Viruses and self-publishing at . . . a distance

Also in this strange 2020 that has just ended I managed to teach a class titled “Self-publishing laboratory in multimedia systems” for the students of Communication Sciences and Communication Sciences and Techniques of the University of Insubria (Italy) and to participate as speaker at one of the conferences of the cycle “Scienza & Fantascienza” (Science & Science fiction) organised by the same university, only this time I did it at a distance, staying at home in front of my computer screen. It was a different way than usual of dealing with these two commitments, which had both its good and bad sides.

As for the laboratory (from which my Italian book “Self-publishing lab. Il mestiere dell’autoeditore” is based), the fact that I didn’t have to go to Varese allowed me to spread it in a longer time span. We had two lessons a week between 12 and 23 October: two on Mondays and two on Fridays. This also allowed the students to have more time to assimilate the concepts and prepare the publication simulation project.
Another non negligible advantage is the fact that having to participate from home has made participation in itself easier. In my case it meant avoiding travelling from Cagliari and the expenses related to my stay in Varese. In the case of students, it allowed more of them to participate, since they too, in their own small way, no longer going from home to university, from one site to another and from one classroom to another, ended up with more time available. And in fact this year I had 24 students who successfully completed the laboratory.

On the other hand, the disadvantage was the lack of live interaction, in person. Throughout the lesson, they and I were both in front of a screen. I was speaking and I could neither see nor hear them, except when they had a question to ask me or I would ask them something. Silence is the worst thing, but even looking at a screen with icons and names gives only the slightest idea of having someone on the other side who sees and hears you.
I missed to be able to see in their faces how they received what I was talking about and to realise if it was necessary to repeat some concepts. I missed hearing their exclamations, the real-time comments and also the laughs, both during my lectures and the exposition of the other students’ projects; all things that make lessons in person a stimulating and satisfying human experience.
Furthermore, while it is true that having to work from home is comfortable and has made me save money and time, I missed spending a week in Varese, the city, the friends I have made over the years (including a feline one), breathing the air of the university environment, even the campus canteen and the restaurant where you always ended up having dinner. These are all things that give me a great sense of satisfaction, but also of professional fulfilment, and which this year I had to do without.

Despite all this, I am very satisfied with how the laboratory went. Also this year the students showed participation and interest, as much I was able to appreciate that from a distance. And they proposed publication projects among the most varied. Once again spanning among many literary genres.
In the second and third photos of this article you can see two of them, an essay and a novel. These are screenshots (appropriately pixellated for privacy reasons) that I saved live during the lesson.
In the bottom right corner you can also see that I’m there, with my sci-fi background!

And then there was the conference, which was held in the afternoon of 14 October, as part of the series of conferences “Scienza & Fantascienza 2020 - Non solo virus. I nemici invisibili (Science & Science Fiction 2020 - Not just viruses. The invisible enemies)” and titled “Portatori di morte... ma anche no: i virus e la vita sulla Terra e oltre la Terra” (Bearers of death ... but also not: viruses and life on Earth and beyond the Earth”). The topic is that of both negative and positive role of viruses in real science and science fiction.
The speakers of the event, organised and moderated by Paolo Musso, were: Sebastiano Fusco (science fiction critic), Antonio Serra (Sergio Bonelli Editore, creator of “Nathan Never”), Silvia Corbetta (Sergio Bonelli Editore, designer of “Nathan Never”), Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli (biologist and science fiction writer), that is me, and Alberto Vianelli (biologist, University of Insubria).

The entire conference is available in the video below (the first photo of this article comes from that video, where you can also admire, for the occasion, my Martian background), which unfortunately is in Italian.
My speech (starts at 1:19:33), in particular, deals with the role of a virus in the plot of “Red Desert. I can’t go into too much detail, as it contains heavy spoilers about the series. I can only tell you that I emphasised how the virus represents an element of conflict in the story. It does not generate a pandemic, but it is both a means of a possible alien invasion (it’s an alien virus) and an element that causes an evolution in infected people. The typically negative role it usually plays in fiction is much less clear here and is characterised by more positive shades.
I can’t say more. You will have to read the books of the series and, in the future, as soon as they are available in English, the remaining ones in the Aurora Saga.

The other interventions were also very interesting, but my favourite was that of Alberto Vianelli, who spoke about viruses from a scientific point of view and, even if we had not agreed in advance, his speech connected perfectly to mine.

But I want to say that, as far as this type of event is concerned, remote participation had some unexpected advantages. Even though we weren’t all sitting next to each other, I had the impression at times that we were really facing each other, perhaps around a table. I didn’t see the audience, except in the form of a list of hundreds of names, so it almost felt like we were having a long and interesting chat with friends, despite the distance between us.

In short, all in all it was a good feeling and an undoubtedly positive experience.
But I hope that in the future we can all go back to being in the same room again, to collect in real time the reactions of the audience, the looks, the smiles, the nodding heads and, let’s face it, even the applause.

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