One of the hallmarks of speculative fiction is an attempt to predict the future. From science fiction to alternate histories to apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic fiction, an attempt to map out future events is a constant and takes many forms. Dystopian novels such as Nineteen Eighty-Four or Brave New World were intentionally trying to portray future events and technology. With prediction as a goal, you would expect them to get at least some things right.
(By the way, I’m still waiting for those killer view-screens, but only if they are one way.)
Of course, many books are written for simple entertainment, not to predict future events; but in hindsight we can always pick up similarities between old novels and current events that can be passed off as coincidence.
And then there are times when the coincidences can get downright creepy.
The sinking of the RMS Titanic was an appalling disaster. One thousand five hundred and seventeen lives were lost, more than two-thirds of the people on board. It has spawned a large number of literary and film versions, but none of them are as interesting as the first one, titled Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan, by Morgan Robertson.
In his book, Robinson writes of an 800-foot British luxury liner named Titan. Titan has a three-thousand passenger capacity and is considered to be a crowning achievement of maritime technology and virtually unsinkable. Because of this presumed invulnerability, only the minimum number of lifeboats required by law are on board, with a capacity far below the number of passengers and crew. On an icy April night in the North Atlantic, 400 miles from Newfoundland, Titan strikes an iceberg. The accident happens right around midnight while traveling at 25 knots (too fast for conditions). Titan sinks, killing most people aboard.
Sound familiar? It should. It’s the same basic plot that has been used for every other movie or book based on the Titanic disaster, from the Third Reich to that other guy. You know, the one that did The Terminator? The big difference is Robinson’s book was published in 1898, fourteen years before the RMS Titanic was even built, yet the similarities between the book and the actual events are so spot on that you could read the book and think it was a fictionalized account.
In your face, Philip K. Dick!