Writers? Or Visionaries?

I read an interesting article recently that discussed ten sci-fi books and stories that made predictions that came true. (Some of these books I have read; some I’ve never even heard of.) The books were as follows:

1. From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne, published in 1865
This novel predicted a lot of aspects of the first lunar landing. Jules Verne even had his astronauts fly to the moon in an aluminum spacecraft from somewhere in Florida. (Of course Apollo 11 didn’t actually land on the moon until 1969.)

2. Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, published in 1888
This novel featured inhabitants of a future utopia who carried a card that allowed them to spend credit from a bank without using actual paper money. (It wasn’t until 1950 that the first credit card was invented by Diner’s Club, and it wasn’t until 1969 that the ATM card came about.)

3. The Land Ironclads by H.G. Wells, published in 1903
This story, which was published in Strand Magazine, included metal-hulled vehicles that were one hundred feet long, had sixteen wheels, and were equipped with artillery. (They resembled army tanks, which were not utilized until a dozen years later during World War I)

4. Ralph 124c 41+ by Hugo Gernsback, published in 1911
This twelve-part serial was first published in Modern Electrics Magazine (and in 1925 was assembled into book form and republished), and included a piece of equipment called the “telephot” that allowed people to see each other while speaking across long distances. (It wasn’t until 1964 that AT&T introduced the “picturephone” at the New York World’s Fair.)

5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, published in 1931
This book about the year 2540 featured a mood-altering medication called “Soma” which maintained sanity for the citizens of London. (Anti-depressant drugs didn’t begin until the discovery of chlorpromazine in 1952.)

6. Solution Unsatisfactory by Robert Heinlein, published in 1940
This short story predicted a future world where America ended World War II unilaterally with a newly developed automatic weapon. After its use, the rest of the world was propelled into a nuclear arms race in order to keep up. (This story was written before Germany invaded the U.S.S.R., and before the U.S. was even involved in the war.)

7. The Space-Station: Its Radio Applications by Arthur C. Clarke, published in 1945
This manuscript featured geosynchronous satellites which were used for telecommunications relays, especially for television signals. (Televisions were not even widely used until nearly a decade later, and the first satellite was not launched into orbit until late 1957.)

8. 1984 by George Orwell, published in 1949
This book featured citizens of a dystopian state that was closely monitored by “Big Brother” or circuits of video surveillance cameras everywhere. (While engineer Walter Burch invented the first surveillance cameras which were installed by Siemens in 1942 at a rocket launch site in Peenemunde, Germany, they didn’t appear in the U.S. until 1962 in the business district of Olean, NY.  The city installed the cameras to help prevent crime.)

9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, published in 1953
This book featured portable audio which he described as “little seashells… thimble radios” that brought an “electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk,” yet headphones at the time of Bradbury’s writing were bulky devices that went over the head and were very heavy. (It wasn’t until 2001 that Apple developed the ear-bud listening device to be used with iPods.)

10. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner, published in 1968
In this novel, the future America of 2010 serves under “President Obomi.” It is also plagued by random acts of violence including terrorist attacks and school shootings. It includes automobiles that are powered by rechargeable electronic fuel cells, and Detroit is a virtual wasteland with a new style of “electronic music.” (Does any of this sound familiar?)

The theme of this article got me interested, so I Googled other books that predicted the future and found even more:

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster, published in 1909 predicted Skyping.

The Senator’s Daughter by Edward Page Mitchell, published in 1879 predicted print-on-demand.

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, published in 1968 predicted digital media.

Now, the part of this research that fascinated me was actually not the obvious… that people from the past predicted future inventions. After all, technology has always been progressive and will continue to progress long after we’re gone. So, it really shouldn’t be that difficult for a creative mind to see the endless possibilities that could very likely be true at some point in the future.

But the parts of these novels that predicted actual events and facts gave me goosebumps. For example, Jules Verne choosing his spacecraft to launch from Florida is amazing. Or John Brunner’s “President Obomi” specifically serving in 2010 is quite remarkable.

I think the prediction that I find the most incredible is from a book that I actually learned about from a classic TV show. The novella by Morgan Robertson was titled Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan. It was published in 1898 and featured an ocean liner named Titan which sinks in the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg. (It was another fourteen years before RMS Titanic met an eerily similar fate!)

▪The fictional Titan was 800 feet long and traveled at a speed of 25 knots; the Titanic was just inches over 882 feet and went 22.5 knots.

▪Both ships had triple screw propellers and were described as unsinkable.

▪Both ships had crew and passenger capacities of 3,000, yet they only carried enough lifeboats for half that many people.

▪Both ships struck an iceberg on the starboard side during April nights in the North Atlantic.

▪Both ships sank just 400 nautical miles from Newfoundland.

▪When both ships sank, more than half of their passengers died.

So my question for you is this: What books can you think of that predicted something that actually happened later?

great-ships-the-titanic

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30 thoughts on “Writers? Or Visionaries?

  1. I am woefully under-read in this area. Of your list I am ashamed to say I have only read Brave New World and 1984. I have read some Verne and Wells, but not the ones you mention. An interesting post, thx Rachel. SD

  2. Very interesting post! I think it is amazing how these predictions were pretty much spot on or quite close, like the president Obomi. I wish I knew some other stories with such predictions…if I think of some, I’ll definitely let you know 🙂

    • LOL! Nah, I don’t think it’s about age as much as taste. I think most of these are sci-fi, and that’s not really my thing either. Most of these that I have read were because they were assigned at some point. LOL! I don’t think I’m sure what a bioptic novel is??? I’m still not sure yet about NaNoWriMo next month. I was hoping to, but I’m still behind on the novel I’m writing now. I’ll know more in a couple of days, I guess. I’ll let you know. LOL! 😀

  3. When I read the first sentence, I instantly thought of a few you have on the list: 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451. After reading about the eerie coincidences in Stand on Zanzibar and The Wreck of the Titan I must add these to my TBR. Fascinating post!

  4. That is one beautiful horrible painting…. God rest their souls….

    Here’s a scenario that hasn’t come to pass yet, but a lot of people are confident in their predictions that it’s inevitable:

    “I went out of that gallery and into another and still larger one, which at the first glance reminded me of a military chapel hung with tattered flags. The brown and charred rags that hung from the sides of it, I presently recognized as the decaying vestiges of books. They had long since dropped to pieces, and every semblance of print had left them. But here and there were warped boards and cracked metallic clasps that told the tale well enough. Had I been a literary man I might, perhaps, have moralized upon the futility of all ambition. But as it was, the thing that struck me with keenest force was the enormous waste of labour to which this sombre wilderness of rotting paper testified.” – The Time Machine, Chapter VIII, by H. G. Wells (1895). (Courtesy http://www.gutenberg.org )

    The 1960 motion picture adaptation ( http://youtu.be/WQ4lDJs8skg and http://youtu.be/zI6vrJHf8qo ) expanded on this theme with its depiction of “talking rings” that played while spinning in a beam of light. The optical disc had been invented in 1958, although it took 20 more years of development before laser discs began to be sold, but videocassettes were much cheaper and flooded the market. It wasn’t until almost another 20 years had passed that smaller sized CDs and DVDs became cheap and versatile enough to supplant magnetic tape recordings.

    Nevertheless, the Elois’ high-tech optical archives didn’t seem to have done them any good: the people’s intellect, energy and motivation had all withered away. (See my 10/17/13 post, “Goodbye to Gutenberg? Never!”) And when George the Time Traveler went back to the future, he took three books with him.

    As Filby asked George’s housekeeper at the end of the movie: Which three books would you have taken?

    • That’s really cool about the CDs/DVDs prediction! That’s a good question about which three books in THAT scenario. Because, when people ask me if I was stranded on an island, which three books I would take, my answer is always, “How to Build a Boat Out of Materials You Can Find on an Island,” “How to Build a Noticeable Rescue Fire Out of Materials You Can Find on an Island,” and “365 Ways to Pass the Time While You’re Waiting to be Rescued from an Island.”

  5. I read an article on star wars. com.about a fan who actually wrote a fan fiction before “The Empire Strikes Back” came out, which actually predicted quite a bit of “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” I actually have a similar story on paper that I’m never going to publish on any media. I wonder how many ideas like mine will make it into the next trilogy? 😛
    OH, and I also wrote something that predicted quite a bit of the slaver arcs in the Clone Wars.

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