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.

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