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 Sch├Ątzing, 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.

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