one of the two protagonists (Grace) by her social class.
Although Beatrice (the other main character) has become part of the suffragettes, she lacks the self-confidence expected in a “revolutionary”. She feels continually out of place, gripped by the fear that drives her to desire to escape so that she can return to the tranquillity of her tedious life as a rich young woman, but at the same time she does not escape, for fear of that tranquillity, which makes her feel useless. What moves her is not idealism, but the search for the emotion that lacks her everyday life. She is very far from the strong woman who is the typical heroine in the novels and this makes her somewhat realistic.
But what glued me to the pages of the book is the unexpected way in which the characters find themselves interacting in the story. The curiosity to find out what would happen next pushed me to read one chapter after another.
And during this reading there were more than a few things that bothered me, but that I put aside, looking forward to the discovery of the next event.
Among these is the character of Grace, so submissive that I had trouble imagining her as an adult. I always thought to see a timid, weak girl.
Another element of annoyance is due to the numerous coincidences. It’s fine that there’s a coincidence in a story. It’s fiction. But when they start to be two, they become less credible.
The same applies for the tragic events, linked to elements of pure bad luck, which seem a kind of stretch to bring the story to a certain direction. Which would also be fine if the result were satisfactory.
Another stretched element is added to this: the characters make important decisions that will have consequences on their lives in a moment, because of the whim of the moment or a misunderstanding that in reality would be easily clarified. This makes them completely unrealistic.
You could even overlook this, if the story ended in a way that gives meaning to everything and satisfies the reader.
But it isn’t like that.
The coincidences that emerge in the eyes of the reader slowly throughout the book are revealed to Beatrice in a moment, in the last scene. The very fact that she gets to understand everything from a few elements is in contrast with the total lack of insightfulness shown during the novel, the one that has made her a victim of huge misunderstandings. To be honest, I do not think even a person who was very perceptive could have come to the same conclusions on their own in a second without even asking a question.
That whole scene is unlikely to say the least and brought down that suspension of disbelief which I had clung to until then in order to give a positive judgment to the book, to whose reading I would return with trepidation every night.
Then the coup de grace was the fact that the book ended there, without showing anything of the consequences of that revelation, as if it were a cliffhanger, but which was not followed by another chapter or a sequel to the novel . It would’ve taken very little to transform it into an open ending, able to leave the reader at least the choice to imagine for themselves what would have happened later. And yet it wasn’t so.
In an instant, faced with that sudden and insipid ending, everything was shattered and the flaws of the book became clear to me. The worst of all is the lack of true inner growth of the characters, who remain crystallised in their flaws, without giving any real meaning to their existence within the story.
Yes, because in the end you find yourself wondering: what is this story about? What does it really want to tell?
The characters look like puppets used only to show a historical period, without playing their main role: being the reason why a story is told.

Park Lane on Amazon.

Mars and self-publishing in Varese

I returned to Varese after two years and this time I stayed there for eight days, in which I immersed myself in university life and in this beautiful Lombard city a few steps away from Switzerland. I must say that the weather has favoured me. Living in Cagliari (Sardinia), I was worried about having to fight bad weather and cold. Instead, I enjoyed mostly beautiful sunny days, which served as the setting for the conference titled “Mars: when will we go there and what will we find? ” on 5 December 2018  in the main hall of the University of Insubria and the “Self-publishing workshop in multimedia systems” between 6-11 December and addressed to the students of the same university enrolled in the courses in Communication Sciences and Communication Sciences and Techniques.

The conference on Mars was a very special event for me. I found myself sharing the table with two scientists like Roberto Orosei and Enrico Flamini of whom I had only heard so far in the news spread by ASI, INAF and the media on the web. Although it was the first time that we met in person and we had only had the opportunity to exchange information on our individual parts of the speech by e-mail, we managed to put together a smooth speech in which the individual topics treated by each of us were perfectly interlocked with each other, with different precise references that almost made think of a particular preparation, which in reality there was not!
It is really exciting to be talking to a large and interested audience about a subject that you care about with people who have the same interest and with whom you share the same scientific and science fiction references.
In my part of the conference, in addition to introducing some general notions about Mars, I have highlighted how who works in space exploration and who writes hard science fiction on the same themes are all part of the same virtuous circle. The work of scientists like Orosei and Flamini inspires authors like me to write stories that describe a plausible science and technology. In turn, stories like mine intrigue readers towards the work of those same scientists. And the interest of the public is the first engine that allows those who make science to have the necessary funding to carry out their research.

As a former scientist (I worked in university research in the past) I cannot but be happy to provide, in my small way, a contribution with my stories towards a greater public awareness of the importance of space exploration, especially in a country like Italy, which is a true world power in this area, yet this excellence is not known to most of the local population.
By putting together my fascination for the Red Planet, and in general for space, my skills in the biological field, as well as my teaching soul, I found myself writing a kind of science fiction in which I describe a realistic science, even though with some licences, by making sure that my books offer both entertainment and dissemination of science knowledge.
In particular, my intent is to show stories through the characters, through their thoughts and their senses, so that the reader can identify with them and experience on their skin what it means to live on Mars and explore it. Through Anna Persson and the other protagonists of “Red Desert” and the Aurora Saga, the reader meets the signs of the ancient passage of water, dust storms and devils, marsquakes, impact glass in a crater, blue aurora, huge barchan dunes and even the underground water of Mars, the same water whose existence was proved for the first time by the team of scientists headed by Roberto Orosei and including Enrico Flamini.

Finally, after sharing with the public my sources of inspiration (Robert Zubrin’s books “First Landing” and “The Case for Mars”) and some information on other contemporary hard science fiction authors who dealt with Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson with his Mars Trilogy and Andy Weir with “The Martian”), I left the floor to the above-mentioned speakers.
Enrico Flamini offered an overview on the past and current exploration of Mars, while Roberto Orosei reported the details of the discovery made in July 2018 with the MARSIS instrument which is on board ESA’s Mars Express orbiter: a subglacial lake of liquid water near the South Martian pole.

It seems that what I and many other science fiction writers believed to be a plausible assumption, namely that there was water trapped under the surface of Mars, is now confirmed.

In the last part of the conference a possible timeline of the future exploration was traced, up to imagine the arrival of the first humans on the Red Planet. In this regard, I found it amusing that Roberto Orosei showed precisely the imaginative timeline described in the film “The Martian”, the one based on the book that I spoke about in my own speech.
I swear we did not even discuss this detail!

Finally the round of questions arrived and perhaps the most interesting of all was the last one proposed by Paolo Musso, organiser and moderator of the event, who asked each of us if we were optimistic about the human landing on Mars in a very close future. And even here, without any particular agreement, we went from a certain pessimism of Orosei to a moderate optimism of Flamini to my full optimism, supported by the fact that the awareness and enthusiasm of the public towards space exploration is increasing more and more, thanks to the ease with which nowadays each of us has complete access to all information. I believe that the more we commit ourselves to make the common man understand the importance of this field of science and the more they will be involved in its development, even more the will in aiming on it will develop, also from an economic point of view. If this happens, and we are on our way, we will get to Mars very soon.

Starting on December 6, instead, I taught my self-publishing class for the second time. The characteristics of the course have not changed (I mentioned about it in 2016), but I think this time, compared to the previous one, there was even greater interest from the students, who proved to be very active during the lectures and asked me many questions, sometimes even anticipating topics that I would have dealt with a bit later.
It was nice to be able to teach these students what being a self-publisher really means, i.e. becoming part in a professional way of the publishing market as a real publisher who differs from the traditional ones only because the former is also the author of the books they publish.

Then there was the day of the presentation of the projects by the students, and it was really fun. It ranged from a strategy book for “Risk” to a fantasy novel, from an essay on the machines of Agostino Ramelli to a paranormal romance trilogy and so on, without interruption. The students got to the bottom of their fantasy, accompanying the presentations with images, editorial and promotional plans and in one case even a sort of soundtrack.
In the end we all wondered: but when will the book be published?
What a shame that it was only a simulation, but luckily some of those projects are real and maybe in the near future we will hear about their authors.

I’d like to conclude this brief report, which just manages to scratch the surface of everything that was done and said during those eight days, by thanking once again all the people who made possible both the conference and the course, but also in general my pleasant stay in Varese, in particular Paolo Musso and Alberto Vianelli, Roberto Orosei and Enrico Flamini, and obviously all the students of the self-publishing course and those of Professor Musso’s course with whom I had the pleasure to talk.

The Midwich Cuckoos - John Wyndham

***** Dangerous children

John Wyndham is one of those authors who in their career have explored a genre, in this case science fiction, in every possible direction and each time have created unique and unpredictable stories, through which they took the opportunity to develop interesting food for thought.
This time, Wyndham deals with the theme of alien invasion, without ever mentioning aliens, but only talking about something that like the cuckoos put their “eggs” in the “nests” of humans and from them children were born, or rather Children, with extraordinary and worrying qualities. This is accompanied by a reflection on the interaction between two species that are competing for the same territory and of which only one is destined to dominate.
A veil of uneasiness covers every page of the novel, without ever reaching excessive drama. Between long conversations characterised by British calmness and the attempt to give the whole situation a logical explanation, in the faint hope that this leads to a resolution, and watered by an excellent tea, the protagonists welcome us to Midwich, where, following a day in which the inhabitants have lost their senses (the so-called Dayout), all the women have become pregnant. Over time the Children will reveal to be something else, despite their human appearance, until they become a threat, in a crescendo of tension.
The expected resolution, given that the book was ending, but at the same time both unexpected, because of the sudden way in which it occurs, and almost obvious, takes you aback and satisfy you.
An interesting element, which I noticed in other works of his, is the role of chance. The narrating voice is found by chance outside the village with his wife on the day of the Dayout and therefore he is spared a direct involvement. Nevertheless, he closely follows the story and finds himself back in Midwich just when it is resolved. In all this we deliberately see the hand of the author who, in my opinion, with great fun, builds a perfect plot, in which every detail has a specific purpose, which, while generating disquiet, also gives a sense of security that suggests that somehow everything will be fine. And it is precisely the curiosity to know how you can ever resolve a seemingly impossible situation that drives the reader to turn one page after another and complete the reading of the book in a short time.

The Midwich Cuckoos on Amazon.

A space weekend in Turin

In October 2018 I had the opportunity to participate in the second edition of the event titled “Signs and Voices of Other Worlds” organised in the headquarters of ALTEC in Turin. It was a fantastic experience during which I was busy for two days in what is defined The Italian Gateway to the International Space Station, as stated in the huge inscription at the entrance, and allowed me to meet many interesting people, as well as talk about my work.

The event itself, the one open to the public, lasted only one day, 14 October, but we (my partner and I), as exhibitors, also went to the headquarters of ALTEC the day before to prepare our booth. It was the first time I attended an event like this. It was nice to arrange all my science-fiction books (eight titles in several copies) on a table, along with other promotional stuff, but also to view in advance the scale model exhibition, which included really extraordinary works of art.

In addition to this, we had the pleasure of making a short private visit to the factory together with Paolo Navone, who led us to see, among other things, the control room, the replica of a module that is part of the ISS and the pool used for astronaut training, and who guided us, explaining the role of ALTEC in the construction of the space station and other international space missions. Among these is that of the ESA IVX mini shuttle, to which Paolo himself participated.

The day ended in a beautiful dinner together with some people who had organised the event (belonging to CRAL ALTEC and Centro Modellistico Torinese ) and others who would participate. In addition to enjoying the company of Marco Ambrosio (who, together with Paolo, invited me to participate in the event) and his wife, we met some of the modellers, among whom I cannot avoid to mention Sandro Degiani, who led the conversation among the people seated next to him (myself included), and Professor Giancarlo Genta, here in the role of author of science fiction novels. The legendary Giovanni Mongini, called Vanni, Italian author and great expert in science fiction, joined the group, who I had met a few hours earlier at the factory and whom I would find myself in the booth across mine the next day.

And then came the day of the event. The first two hours were the easiest part. I had the opportunity to present my “Red Desert” series in the auditorium as part of the speech called “Female Mars”, moderated by Maurizio Maschio. Along with me there was Giulia Bassani, who presented her novel “Ad Martem 12” (and was also my neighbour at the exhibition).

Both were asked how we came into contact with science fiction and what prompted us to start writing it. I said how I grew up among ET, Back to the Future, Star Wars (hence my nickname Anakina), the Visitors and many other films and TV series that have brought me closer to the genre and how it stimulated my imagination. I had many stories in my mind and at a certain point I realised that the only way to make them real was to write them down.

Immediately after the presentation, I returned to my booth, where I welcomed some of the people who had listened to me in the auditorium and wanted to buy one of my books.

As I said earlier, however, the difficult part would come later. Starting from 11.30 a.m. new visitors entered (they were divided into groups of up to 200 people for two hours each, to avoid overcrowding) who did not know who I was. It was up to me to draw their attention.
I think the phrase I used most often was: “Would you like to take a postcard?
I had with me a lot of promotional postcards of “Red Desert” to offer visitors and I used them to induce people to stop at my booth, so that I could explain them something about my books. Keep in mind that I gave away 54 postcards and for most of them I stopped a person so that I could tell them the beginning of the story of Anna Persson and the structure of the Aurora Saga. I repeated it so many times that my other neighbour, Roberto Azzara, learned it by heart!
I must say that my effort was repaid and I managed to sell more than half the books I had with me. And so I also avoided having to send them back to Sardinia by post.

Throughout the day (the event lasted from 9.30 a.m. to 8 p.m.) I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of people and among these I found myself in front of an unsuspecting reader, who, only after seeing the covers, recognised my books and realised he had in front of him the author of the e-books on his mobile phone. It’s the first time that I happen to come across one of my readers by chance and it was really nice to meet him.
That’s not all. A colleague of mine from Turin also came to meet me: Luca Rossi, independent author of science fiction and fantasy, who is my friend on Facebook since 2012 and who I finally managed to meet in person. I was also delighted to meet Dario Tonani (also a science fiction writer and long time friend on Facebook) and his wife Giusy again, whom I had already met at Sassari Comics & Games 2015.

In all that chitchat and after taking some photos with my booth’s neighbours (Giulia, Roberto and Vanni, which I mentioned before, and Luigi Petruzzelli of Edizioni della Vigna) the hours flew, interspersed with some short breaks to admire and photograph the scale models exposed, and go to observe the Sun and then the Moon at the telescope, thanks to the observation posts set up by Celestia Taurinorum.

In the end, tired but happy, we left. The next day, waiting to take the flight that would take us back to Cagliari, at the Caselle Airport we came across the actual ESA mini shuttle XVI, exposed in the check-in area. A souvenir photo with the spacecraft was the worthy closure of this beautiful weekend.

I take this opportunity to thank once again Marco Ambrosio and Paolo Navone, who invited me to participate in this event. Thank you so much!

Photos (from above): during my speech together with Maurizio Maschio, my booth, entrance of ALTEC, view from inside the replica of a module of the ISS, with Luca Rossi, on Mars (more or less) with Giulia Bassani.
You can see more photos, including those of many scale models on display, on my Facebook page at this link.

New year, new resolutions: 2019

Hey, is 2018 already finished? This time the year passed quickly, perhaps because I was much more busy with projects that have engaged me for several months. And maybe also because I had more fun, especially in the second half.
And so, given that the year is coming to an end, the time has come for my traditional report of the past twelve months.

Let’s start as usual with listing which resolutions of the past year I managed to complete:
- I managed to write and publish (30 November) the Italian book “Sirius. In caduta libera” (Sirius. Free Falling), the fourth part in the Aurora Saga, which is also my thirteenth published book. The work on this novel took me more time than the previous ones, mainly because I had only a few notes put aside and I had to plot it almost completely just before starting the first draft (in mid-February). It was my hardest book to write so far, but it’s also one of those I’m most satisfied with. I managed to unite all the threads of the previous parts of the saga and add the missing link in its story. It is a hard science fiction novel that also represents my tribute to astronautics, a topic that has always fascinated me, as it narrates a story that takes place largely in the Earth orbit, although in a not very near future (in about a century);
- I finished my own English translation of “The Mentor” within the first months of the year, just like I had decided. This new translation, which is already revised, will stay in my computer for the moment. I wanted to start at least the translation of the second book in the Detective Eric Shaw Trilogy, but there was no time to do it. Anyway, I am happy with this result;
- I read longer books and above all I read almost exclusively books that I liked a lot. I have no idea how many, but the number does not matter. The important thing is to have read every day something that amused me, maybe taught me something, and in particular that made me feel good. Because the purpose of reading for me is just this: make me feel good. Therefore it makes no sense to make challenges about pages or books read. They are all nonsense.

A resolution is missing from this list. In fact, those listed at the end of last year were four. I have not finished writing the book on self-publishing that I started in 2017. I didn’t actually resumed writing it, because my time and commitment were redirected to more urgent matters.

What else did I do in 2018?
I translated into Italian another book by Richard J. Galloway, “Saranythia Part 2 - The Varton”, which will soon be released in Italy (I gave him the final translation a few days ago). This is the sequel to “Saranythia Part 1 - The Gates of Setergard”, released in autumn 2017 and in which the protagonists of his previous novel “Amantarra” (released in Italian in 2013) return. The Italian translations of these two books were also made by me.

In October I participated in the event “Segni e voci altri mondi” (Signs and voices of other worlds), which was held at the headquarters of ALTEC in Turin (where half of the ISS was built). I’ll soon publish a report of my participation on this blog (stay tuned).

At the beginning of December, moreover, I also conducted a lecture about Mars (together with two of the Italian scientists who recently discovered a liquid water underground lake on the Red Planet) and I taught my self-publishing class at the University of Insubria in Varese . I’ll also post a report of this experience very soon.
Without considering the duration of my stay away from home, this commitment has taken away much time in the previous months so that I could prepare for it.

I also attended eight MOOCs (mass online open courses), among which the most interesting ones were The Science of Nuclear Energy and The Science Behind Forensic Science. The latter is very well done, as it shows with videos the work of the forensic scientist from their point of view both in the field and laboratory.

Finally, from May on, I started to take more care of the advertising of my books on Facebook, in particular those of the Aurora Saga in Italian. With a view to the release of the fourth book in the series, I decided to concentrate my efforts so as to obtain the best possible result.
And I must say that I succeeded.
I learned to make better use of the paid tools provided by Facebook and at the same time I increased the effectiveness of the free ones in getting a better organic results for my posts. This resulted in a noticeable increase in engagement on my Facebook page and in an evident positive effect on my books’ sales.

I could not do anything else (not that all this is not enough), because the writing from scratch, the revision and publication of “Sirius. In caduta libera” absorbed me practically starting from mid-February (I finished the first draft including 114 thousand words at the end of June) until the release date of the book, leaving little time and especially little energy to use in other projects, also because at the same time I found myself translating a book and preparing a course and a lecture.
On the other hand, I had decided not to cause more stress to myself than what was necessary and I am happy I did less, but did it better.

But now 2019 is coming and it’s time to set some new objectives:
1) complete the first draft of “Self-publishing lab: il mestiere dell’autoeditore”, but this time for real! Most likely I will teach the class in Varese again next autumn and by then I would like to have the book available, although not necessarily in the final version. It will also provide me with the opportunity to partly update the course and offer some more tools to my students;
2) translate “Syndrome” into English and maybe even start the translation of “Beyond the Limit”. I have promised to myself that by 2020, one way or another, I will publish (or start publishing) the Detective Shaw Trilogy in English. Actually, once the Aurora Saga has finished (which will happen in 2020), I want to commit myself to translating and publishing in English all my books not yet available in this language, and in general to make the most of everything I’ve written so far to make it reach a larger audience;
3) start working on “Nave stellare Aurora” (Starship Aurora), the final book in the Aurora Saga. It is a long novel whose purpose is to worthily conclude the story of Anna, Hassan, Melissa, Alicia and Susy, and to do that, I need to work on it in a wider period, in order to make the most of its potential;
4) and then, as always, read many beautiful books. This is always the simplest resolution to accomplish!

Me at ALTEC (Turin).
I have only four resolutions again, but this time I want to complete them all. Will I manage to do it?

There are also other things I’d like to do.
At the moment I did not impose myself to publish any book in 2019. I need not to set this particularly demanding deadline for at least a while. I’ll decide on the way.

Of course I want to continue working on advertising and promotion to improve the economic return of my job and make it less dependent on external events on which I have no control.
Also I would like to experiment other ways to use what I have already written and my writing skills to develop new projects of which I still prefer not to say anything (at least until I really start working on it, if I ever do it).
What I feel with certainty is that my seventh year as a self-publisher will be crucial, since it represents the approach to the conclusion of the Aurora Saga, which, with the four books of “Red Desert” and the next four, is undoubtedly my most important series, the one with which my adventure in self-publishing began and which is the main motivation that pushed me to continue it, between highs and lows.
What will happen next is still a mystery, but one of those that don’t scare me, but stimulate me. A mystery which I’m facing with curiosity.

In closing, as always, I thank all those who follow and support me, all my loved ones, friends, collaborators and readers, both old and new.
Thank you for being there.

If you like, let me know your new year’s resolutions with a comment on this post or on the social networks where I share it.
I wish you all a happy 2019!

Ad Martem 12 - Giulia Carla Bassani

***** Young Martians

Written by an aerospace engineering student who dreams of becoming an astronaut, “Ad Martem 12” is a little jewel of hard science fiction aimed at a young audience, but that can be appreciated by all ages. Although with some licence and simplification (it is still a book of fiction, not an essay), in a background of plausible technology and science, the author tells the story of the first three children born on the Red Planet, who, reached the age of sixteen, begin to wonder about their origins and Earth, from which all the other people living in the Aresland station come from. The story is told from the point of view of one of them, Jordan, and this is done in such a way as to facilitate the identification of the reader in the character.
Although I have not been a teenager for quite some time, in finding myself aware of his thoughts, fears and sensations, I managed to recover a portion of that part of me from the past and therefore to understand his motivations and actions.
The protagonists, in fact, are not just the usual talented young people who are going to face an adventure like an adult that you can find in most of the young adult stories. In them you can see all the characteristics of the age in which you are no longer a child, but at the same time you are not yet an adult. They are prepared, intelligent and smart, but also naive, distracted and reckless, like any teenager. The problem is that they live on a desert and lethal planet, and the slightest mistake could cause their death.
Between desire to know, dangerous accidents and unexpected feelings, Jordan, Anna and Yan begin a journey to discover the truth about their past and especially about the future awaiting them. With an engaging style, in its refined simplicity, which at times manages to be evocative of landscapes from another world, Bassani allows us to accompany them and be ain trepidation with and for them, until the comforting ending that succeeds in being profound without falling into banality.

Ad Martem 12 on Amazon.

Cleoth and Arkh - Sergio Bertoni

***** Between fantasy and history

As a lover of historical novels set in ancient Egypt I couldn’t resist the temptation to read this book by an Italian author who in this genre stands beside famous authors like Jacq and just like the latter mixes effectively real history with the fantasy shade brought by the ancient Egyptian religion and magic.
Like any novel trying to include most of the life of a person, this is affected by its episodic structure. Various events are narrated; each one ends and leaves room to another one happened in the subsequent period. For this reason after the protagonists successfully face a challenge, you can easily leave the book for a while. But the narration is so good that you end up getting back to it as easily.
The events narrated go from the arrival of Archimedes to Alexandria until his “disappearance” many years later in Syracuse, for which the author offers a very interesting explanation.
The core of the plot, as can be deduced from the title, is his love story with the priestess Cleoth. With delicacy and sensitivity Bertoni writes about this feeling and the events caused by it, embellished with fantasy elements that contribute to give this book a halo of mystery in which everything is really possible.
Beside this is history, the real one, and the tales of the amazing inventions by Archimedes, a genius of his time, which wisely enrich the novel without loading it with information and never creating drops of tension.
In a nutshell, a good book which is worth much more than its ridiculously low price.

Cleoth and Arkh on Amazon.

Colony of Mars

Courtesy of NASA.
Today’s guest on my blog is science fiction author Kate Rauner. In this article she tells us about her fascination for the exploration of the Red Planet, which is the setting of her “Colony of Mars” series.

Mars is in the news these days. We’re learning so much from NASA and the European Union, and other countries are joining with their own missions. India, Japan... Mars will be a multi-cultural planet. But what fascinates me is the number of private organizations joining the race, and the people ready to take a one-way trip.

Obsession with Mars isn’t new. The Mars Society is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. They run simulations of living and working on Mars and you can apply to join a mission.
Some recent entries into the Mars race have a lot of money. Elon Musk is a good example, a billionaire who wants to live and die on Mars. His SpaceX might make it. Then there’s Mars One, a non-profit that seems more aspirational than able, but thousands of everyday people from all over the world applied to take one-way journeys.

Colonizing Mars will be very difficult. There’s a lot to think about. Here’s a problem that never dawned on me: MIT students calculated that, to raise enough food in Martian greenhouses to feed the settlers, gardens would produce dangerously high oxygen levels.

There are a lot of ways Mars can kill you.
Cold and a near-vacuum atmosphere make the surface immediately deadly.
Cosmic and solar radiation require anyone who wants a long life to shield their habitat under meters of regolith - that’s Martian soil, but with no detectable life, calling it soil seems optimistic.

Imagine if traveling millions of kilometers means you hunker in a burrow, living as a subsistence farmer, and only venturing onto the surface by remote control robot.
Technology can protect settlers from everything except the low gravity (which will damage your metabolism and immune system as well as your bones and muscles, but let’s move on) but the biggest challenge is human nature.

Could you live confined in tight quarters with a few other people? For the rest of your life? Results from an experiment at Biosphere 2 make that a dismal prospect, and NASA won’t release all the findings from their confinement studies. Hmm.
Personally, I’m not brave enough to move to Mars. I like my favorite coffee shop too much. That and grocery stores, electricity delivered to my house, and space. Lots and lots of space to roam around under blue skies in warm sunshine.

But creating a first foothold is an intriguing project. I explore the challenges and the delights in a science fiction book about the first twelve settlers. I send diverse settlers, civilians from different cultures and different backgrounds. These are real people, as real as I can imagine them, struggling on the real Mars.
I had to give them technologies we don’t have ready-to-go today, but a story about colonizing Mars might be too short otherwise.
My sci-fi colony has an Artificial Intelligence, and construction robots to harvest air and build habitat space from the Martian regolith. An extensive satellite system monitors space weather, provides communications, and beams power down to the surface. I truly wish we had a power system like this for Earth today.

My settlers encounter real problems and danger follows them from Earth. Mars is a deadly planet and no matter how earthlings plan, unanticipated hazards may doom the colony.
They have different reasons to risk the journey. Emma Winters, a young roboticist, wants to explore in walkabout suits she designed. Her friends want to spread life to the barren planet, study its geology, and climb its vast mountains. A couple Brits just want to play with the robots, the best erector set ever, and a Kiwi wants to pilot ships in orbit. There’s also an orange tabby cat that doesn’t care if he’s on Mars. He’d be a cat anywhere.

But survival takes priority over dreams, because something is terribly wrong in the colony. A strange illness threatens these pioneers, tragic deaths may be no accident, and experts on Earth can’t protect them. With no way back to Earth, they must save themselves or Emma may be one of the last humans on Mars. Because, even in the real-world, the gruesome death of early settlers is bound to spoil our taste for Mars.

Kate Rauner
A science fiction writer, poet, firefighter, and engineer on her way to eccentric old woman

KATE RAUNER writes science fiction novels and science-inspired poetry, and serves as a volunteer firefighter. She’s a retired environmental engineer and worked in America’s nuclear weapons complex, so she’s also a Cold War Warrior. Honestly, as designated by the USA Congress.
A friend tricked her into writing, first by involving her in his own book, then asking her to post on his blog, and finally encouraging her to join NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. Kate says her first story was “not-terrible” so she kept writing.
She lives outside Silver City, New Mexico, where copper mines still anchors the economy, and a budding artist community makes the place a miniature version of an undiscovered Santa Fe. From a ridge-top home on the edge of southwest America’s Gila National Forest, Kate enjoys hiking with her husband, feeding the birds, and indulging her cats, llamas, and dog. Kate says she’s pursuing her life goal, “to become an eccentric old woman.”

View Kate’s videos on You Tube. Visit her blog. Find her books at Amazon and other stores.

Special deal: a Box Set of all five books, value priced, at Amazon and other stores!

The Misunderstood

Today’s guest on my blog is author Rae Stoltenkamp. Her books span the genres of fantasy, science fiction and magical realism. She is also a poet. In this article she talks about her experience teaching to a gifted child and how that influenced some of her books.

Before settling down to writing and self-publishing I used to be a full time teacher in an inner city London school. Regardless of the country you teach in, anyone will tell you this is a challenging environment. Very quickly into my teaching practice I realised I had a knack for communicating with children with Special Needs (SEN as it’s called here in the UK).

Most times when people think of Special Needs they latch onto the idea of a child with learning difficulties. Several times during my 13 year teaching stint I was reminded that while the majority of my students did indeed have these difficulties there were others whose behaviour marked them as SEN when in fact they were highly intelligent. Their lack of engagement with the average classroom content and insular or confrontational attitude masked their talent.

At the very start of my teaching career, an introductory lesson on Of Mice & Men to my SEN class brought a gifted student – let’s call her Andria - to my attention. Andria exhibited many of the traits identified with the gifted:

  • Curiosity – endless questions
  • Ignoring the teacher’s brief for assignments – going off piste and doing her own thing
  • Advanced vocabulary – she regularly used 3 or 4 syllable words in appropriate context
  • Lack of engagement with her peers – often got involved in conversations with support staff and myself while appearing to ignore fellow students
  • Strong emotions – Andria often voiced her opinion on topics in a loud and seemingly abrasive manner
  • Outside the box thinking

When I first understood this was the case with Andria, I confess to feeling intimidated. Andria’s breadth of knowledge on certain subjects was superior to mine. Her general knowledge and vocabulary was outstanding. She understood my subtle jokes which often went over the heads of some support staff and she was certainly not shy about telling me when she thought I had supplied the class with incorrect facts.

To teach Andria I had to take a different approach to the one I was using with the rest of my class. The first thing I did was give her a solo assignment on the Social & Historical background of the novel. Admittedly, I did this at the time as a way to keep her busy at the classroom computer so I could get the rest of the class settled.

10 minutes into the lesson, a quick glance over her shoulder told me she had the matter well in hand. So I decided to add some parameters to see if she could cope with them. I stipulated her research had to be on a Powerpoint presentation of 10 - 15 slides, include images and be in language her other classmates could easily understand. Then I also demanded a bibliography. Chewing on a thumb nail I waited for her reaction. After asking what a bibliography was and listening to my explanation, she then simply got on with the task.

Andria was engaged all lesson. I kept tabs on her and made suggestions as the Powerpoint developed. Looking over her printed slides later that day I realised I was out of my depth. So I headed for the library. Very old school – I know. This was in the days before the internet and search engines were at their peak. An hour later I was very deflated. I didn’t possibly have the skills to teach this child. Everything I read indicated she was in a class of her own.

It took a train and bus commute home to still my doubts. I reminded myself I got into teaching to facilitate, not to quit as soon as I hit my first hurdle. I also called my mother – she was the font of all wisdom. The first thing she told me was that I had to shelve my own intellectual insecurities and focus on Andria and her needs solely. I had to engage with my self-doubt and admit it was likely Andria would ask me questions I couldn’t answer. I would have to tackle this issue and deal with it. I would have to be resourceful in my approach.

Thus Andria led me on a journey of discovery where I began to understand that the gifted can be as neglected as those with learning difficulties. I resolved that this would never ever be the case in my classroom. Andria left my class after the next round of assessment. She moved to a top set. The next academic year the government introduced Mixed Ability teaching. Many more like Andria passed through my classroom before I gave up full time teaching.

I suspect Andria and the other gifted students I met during my teaching career are the reason gifted children often creep into my writing. They feature in both my SciFi novels and in my debut novel Six Dead Men, one of the dead men is a remarkable but ignored artist and another is linguistically gifted but excluded from school because of behaviour deemed aggressive and anti-social.

My latest book – Palindrome - the prequel novella to Six Dead Men is no different. At the heart of the story is an exceptional 12 year old boy called Robert Deed (the detective from Six Dead Men). The setting is Haddington, near Edinburgh – it’s 1975. Here change is a process slowed by tradition and the luxury of a certain distance from the swift progress of the rest of the world. Robert’s 13th birthday approaches. He is a teenager who looks beyond a thing and sees inside it. But this birthday brings more than a coming of age celebration for Robert. He will feel forced to solve the murder of his first crush, battle his grief, re-evaluate his relationship with his parents and exonerate a dear friend.

Palindrome is due for release on 27th July. To celebrate, Six Dead Men is currently available FREE exclusively through Instafreebie for e-readers.

Rae Stoltenkamp
Fantasy, science fiction and magical realism author

RAE STOLTENKAMP was born in South Africa and came to England in 1987 to visit family. She liked the weather so much she stayed. After a writing holiday in Greece she had an epiphany and realised she should be writing on a full time basis. It was probably heat stroke since she hadn’t had sun in a while. She then studied writing at City Lit with the poet Caroline Natzler and is now a self-published writer, blogger and English tutor living in South London. Rae currently works for a local charity (Young Women’s Hub) teaching English and also runs creative writing workshops and after school clubs with Her published work includes poetry in Prole, Fantasy for children, Science Fiction for young adults and Magic Realism for adults. As well as her writing, Rae has a passion for Lindy Hop and Argentine Tango. When she’s not chained to her desk and laptop, you can often see her tripping the light fantastic with her dancing friends.

Additional books by Rae Stoltenkamp include: Where Rainbows Hide, Six Degrees and When Rainbows Cry.

Visit Rae’s website:
You can also follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

New discoveries and new mysteries in “Saranythia Part 2 - The Varton”

The protagonists of the first part of “Saranythia” (sequel to “Amantarra”) return in this second part that leads us into the heart of the story. We had left them while they were slipping, despite themselves, in the middle of a battle between the daemons and the army of the Varton, now in “Saranythia Part 2: The Varton we find them in the hands of the latter, as they begin to discover the link between the planet where the portal led them and Amantarra’s sister, namely Saranythia. At the same time the figure of the “villain” of this story begins to emerge, which is hidden behind the strange name of Uzpanax.
Richard J. Galloway, as always, mixes elements of science fiction and an excellent world building with irony and mystery and, although this part is characterised by less action than the first, it does not fail to intrigue the reader, who soon finds themselves on the last page.
I also found the part in the Ja’liem forest very interesting and I continue to wonder how this part of the novel will be connected exactly with everything else.
I just have to wait for the next episode. In the meantime, I asked Richard to offer my blog’s readers a special insight on this new book, and he decided to let one of his characters, Commander Vartii, talk about himself.

The Commander - in his own words. 
“It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about removing the obstacle and moving onto the next objective. What the obstacle is, whoever it may be, is irrelevant. The same applies to whatever needs to be done to remove the obstacle. If it requires a death, then however regretful that may be, death will be the solution I apply. I’m Commander Vartii, by the way. I command the garrison here at Setergard, a former religious centre at the gateway to the Vale of Olrad. Ah, you’re wondering about what possible lessons life has taught me to make me so cold. You’ll understand that I don’t see this as a problem, others may see it that way, but in my position it’s an advantage. My authority here at Setergard is absolute. It was granted to me by the Saratarian order in the name of our god Saranythia. I was chosen for the role because of the very qualities I’ve just described. I like to believe that I’m fair minded but firm. I certainly don’t have a problem with discipline which I take as confirmation that my approach to command works.  A command that I’ve held for over eighty years, far longer than any other commander before me, and I might add, more successful. As a result, the townsfolk in Olrad refer to the warriors here as The Varton. But, I digress.

Life’s lessons. Well I suppose my journey to the position of commander started early. I must have been around eight years old when I learned that life really isn’t fair, and that the only person who was going look after my interests, was me. As you can see, I’m strong but physically quite small and slight, not really warrior material. When I was a child my stature was a major disadvantage, especially given the rough games we played. It’s around that age that we learn to block our thoughts to others. You can’t win any game if your opponents all know what your next move is. Of course at eight years old the older kids can easily bypass your attempts to block them. Things improve with time, but in these matters, practice does not always make perfect. Now I know what you’re thinking, the ever popular life lesson of older boys picking on me because they could, and that did happen, but there were only five of them, and they didn’t necessarily single me out, they were quite liberal with their attentions. No, the event that set me on the path to commander centred on a songbird.

In the town of Olrad where I grew up, life centred on the worship of Saranythia, and the word of the Red Friars of the Saratarian order was law. Now, long story short, my father had promised to buy me a caged songbird from the market and I’d gone into the house of worship to give thanks to Saranythia. While I was in there I overheard two Friars talking. They mentioned the name Amantarra and I thought it would be a good name for the bird I’d been promised. As I was leaving, one of the Friars asked what I’d been giving thanks for, so I told him and mentioned the name I’d chosen. Now I’d seen anger before, but this was different. His voice was controlled, and physically he didn’t touch me, but his thoughts hit me and knocked me off my feet. He told me that Amantarra was a sacred name known only to the Saratarian order and I should forget I’d heard it. Of course my father refused to buy the bird for me as a punishment for angering the Friar, but that unfair decision wasn’t what changed me. The powerful thoughts the Friar assailed me with caused me to instinctively throw up mental defences that normally take decades to learn. That wasn’t all, I struck out at the Friar with my mind in an attempt to stop the onslaught that threatened to overwhelm me. At that age my attack should have been ineffectual against a trained Friar, but it wasn’t, it worked and I managed to deflect his anger onto my father. The result of that, was no songbird.

It took me years to work out how I’d done it. All members of the Saratarian order, like the warriors I command, carry a blue orb in their abdomens. The orb links us to the power of Saranythia and confirms our commitment to her. As I’d thrown up my defences I sensed the power of the Friar’s orb, and through it I could sense the Friar. Instinctively, and it was pure instinct, what I’d done was to use the link and the orb’s power to deflect the Friar’s attention onto my father. It was the discovery of that ability changed me, because after, I found I could influence anyone. As a result, I never lost another game, or fight, and the three bullies who survived my revenge learnt to avoid me and the fear I could inject into their thoughts. To this day I regret the two deaths, they were after all only a couple of years older than me, still children, but I suppose some people just can’t cope with being shown their own nightmares.”

Raised amid the heavy industry of the north east of England on a diet of Star Trek, Doctor Who and fantasy novels, RICHARD J. GALLOWAY rebelled against his schools assumption that heavy industrial work would be his vocation. Having exhausted the only apparent option, the careers master would despair. “If you don’t want to work in the steelworks, where do you want to work?” His reply was always, “I don’t know.” The industry he finished up in would not materialise for another ten years. No wonder the master struggled. From school, via drawing office and architecture, eventually he found himself working with large computer systems.
Career aside, the thread that bound it all together has been fantasy. He has never lost his fascination with the imagery that a good story invokes. After all it had shown him worlds beyond this one, and possibilities beyond the steelworks. It continues to do so.
Richard still lives in the north east of England with his wife, family, and a large cat called Beano. The heavy industry has shrunk, but Richard’s world of fantasy has grown. He often wonders what advice he would have been given if the careers master had read the occasional bit of science fiction.

Richard’s first novel Amantarra was published in 2013, followed in 2017 and 2018 by the first two parts of its sequel SaranythiaThe Gates of Setergard and The Varton.

Visit Richard online at:
And follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

You can find more about Saranythia in this interview with Richard.