Technology is moving forward at an incredible pace, there is a large metal doughnut under most of Switzerland smashing atoms together at almost the speed of light to err…. do something or other…. I’m not sure what exactly. There are government departments all over the world working on top secret projects, technology unthinkable a generation ago will exist within the next century because the building blocks are there we just have to push the boundaries further and we will probably react with a shrug and a ‘whatever’ as no new technology amazes us, in fact we almost expect things like teleportation to exist sometime soon.
Sci-fi writers of the past working with the restrictions of steam power and valves had to use their imagination to show the future. So here are ten things that were predicted before Quantum Physics and Silicone chips.
Shall we start with Jules Verne?
Although submarines had been around as a concept since ancient Greece, by 1867 they had advanced to an 46 foot steam powered example. Just three years later Jules Verne published 20’000 Leagues Under The Sea which featured a giant electric powered submarine with a full crew compliment which could stay under water for weeks recycling the air. It was commanded by a renegade Captain and was chased around the oceans by the then world’s super powers….. Cold War? Hunt For Red October?
Also in 20,000 leagues under the sea, they went hunting with an invention of Verne’s that he called Leyden balls which used the principle of the ‘Leyden Jar’ an early type of capacitor invented in the 18th Century to discharge an electrical current contained in a glass and lead ball into the body of the target, a full century before the concept became a reality with the ‘Taser’ the go to weapon for police wanting a non fatal stop.
In 1961 John F Kennedy delivered a speech announcing that…. ‘I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.’ Nearly a century earlier (1865) and before any type of rocket other than glorified fireworks had been launched, Jules Verne described a successful Moon mission and described all the problems that N.A.S.A had to overcome in the next century.
Moving on to John Wyndham…..
Genetically modified crops are a 21st century ‘thing’ right?….John Wyndham wrote about the Triffids, a Orchid/Venus fly trap concoction in the 1951 novel ‘Day Of The Triffids’ It was created to solve a global food crisis, it also discussed the importance of productivity/quality over Health and Safety. The Triffids were bred to help starvation, providing easily harvested vitamins and nutrients. They were also ‘designed’ to produce a sustainable source of oils to do away with the reliance on fossil fuels, Bio fuel?
In 1951 when Day of The Triffids was written, the first artificial satellite ‘Sputnik’ was still six years away and Ronald Reagan’s (not implemented) ‘Star Wars’ speech was decades in the future. But Wyndham got it spot on describing how weapons were in orbit above the earth ready to inflict catastrophic disasters against a countries enemies. In the book bright lights burnt out the retinas in your eyes, Ronald Reagan described high powered lasers……….
The ‘Celeb’ Culture
Not exactly Sci-Fi but Wyndham predicted the 21st obsession with fame in a short story entitled ‘Where O where is Peggy Rafferty?’ A teenage girl Peggy Rafferty is obsessed with becoming famous, to this end, Peggy applies to go on a quiz show (the nearest the thing to reality T.V when it was written in the 50’s) she’s a hit with the viewers and is coached by the station to become a star appearing in movies, when she later goes back to her town they don’t recognise her as she looks the same as all the famous girls in the magazines they read……..
H.G Wells wrote an almost exact account of an Atomic bomb explosion in his 1914 novel ‘The World Set Free’ while he predicted ‘The Manhattan project 30 years early, even he was beaten to by the lesser known author Robert Cromie in his 1895 novel ‘The Crack of Doom’ In this novel Cromie describes an explosion from splitting the atom that the world witnessed fifty years later over two different Japanese cities.
C.C.T.V and communication monitoring
No list of predictive Sci-Fi novels would be complete without Orwell’s grim view of the future in 1984. C.C.T.V is everywhere and monitoring of communication channels. The reasons may be different (depending on your political views) in 1984 it is to monitor and control the proletariat or ‘prols’ (as Orwell calls us), everyone is monitored throughout their lives by cameras and you have to walk down back streets and write on normal paper rather than computers to avoid detection, town centre C.C.T.V and government monitoring of emails and texts? It is obviously done for our safety now and not control but the technology is still the same. In the book same he also predicted perpetual war and switching of alliances based on political need.
Aldous Huxley in his 1931 novel ‘Brave New World’ predicted both what the tabloids describe as designer babies and what used to be called test tube babies, now called ‘In vitro fertilisation’ which although it sounds posher and more ‘politically correct’ because it’s in Latin. It actually means exactly the same thing In Vitro translates as ‘In glass’. Huxley wrote the book a full twenty-two years before Watson, Crick and Wilkins sequenced human D.N.A and nearly half a century before the worlds first ‘test tube baby’. He also described a similar society to Orwell’s ‘1984’ where people were conditioned to play a particular role in society determined on their intelligence……. Jeremy Kyle show?
Finally some reversed prediction
Charles Darwin and Pierre Boulle
In 1859 Charles Darwin published ‘ On the Origin of Species’ outlining how he thought we had developed from single cell organisms through to apes and finally man. He used terms like ‘survival of the fittest’ a hundred years later Pierre Boulle after writing the classic ‘Bridge on the Kwai’ an account of the building of the Burma – Siam railway during the second world war, the film version had the classic scene of Alec Guiness (years before he became a Jedi Knight) falling on the detonator, realising he had helped the Japanese war effort after asking himself, ‘What have I done?’…. I digress…. ten years later Mr Boulle turned his hand to sci-fi and took Darwin’s theory full circle and had apes overtaking us as the dominant species…. will this Sci-fi come true as well?
It might if we don’t stop being so smug and clever…..