Monday, May 20, 2019

5 Science Fiction Books That Predicted the Future

Science fiction has always been a genre of brilliant ideas. In many cases, the fantastical creations you’ll find in sci-fi are parables and metaphors for modern-day struggles: the androids in Blade Runner draw obvious parallels to race relations in America, the Klingons in Star Trek are a proxy for the Cold War-era Red Menace.

But sci-fi isn't just a reflection of our present — it's also a way for authors to exercise their imaginations in terms of how we might be living in the future. In this post, we’ll look at five predictions from classic science fiction books that have since become… science fact!

From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Florida Moon Missions

One of speculative fiction’s greatest innovators, Jules Verne still got a lot wrong about space travel in his 1965 novel, From the Earth to the Moon. For one, he imagined that a giant cannon could shoot a bullet-shaped capsule into orbit and beyond — a process that would have turned its passengers into compressed corpses.

One detail that Verne did manage to predict with eerie accuracy, however, is that the launches would take place from Central Florida. In the book, the Columbiad space gun is built on a hill in Tampa— a mere hundred miles away from Cape Canaveral, where NASA would stage the majority of its launches a century later.

But why Florida? Despite the fact that the Sunshine State is subject to some of the most mercurial weather conditions in America, its geography presents two major benefits. It’s close to the Atlantic, for one: multi-stage rockets are able to jettison parts safely into the ocean (and in the event of a disaster, civilian lives would not be at risk). Also, due to its proximity to the equator, launches receive an additional speed boost thanks to the rotation of the Earth. Hooray, science!

Brave New World (1931), The Antidepressant Epidemic

In Aldous Huxley’s all-time classic of science fiction, citizens of the World State are kept docile with the help of a mood-enhancing drug called Soma. At the time when the book was published, pharmaceutical solutions to psychological issues were pretty primitive — opiates and amphetamines were unnervingly seen as a panacea. There was no way for Huxley to have known just how prevalent antidepressants would become by the end of the century, yet his hunch most certainly turned out to be right.

Seeing how the media (rightfully) focuses most of its attention on the opioid epidemic in North America, you might be staggered to learn that over 11% of American use antidepressants. This is according to a CDC report that’s almost ten years old — and you can bet that number has increased in the years since. In many parts of the world, antidepressants from human urine have made their way into natural waterways at such a level that that fish have become less alarmed by predators. A brave new world, indeed...

Neuromancer (1984), The Internet

“A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”

This is how William Gibson describes PAX, the global computer network at the center of his seminal novel, Neuromancer. Five years before Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web, Gibson presented a stark vision of how online information would be shared, experienced and exploited. The story follows Case, a washed-up hacker who’s hired to break into a major corporation — a plot that has influenced any film where a teen in a hoodie hunches over a keyboard with a flurry of fingers before barking, “I’m in!”

What was once weird and fantastical has now almost come to fruition in 2019 — with the exception that we don’t talk about ‘jacking in’ to cyberspace, thank God.

Looking Backward (1888), Credit Cards

Da-da-da-da-da-da! Charge it!

Diner’s Club first popularised the idea of the credit card back in the early 50s, but the term itself was introduced a lot earlier. Edward Bellamy’s Looking Back imagines a socialist utopia of the future (in the year 2000!) in which those with harder jobs work fewer hours and all citizens are given ‘credit cards’ loaded with an equal split of the economy’s spoils.

Of course, you may have already gathered that these ‘credit’ cards function more like debit cards. It would, after all, not be a utopia if citizens were able to rack up debt with exorbitant interest rates and live in fear of losing their homes. But still: the concept stands today.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1939), Mass Surveillance

We couldn’t finish off this little list (list-ette?) without mentioning the granddaddy of sci-fi prognostication. The fact that “Orwellian” is a standard adjective for mass surveillance should give you some idea of how influential Nineteen Eighty-Four has been.

In the novel, a citizen’s every movement is observed by omnipresent “telescreens” under the guise of national security. As a result, an atmosphere of paranoia hangs over the people of Oceana: is Big Brother watching? And does he know what we are thinking?

In 2019, Big Brother has taken on many forms. Sometimes, he appears as the CCTV networks that criss-cross most major cities. Though, more often than not, he manifests as a multinational corporation that makes prestige television or allows our old classmates to share their incendiary opinions.

Martin Cavannagh is a staff writer for Reedsy, a marketplace connecting authors with the best freelance editors, designers and book marketers. Find Martin on Twitter.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thank you, Martin!

Pat Hatt said...

So antidepressant rivers? Fun times.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Great post. Interesting what some authors got right.

Herb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Herb said...

I would add Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury with the wall-sized TVs, the earbuds and everyone taking offense at everything...

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Antidepressants are indeed an epidemic now.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great list. I've often thought of how sci-fi writers have helped predict/create the future.
Was it 1984 (maybe Fahrenheit 451???) that had the wall-sized TVs where you could interact with the show as long as you had enough money.

Roland Clarke said...

Very accurate these SF guys - most of the time. I agree with the Fahrenheit 451 comments. And I want to add Arthur C Clarke - no relation - and geo-stationary satellites.

Mike said...

Great list!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex - interesting list of books ... I'd rather like to read. Doesn't HG Wells' with his 'War of the Worlds' fit in here? But thanks for the ideas - cheers Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex - sorry ... I should have said great list from Martin ... apologies Martin! Cheers Hilary

Fundy Blue said...

A great list of books, Martin, some I'm not familiar with. My reading list has just gotten longer! Interesting idea for a post, Alex!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Great list! I've read most of these. I find the anti-depressant water table to be the most frightening, although groupthink or "onlythinklikeme" aka the book-of-faces has become a bit annoying, and I was one of the early adopters of the place. I still have account(s) through them, but I don't visit very often any more and I'm beginning to lose touch with the main disagreements there (thank God).

Powdered Toast Man said...

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, they were using E-readers.

1984 was creepily too right.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I never really considered how bad an antidepressant could be, especially if you need to run from predators. Fun post! Thanks!