Science fiction and fantasy books are often just the authors’ predictions about what they think the world will be like in 10, 20, or hundreds of years.
But sometimes these books eerily hit the nail on the head, even going into great detail about inventions, technologies, and societal norms which, back then, no one had ever conceived of.
We did a round-up of 10 books, listed by year published, that correctly predicted the future.
“Paris in the Twentieth Century” by Jules Verne (1863)
What it predicted: The submarine and lunar landing
Many critics agree that Verne’s dystopian “Paris in the Twentieth Century” wasn’t his greatest work, but what makes it most interesting are the inventions he predicted almost 100 years before they were actually made. They include the submarine and the technology needed to land on the moon.
These inventions were seen in some of Verne’s other books, but “Paris” was written even before these; it just wasn’t published — or even heard of — until Verne’s great-grandson discovered the manuscript in 1989 in a supposedly empty safe.
“An Express of the Future” by Michel Verne (1888)
What it predicted: The Hyperloop
Michel, Jules Verne’s son, wrote “An Express of the Future” at the turn of the 20th century, 25 years after “Paris.” The short story describes a theoretical transatlantic tunnel in which trains are propelled through pneumatic tubes by pressurized air:
“Coming at once to the question of working, he filled the tubes—transformed into a sort of pea-shooter of interminable length—with a series of carriages, to be carried with their travellers by powerful currents of air.”
Sound familiar? You may be thinking of Elon Musk’s recently proposed Hyperloop, his idea of a way to get from one part of California to another very quickly.
“The World Set Free” by H.G. Wells (1914)
What it predicted: Atomic bombs
Written in the anxiety-ridden wake of the Great War, Wells’ “The World Set Free” outlined the possibility of atomic weapons almost 100 years before they were invented, and then dropped. Though the power of radioactivity was no secret at the time, Wells was the one to anticipate its destructive usage:
“The amount of energy that men were able to command was continually increasing. Applied to warfare that meant that the power to inflict a blow, the power to destroy, was continually increasing … Before the last war began it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a city.”
“Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley (1932)
What it predicted: Mood-enhancing drugs
Set in London in 2540, “Brave New World,” Huxley’s most recognized work, depicts a society in which people escape through the use of mood-enhancing drugs, which the characters call “soma”:
“Swallowing half an hour before closing time, that second dose of soma had raised a quite impenetrable wall between the actual universe and their minds … By this time the soma had begun to work. Eyes shone, cheeks were flushed, the inner light of universal benevolence broke out on every face in happy, friendly smiles. Even Bernard felt himself a little melted.”
Scientists didn’t first start playing with antidepressants until the 1950s, but Huxley seemed to prophesize its soon-to-be widespread use even back in the ’30s.
“1984” by George Orwell (1948)
What it predicted: Government control and oversight
Arguably Orwell’s most popular book, “1984” describes a dystopian future, 36 years after it was written, in which the government, “Big Brother,” knows exactly what you’re doing and when, and can punish you for it:
“There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to.”
It may sound far-fetched, but with the NSA’s controversial involvement in wiretapping, data-mining, and collecting domestic emails with no ties to terrorism, Orwell may not have been all that far off.
“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein (1961)
What it predicted: Water beds and the colonization of Mars
Heinlein described the modern-day waterbed in his science fiction novel “Stranger in a Strange Land”:
“His body, unbearably compressed and weakened by the strange shape of space in this unbelievable place was at last somewhat relieved by the softness of the nest in which these others had placed him … The patient floated in the flexible skin of the hydraulic bed.”
It was done in such accurate detail that the eventual inventor of the device, Charles Hall, originally had his patent denied in 1968 on the grounds that Heinlein owned the intellectual property.
Heinlein may have also foreseen the Mars One mission to send people on a one-way ticket to live on Mars, as his book’s main character was born and raised on the red planet.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
What it predicted: iPads and online newspapers
Developed simultaneously with the Kubrick film, Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” became a cult classic for its realistic depiction of space travel and, similarly to air travel, the little luxuries and amenities it could one day provide. Like the iPad-like “newspads” aboard the shuttle:
“When he tired of official reports and memoranda and minutes, he would plug in his foolscap-size newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers … He would hold the front page while he quickly searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him. Each had its own two-digit reference; when he punched that, the postage-stamp-size rectangle would expand until it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort.”
Apple may have taken a lesson from Clarke’s masterpiece.
“Time is the Simplest Thing” by Clifford Simak (1977)
What it predicted: Artificially made meat
The characters in Simak’s “Time is the Simplest Thing” have mastered the ability to make artificial meat — a product whose pros and cons are weighed heavily by Blaine, the protagonist, and Dalton, a businessman:
“[Dalton said,] ‘There is the matter for example, of this so-called butcher vegetable. You plant a row of seeds, then later you go out and dig up the plants as you would potatoes, but rather than potatoes you have hunks of protein.’
‘And so,’ said Blaine, ‘for the first time in their lives, millions of people are eating meat they couldn’t buy before, that your fine, brave system of conventions and of ethics didn’t allow them to earn enough to buy.’
‘But the farmers!’ Dalton yelled. ‘And the meat market operators. Not to mention the packing interests…'”
Though the “butcher vegetable” isn’t quite the same as the recently-developed test tube burger, Simak’s anticipation of artificially made meat, and its ensuing debate, is exactly what’s going on today.
“Neuromancer” by William Gibson (1984)
What it predicted: Cyberspace and computer hackers
Gibson published “Neuromancer” in 1984, when the Internet was still relatively new (and the World Wide Web still didn’t exist). Most people in the world were still figuring out how to use the thing while Gibson’s character was not only using it, but hacking it and stealing data:
“He’d operated on an almost permanent adrenaline high, a byproduct of youth and proficiency, jacked into a custom cyberspace deck that projected his disembodied consciousness into the consensual hallucination that was the matrix. A thief he’d worked for other, wealthier thieves, employers who provided the exotic software required to penetrate the bright walls of corporate systems, opening windows into rich fields of data.”
Gibson actually coined the term cyberspace in a previous work, “Burning Chrome,” and popularized it with “Neuromancer.” It then became interchangeable with the World Wide Web once it was invented in 1993.
“Stand on Zanzibar” by John Brunner (1969)
What it predicted: The better question, when it comes to Brunner’s 1969 magnum opus, is what didn’t it predict?
It may be the most accurate depiction of the future ever contained in a book. Nate Silver himself couldn’t have done better, says literary news site The Millions.
“Stand on Zanzibar” is set in the year 2010 in the U.S., under the administration of President Obomi. Written in bits and fragments of the characters’ lives in real time — public service announcements, obituaries, advertisements—amidst a chaotic and dystopian society: terrorist threats and attacks are an everyday occurrence, and violence in schools is old news. Detroit, in his world, is akin to a ghost town.
But Brunner also makes a lot of positive predictions about life in the 21st century. Hookup culture and gay lifestyles are widely accepted in the 2010 of his novel, and people have satellite TV, TiVo-type viewing, and electric cars. Brunner got a lot of things right, both the good and the bad.
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