All posts by Edward Willett

I'm a freelance writer in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. I've written more than 30 books (I've lost count) on a variety of topics. My nonfiction titles include books on computers, diseases, genetics, and the Iran-Iraq War, some for children and some for adults. I've also written several biographies for children, on individuals as diverse as J.R.R. Tolkien, Orson Scott Card, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and the Ayatollah Khomeini. I've loved science fiction and fantasy since I was a kid (thanks, Andre Norton, Madeleine L'Engle and Robert A. Heinlein!) and have also written young adult fantasy and science fiction. More recently I've turned to adult science fiction. My first adult SF novel, Lost in Translation, was published by Five Star in hardcover in 2005 and reprinted in paperback by DAW Books in 2006. My new SF novel for DAW, Marseguro, will be out in February, 2008. I write a weekly newspaper science column, I love good wine and good food, I'm married and have a daughter, and I'm a professional actor and singer when the opportunity presents itself, and act and sing just for fun when I can't find anyone to pay me for it. My website is at, and my blog is at edwardwillett.blogspot. com. And that is probably more about me than anyone could possibly want to know...

Is a Terminator scenario possible?

metropolis h+ Magazine conducted a poll of “roboticists, AI workers, SF writers, and other techie types” (the SF writers were David Brin and Vernor Vinge) to see if they thought a “Terminator-like scenario” was possible, and if so, how likely it was. (Via

Boiling it down (read the whole thing here), the consensus seems to be 1) forget about the time travel; 2) don’t expect a super-intelligent Skynet to spontaneously awaken and start wiping us out (though rather alarmingly, it was generally thought that was just “highly unlikely,” not flat-out impossible); but 3) do expect a future full of robots, both beneficial and warlike–though in the latter case, the intelligence directing them is likely to be humans of a destructive bent, rather than an AI with its own designs on the planet.

Knowing what humans are capable of, this is not much comfort.

Even though I am by nature optimistic.

(Image: 1935 tobacco card of Fritz Lang’s movie Metropolis, from Film Virtual History.)

[tags]robots, Terminator, artificial intelligence, science fiction, robotics, predictions[/tags]

The dystopians are out of step: humans are naturally optimistic

Democritus_by_Agostino_Carracci At least, that’s according to a new study from the University of Kansas and Gallup presented over the weekend at the annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science in San Francisco (via ScienceDaily):

Data from the Gallup World Poll drove the findings, with adults in more than 140 countries providing a representative sample of 95 percent of the world’s population. The sample included more than 150,000 adults.

Eighty-nine percent of individuals worldwide expect the next five years to be as good or better than their current life, and 95 percent of individuals expected their life in five years to be as good or better than their life was five years ago.

“These results provide compelling evidence that optimism is a universal phenomenon,” said Matthew Gallagher, a psychology doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas and lead researcher of the study.

At the country level, optimism is highest in Ireland, Brazil, Denmark, and New Zealand and lowest in Zimbabwe, Egypt, Haiti and Bulgaria. The United States ranks number 10 on the list of optimistic countries.

Demographic factors (age and household income) appear to have only modest effects on individual levels of optimism.

Now, has anyone actually conducted a scientific poll of science fiction writers to see how they stack up by comparison?

(Image: Democritus by Agostino Carracci, from Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]public opinion, polling, optimism, dystopia, pessimism,psychology[/tags]

Winners of Futurismic-only draw for Terra Insegura and Marseguro

Actual Book Just a quick note to announce the winners of the Futurismic-readers-only draw for copies of my science fiction novels Terra Insegura (just released) and its prequel, Marseguro, both published by DAW Books.

The signed copy of Terra Insegura goes to Mac Tonnies of Kansas City, Missouri, while the copy of Marseguro was won by Kian Momtahan of Bristol, U.K.

If you missed out on the Futurismic draw and would like a chance to win the books for yourself, I’m doing two more weeks of draws open to anyone. If you’d like to enter, just send me an email at edward(at) with the subject line Terra Insegura.

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to everyone who took part.


[tags]books,Edward Willett, Terra Insegura, science fiction, contests[/tags]

A drug to help recover "lost" memories?

492px-Frederick_Leighton_-_MemoriesBack in 2007, researchers at MIT’s Picower Institute for Learning and Memory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, discovered that mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease regained long-term memories and the ability to learn when treated with a new type of experimental drug called a histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitor.

Now that same team, led by Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience, has pinpointed the gene involved. It’s called HDAC2. (Via EurekAlert.)

“This gene and its protein are promising targets for treating memory impairment,” Tsai said. “HDAC2 regulates the expression of a plethora of genes implicated in plasticity — the brain’s ability to change in response to experience — and memory formation.

“It brings about long-lasting changes in how other genes are expressed, which is probably necessary to increase numbers of synapses and restructure neural circuits, thereby enhancing memory,” she said.

The researchers treated mice with Alzheimer’s-like symptoms using histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors. HDACs are a family of 11 enzymes that seem to act as master regulators of gene expression. Drugs that inhibit HDACs are in experimental stages and are not available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s.

As noted in the excerpt from white sands, HDAC inhibitors are experimental and not yet available by prescription for use for Alzheimer’s (they’re actually being tested in pre-clinical studies to treat Huntington’s disease, and some are already on the market to treat certain forms of cancer–they help chemotherapy drugs better reach their targets), but now that a specific target has been identified, more potent and safe drugs can be developed…which is what Tsai and her team will be focusing on next.

Of course, the focus is entirely medical at the moment, but if, as Tsai notes,

The fact that long-term memories can be recovered by elevated histone acetylation supports the idea that apparent memory “loss” is really a reflection of inaccessible memories

then this also raises the intriguing possibility of memory enhancement drugs for non-medical purposes…law enforcement, entertainment, remembering a loved one…heck, even an actor returning to a role he hasn’t played in 20 years could benefit from a drug that helps access “lost” memories.

Hmmm. On the other hand, aren’t there things you really don’t want to remember? What if the drug forced everything you thought safely buried into the light?

There’s an SF story in there somewhere…

(Image: Memories by Frederick Leighton, via Wikimedia Commons.)


My book is out, and I’m giving it away–the sequel!

Terra Insegura resized Paul recently accused me of being too modest to promote myself here on Futurismic, but this should prove him wrong!

My latest science fiction novel, Terra Insegura, is out from DAW Books tomorrow, and to promote it, I’m running a month-long giveaway at my blog (details here). You’re welcome to enter over there, but as I did last year for Marseguro, I’m also offering a special for Futurismic readers only.

Email me at edward(at) and put “Futurismic contest” in the subject line, and I’ll enter you in a Futurismic-only draw. The first name drawn receives a copy of Terra Insegura, and the second name drawn a copy of last year’s Aurora Award-nominated Marseguro. (I’ll only ask for mailing information from the winners after they win, and don’t worry: I’ll ship anywhere in the world.)

I’ll keep this draw open for two weeks, closing it at midnight GMT on Sunday, May 17.

And just a reminder: you can read the first two chapters of the book and/or listen to me read them on my website.

We now return you to your regular Futurismic programming.

(Image: Cover art by Stephan Martiniere.)

[tags]Edward Willett,science fiction, books, novels, contests[/tags]