Skip to content

Predictive fiction

September 21, 2008

In 1898, author Morgan Robertson wrote a novel called The Wreck of the Titan.  It concerned a practically unsinkable ship called The Titan, the largest ship ever built, that sank in the North Atlantic, a few hundred miles from the US Coast, one April night just before midnight, after striking an iceberg.

Fourteen years later, The Titanic, the largest passenger ship of its day, struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic, just before midnight, on an April night, a few hundred miles from the US Coast.  It too was practically unsinkable.

The first episode of X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen aired in March 2001, and concerned a plot to hijack a commercial airliner and fly it into the World Trade Centre in New York, destroying the building.  6 months later this nightmare scenario played out across TV screens worldwide.

Science fiction as a genre is full of examples of exotic technology that we now view as standard in our daily lives.  Mobile communication, geostationary satellite communication, electronic networks, video conferencing, bionic limbs.  All in fiction, all written about before their time.

I was trawling through the archives of my weblog recently and noticed two stories I had written last year.  The Silent Hives in June, and Redemption in September.  The Silent Hives concerns the spread of Colony Collapse Disorder wiping out bees globally, sparking famines and eventually war.  At the time, not many people were interested in the problem of bee colonies mysteriously disappearing, but over the past year the story has garnered wider attention.

In Redemption, depletion of oil reserves causes a spike in oil prices so high that air and car travel becomes prohibitively expensive, and people survive without power for extended periods of time globally.  Since I wrote it, oil has gone over $100 a barrel, and in the UK gas at the pumps varies between £1.10 and £1.19 per litre.  That’s the equivalent of close to $10 per gallon in the US.

This week Italian airline Alitalia cancelled many flights, and is on the brink of collapse, warning that it has insufficient funds to continue purchasing fuel for flights.  Meanwhile, only a few days before, a report was released warning that Britain faces prolonged power cuts in five years’ time if alternate energy supplies are not found.

Is there something about the freedom to dream, to explore, to imagine in fiction that taps into some prognosticatory wellspring?  Or with so many writers out there, writing on so many varied subjects, is it inevitable that someone will write something that appears predictive, only if we ignore all the other writings that simply did not come true?

One Comment
  1. September 21, 2008 5:46 pm

    Interesting post. Not sure I can answer your question though.

    I suppose science fiction writers are in the same head space as inventors and scientists creating and discovering these new technologies, but instead of using scientific knowledge to bring them to reality, writers just use our imaginations and put them on the page. It’s much easier that way.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: