“Missions”: a bet won for European science fiction


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

Immortal - Dean Crawford

** Deceived by an inappropriate comparison with Crichton


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



Immortal on Amazon.



The Moon and self-publishing in Varese

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



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

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



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



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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midaq Alley - Naguib Mahfouz

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

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



Midaq Alley on Amazon.


New year, new resolutions: 2020


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For 2020 there are then some hopes.

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

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

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

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

Red Moon - Kim Stanley Robinson

**** Unexpectedly engaging

I decided to read this book because I needed to immerse myself in the lunar atmosphere while writing my current WIP (work in progress) and I must admit that, after the experience with “Red Mars” and “Green Mars” (I have yet to read the third book in the trilogy) I was afraid of being thrown into a scientific-political-psychological treatise, studded with short stories of different characters. Instead, I was positively surprised to realise that this novel had only a few characters and only followed their stories.
Of course, Robinson can’t help but stuff his writing of information, especially on political matters, but the fact that the perspective of the narrative originated mostly from Chinese characters (hence the “red” of the title) caught my attention.
“Red Moon” is a book that tries to imagine the political evolution, linked to the technological one, of China in the near future, and it does so through a small number of characters with different characteristics, well shown to the reader, with whom it is easy to immediately feel close. This makes the reading flow quickly, due to the way in which the narrated events follow each other without pause and also thanks to the non-excessive length of the novel.
Actually, the Moon does not occupy the whole story. A good part of it takes place in China, a China of the future that is shown to us in an effective and engaging way. Yet the Moon is at the centre of everything.
The technological part is as always very accurate and characterised by a remarkable plausibility, able to push the reader’s mind to see the events as a future that will be become real in due course.
Personally I appreciated the choice of the author to show some places of the Moon, such as the base at the south pole, the one in the libration zone and the settlement inside a crater, both for what regards the real landscapes, recreated perfectly in my mind from his beautiful evocative prose, and for his imaginative ability in proposing what humanity will build in those places.
Everything is favoured by a smooth reading, in the good meaning of the term, that is to say that, even through a language that is anything but simple and banal, the desire to know what would happen later pushed me to go on and the beauty of Robinson’s prose made things easier.



Red Moon on Amazon.

Troika - Alastair Reynolds

***** Disquieting and with an unexpected ending

This science fiction gem differs from the epic novels that Reynolds has accustomed me to, not only because of its length (it is indeed a novella), but above all for the apparent simplicity of the plot. The story is told from the point of view of Dimitri Ivanov, a Russian cosmonaut, on two parallel timelines. It offers a pessimistic image of the future, in which space exploration has practically stopped due to the interaction with a mysterious huge artefact of alien origin, which the Russians call Matryoshka.
In a timeline, we see Dimitri escaping from a structure for mental patients and trying to reach someone to reveal what he discovered in his last space mission. The mission is shown in the other timeline, in which he and two other colleagues are approaching the Matryoshka and preparing to take samples.
In the alternative future in which the events occurring to this cosmonaut are narrated, only Russia has maintained a minimum of space activity, while the rest of the world surrendered to the impossibility of revealing the enigma concerning the alien artefact. And the same Russian cosmonauts are driven in their search more by necessity of survival than by the desire for discovery. If what they discover won’t be pleasing to their government, they could still come to a bad end.
A sense of anguish pervades both timelines and the absence of division into chapters urges the reader, prompting them to complete the reading as soon as possible. I particularly appreciated the whole space part of the story, which, as in all Reynolds’s works, mixes rigorous science with aspects which, due to their origin, go beyond our ability to establish how realistic or not they can be. The more I went on, the more I grew curious to know what was hidden within the Matryoshka.
And the answer comes in an unexpected and therefore satisfying ending, not so much for its content, which, when you think about it, is anything but original, but rather for the skill of the author in distracting the reader and then surprising them.


Troika on Amazon.

House of Suns - Alastair Reynolds

***** Splendid space opera that leaves you open-mouthed

This is Reynolds’s third book I’ve read so far and once again I find myself faced with something totally different. In “Century Rain” I’d found a completely original approach to time travel and uchronia, without being either of them. In “Revelation Space” I had immersed myself in a dark and pessimistic space opera. In “House of Suns” instead I was overwhelmed by the irrepressible imagination of the author, who astonishes the reader and presents them with a future characterised by a considerable optimism.
Despite the enormous differences between these three books, I could recognise the author thanks to his highly refined, rich prose and, of course, the presence of numerous elements of hard science fiction, despite being space opera. Indeed, it’s evident that Reynolds is a scientist in the choice of themes to be explored through narration. Although having to incorporate technologies that are very distant from the current ones (and very probably never reachable), he still manages to maintain a certain scientific plausibility on some of the dynamics of the story’s development (for example, through the use of spaceships that do not exceed the speed of light), mixing, with wisdom, imagination and astrophysics and thus giving the reader the opportunity to learn something new, while scenarios that leave them speechless unravel in their mind.
Even I, while following the adventures of the two protagonists (the clones called Campion and Purslane), found myself vividly imagining the places in space shown through their eyes, almost as if I could see those places or were there with them.
At the beginning, their adventures proceeded without me having the faintest idea where the book was getting at. Moreover, the choice to use the first person for both protagonists and for a third narrative voice (Abigail Gentian, the creator of the Gentian line, to which the clones belong) is quite destabilising (at the beginning of each chapter you need to figure out who is talking) and I believe that, along with the length of the book, it could discourage from reading. And in my case, it was almost succeeding. But then I realised that I had done well to continue, as the various open threads began to connect and the first twists occurred. The very choice to always use the first person showed a well-defined meaning, taking away from me the fear that it was due to some sloppiness on the part of the author. At a certain point, I didn’t care anymore to try to understand the direction of the story, but I preferred to let myself be dragged by it, happy that there was still so much to read and that the end was far away. And as I got closer to it, my wonder and enjoyment increased.
I cannot and will not say more about the plot, since it is so vast and complex that any attempt to indicate some salient points would be insufficient. I just say that I rarely happened to see so many ideas in the same novel and all so well developed. It’s a long book not because it has a slow rhythm, but because a lot happens, enough to satisfy, at least for a while, the hunger for new stories of anyone who loves to read science fiction.
And in fact, once I finished reading it, it was hard for me to find another book to read that could stand comparison with this one.



House of Suns on Amazon.

Sphere - Michael Crichton

***** Sci-fi technothriller, with a psychological twist

In general, when I read a book on which a film was based, I like to make comparisons, to understand the choices made to make this type of transposition possible, and to give the characters the faces of the actors, during my reading experience.
In this case I couldn’t do it, because I couldn’t remember anything about the film. I thought that going on in reading my memory would be awakened, but that wasn’t the case. I don’t know if it is due to the fact that the film had not impressed me (yet it seems to me that I liked it) or the excessive differences between the two products. The fact is, I found myself reading this book without knowing anything about the story and I could therefore enjoy all the twists.
This novel is part of a pattern typical of many of Crichton’s successful works. The core of it is a scientific/technological topic, in this case the extreme conditions of a submarine base to which a sci-fi “discovery” is added (I won’t give any details to avoid spoilers), on which the author provides us with a lot of information throughout the book. Around it he creates a story with a protagonist, a psychologist called Norman, which is narrated from the point of view of the latter. Then he adds another whole series of characters, each with their own role and characteristics. In this context, the scientific/technological element appears perfectly under control, but in reality this is only what the characters are falsely convinced of. At some point, however, something goes wrong, yet another demonstration that making a not entirely considered use of science and technology, driven by curiosity and the desire for discovery, is always a big mistake. And from that moment on, the characters begin to die, except for a few, who are eventually saved.
To all this, in this novel, a strong psychological element is added. Yes, because the answers that the characters are looking for are not in the subject of their research, but inside themselves. And “Sphere” is nothing but Norman’s psychological journey, who as a normal man in an exceptional situation brings out the worst and the best of himself.
Everything takes place whilst keeping the reader turning the pages and forcing him to continue reading a book that has a structure that is anything but traditional (there are no numbered chapters, but a set of scenes without interruption, occasionally interspersed with a title), up to the ending, which, if we think about it, is the only one possible for such a story.

Sphere on Amazon.

Amnesia - Michael Ridpath

**** Story with a predictable outcome, saved by a smart expedient towards its end

I immediately want to say that the final expedient has nothing to do with the plot. This is an idea that mixes fiction and reality, which I always appreciate a lot in novels. In this case it was able to increase my rating by one star.
The novel, for my taste, is not worth more than three.
But let’s proceed in an orderly fashion.
The book develops in two timelines. The one set in the present sees the young protagonist Clémence, who finds herself having to look after the eighty-three-year-old Alastair after the latter has lost his memory due to a fall. The one in the past is the book that the two of them are reading together and that tells some events of the man’s life when he was young, culminating in the death of the love of his life.
The part in the past is undoubtedly the best part of the whole novel. Here the characters come to life, also thanks to the evident greater familiarity that the author has in showing them through the point of view of a man. The story unfolds between France, Capri and then Scotland, and each place emerges from the pages with all its colours, involving the reader and giving them the impression of being there.
In contrast, the part set in the present (which is actually 1999) seems to be written by a novice author. The character of Clémence is two-dimensional. Her being overly naive and gullible appears unrealistic. Her reasoning seems a bit of a stretch to say the least. No person would arrive at certain conclusions, on which their decisions are then based, evidently driven by the need to bring the plot in a certain direction and not by logic. Moreover, the setting and the small number of characters, instead of contributing to the increase of the suspense and the claustrophobic sense of the narrative, end up highlighting the weakness in the characterisation of the same characters, which appear far too banal.
As for the crime at the core of the story, as much as the author strives to send us astray, in such a shamelessly obvious way, this has very little mystery. Just think about it for a moment and you realise that only one person can be the murderer: the only one who would gain an advantage from the death of Sophie. I never had any doubts about their identity and I found the fact that the other characters, especially Alastair, didn’t even think about it for a moment simply impossible to accept.
Towards the end we find some details that were not deductible from the rest of the plot and only for this reason I must say that I read it almost greedily. The narration of how the events rush to the resolution, together with the above-mentioned final expedient, save the book, but only because, in fact, they are at the end.
Finally, I found it a bit strange that they were talking about a novel in the novel, when, taking into account the length of the chapters read by the characters (which they said were the whole book), you can at most end up with a novelette. Yes, I understand the limited space in the book, but then they would have rather specify that some parts had been skipped (read by the characters and not reported, because not important) or that it was simply a long story.
Overall, however, it was an interesting read, if only because this novel has a certain originality in the way it was structured. I also realise that it is probably a rather hasty work, which the author enjoyed writing to develop an idea that had come to him, without any fancy of giving rise to a product of high literary level in the scope of thrillers. But, all things considered, despite its faults, it plays very well its entertaining purpose.


Amnesia on Amazon.