Science fiction authors foretell inventions years before there invention.
| It is mainstream to denounce prophets as a thing of the past. If Nostradamus existed in the present it seems likely that he would have been ostracized by modern civilization and condemned to a life of solitude and irrelevance. However, prophets are amongst this world’s au courant society, found in an unlikely source. Veiled for centuries in literature, science fiction authors are undeniably clairvoyant; hidden forecasters of the future.
“If science fiction is good, it’s a logical extension of the world and has a likelihood of happening,” wrote Jim Halperin, author of The Truth Machine and The First Immortal (Walters 25). In all actuality, Halperin’s words are correct to an astounding degree. Some of the world’s most renowned authors, such as Jules Verne, Hugo Gernsback, Robert Heinlein, and H.G. Wells, had an especial predilection for prediction. Numerous concepts proposed by these and other authors in early science fiction writing have become reality today (Warmbeln). These prophecies have encompassed scores of categories; such as weapons, communications, engineering, and space tech.
In 1875 Jules Verne told of an electric gun in his popular novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It can cripple a foe “as if struck by a lightening bolt…however strong it may be, it falls dead.” One hundred years after the book was published, the TASER was invented.
George Griffith not only predicted fighter jets in his short story The Angel of the Revolution (1893) but also long range, frighteningly precise missiles. From three-thousand feet the Ariel airplane shot a projectile “about two feet long and six inches in diameter” six miles and devastated the target.
Perhaps one of the most terrifying insights in history was presented in the novel The Crack of Doom by Robert Cromie in 1895. Cromie recognizes the atrocious, clandestine “energy locked up” in the “huge atomic warehouse of this planet.” He proceeds to warn of the desolation of harnessing that power. “…not wise to wreck incautiously even the atoms of a molecule…one grain of matter contains sufficient energy…to raise a hundred thousand tons nearly two miles…”
In one of the most prominent divinations in science fiction history, British author H.G. Wells illustrates the modern day tank with unprecedented detail. The 1903 novel The Land Ironclads predicts, down to the crosshairs, an “armored infantry vehicle,” universally known as a tank. H.G. Well, concerning the “land ironclads”, writes “they (the tanks) had the most remarkable sights imaginable, sights which threw a bright little camera-obscura picture into the light-tight box…this picture was marked with two crossed lines, and whatever was covered by the intersection of these two lines, the rifle hit…he (the soldier) pressed a finger upon a little push like an electric bell-push, conveniently placed in the knob. Then the target was shot.” H.G. Wells predicts not only the concept of a mechanized tank, but remote displays, joysticks, the small metal interior, and weapons that automatically reload.
H.G. Wells, one of the most perceptive science fiction authors in history, once again makes a stunning insight into the future. In his 1899 novel When the Sleeper Wakes Well’s explores the video player, or as he calls them “A modern substitute for books.” In the novel, the main character stumbles upon rows of colorful cylinders with vibrant green letters. He reaches for one, recognizes the title of “The Man who would be King” as a story he had read as a child, and inserts it in a square apparatus. After pressing a button “a little picture, very vividly colored” appeared “and in this picture were figures that moved and also conversed in clear small voices.” It would take 25 more years for televisions to not only be invented but to capture moving images, 57 more years for a practical VCR to be released, and 94 years for the first model of a DVD player to be invented.
The concept of a cell phone has emerged numerous times in science fiction by numerous authors (Technovelgy). However, in 1953, Robert Heinlein, in his novel Assignment in Eternity, successfully describes not only the cell phone or “pocket phone” itself, but, debatably, the main problem with them (Technovelgy). “‘How come’, he asked as he came abreast, ‘they had to search for you?’ ‘Left my pocket phone in my other suit,’ Coburn returned briefly. ‘Did it on purpose- I wanted a little peace and quiet. No luck.’”
In 1894 the United States was by no stretch of the imagination in an energy crises. Nonetheless, John Jacob Astor IV realized that this wouldn’t always be the case. The millionaire inventor/businessman/realtor/colonel/writer wrote A Journey in Other Worlds and in it explored the possibility of renewable wind energy. Astor IV not only describes the turbines but suggests that the commercial value of the Sahara and other tropical deserts, which he thought would become desirable mill-sites, would rise substantially.
Hugo Gernsback also experimented with invention. In his novel Ralph 124c 4+ published in 1911 his knowledge of science is evident in his astounding description of RADAR, a technology that wouldn’t be used until WWII. In Ralph 124c 4+ Gernsback elucidates modern RADAR as “a pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light ray is reflected from a bright surface…from the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance…can be accurately estimated.” Later in the novel Gernsback depicts “steelonium” as a metal ten times as strong as steel that won’t rust and has no cracks of fissures, or stainless steel.
“With the Scarab as big as a beetle, I could make a Scarab as big as a sand grain. This second Scarab could build a miniature of itself, as big as a dust grain. The third Scarab could construct a fourth, bearing the same proportions as the first to the second, or the second to the third. And so on, down to the limit imposed by the ultimate indivisibility of the atoms themselves” (Gallun). In Raymond Gallun’s A Menace in Miniature (1937) he demonstrates the process of miniaturization and the end result; nanotechnology, a field of science that hasn’t even reached adolescents in the modern world.
Science fiction was unbelievably perceptive when it pertained to space. Before anyone had ever left ground in an airplane, let alone a spacecraft, Garret Serviss predicted the need of an “air tight” space suit that allowed the wearer to “venture outside…even when beyond the atmosphere of the earth.” In his novel Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898) Serviss also foresaw and approached another significant setback to space travel; communication. He wondered how it was possible for people encased in individual spacesuits to converse with each other (Technovelgy). His solution was evident in his novel; “inside the headpiece of each of the electrical suits was the mouthpiece of a telephone.”
Nat Schachner wrote The Emperor of the Stars in 1931, expanding on the idea of a spacesuit. His spacesuit was electrically heated and contained an oxygen-respiratory apparatus.
It is not all by luck or chance that the prophecies of science fiction become fulfilled. Tomi Landis, the executive producer of The Science of Star Wars said “The best science fiction inspires the imagination of the best scientists, no matter how old” (Walters 25). The primary reason for the realizations of decade old foresights lies with the author himself, however. Many influential fiction writers, such as Hugo Gernsback and John Astor IV, were scientists themselves and recognized both the possibilities of science and its limits (Rabkin 206).
Since 1634 over 650 innovations have been presented by 65 science fiction authors (Technovelgy). The detail of these 650 contraptions and inspirations are so astonishing that the ESA (European Space Agency is studying science fiction literature, artwork, and films to see whether any ideas might be worth taking a closer look at today (Warmbeln 2). Science fiction informs humanity of looming inventions and where they will take us and our children (Rabkin 206). Although it may seem far fetched now, a closer examination of science fiction reveals that an annihilator beam or ray gun may not be too far from reality.