Ep. 15. Ahead of Their Time: Authors predicting the future before 1900

Albert Einstein said that "today's imagination is tomorrow's reality". And if we judge by their books, writers from the 19th century were quite busy imagining future reality with astonishing accuracy. What follows is a list of books published before 1900 which "predicted" future events or inventions. We promise you will be surprised.
Photo by J.J. Jordan

    🔮 Mars' two moons

In this satiric novel, Gulliver is the protagonist of a journey that takes him from one fantastical land to another. Among many other strange places, he travels to Lilliput, where the inhabitants are 6 inches tall; to Brobdingang, where, contrastingly, inhabitants are 60 feet tall; and to Laputa, where scientists pursue unpractical art, math, and astrology. In the novel, Swift attributes Laputans with the discovery of two moons with short orbits around Mars. About 140 years later, Asaph Hall, an American astronomer, discovered the two moons, which indeed have short orbits around the red planet.  

For those in the mood for grand adventure, Gulliver satiric voyages are great bibliotherapy for that, especially if accompanied by a Gulp-Iver's Travels cocktail. This drink, listed in Tim Federle's book Tequila Mockingbird requires equal parts vodka, peach schnapps, grapefruit juice, and cranberry juice. You can decide if you prepare the Lilliputian or the Brobdingnagian version; but, be warned, the drink goes down in one swig.

    🔮 Richard Parker's fate after a storm at sea

In this novel, the only one written by Poe, the crew of a whaling ship who survive a storm participate in a gruesome lottery. They must decide which one of them will be sacrificed as food source for all the others. The name of the unlucky sailor in Poe's novel is Richard Parker. But the fictional tale was spookily close to real events occurring 50 years after the publication of Poe's novel. The survivors of the Mignonette, also adrift and desperate after a storm, kill and eat one of their own. The name of the unlucky sailor? You guessed right, Richard Parker. 

Obvious State has some of the most elegant and creative literary prints we have seen. One of them, has a quote from Edgar Allan Poe along with a maritime theme that we think will be a favorite of any lovers of Poe's only novel. 
Quote from Edgar Allan Poe - Literary print from Obvious State

If one writer from the 19th century can be attributed with the prediction of several events or scientific advances years before they actually happened, that is Jules Verne. After all, it was him who said that "Everything a person can imagine, others can make it happen". That's why we have chosen two of his titles, both predicting future accomplishments, for our Book vs. Book this week.  

    🔮 Moon Landing

In this book, Verne describes how a crew of three American men were shot out of a cannon from Florida on the Columbiad and landed on the moon. A century later, three Americans indeed landed on the moon after departing from Florida on the Apollo 11, whose command module was called Columbia. Besides the similarities in names and locations, several of Verne's calculations, not all, were surprisingly accurate. 

For fans of the book, we have found two art prints that might be to your liking. One of them has a minimalistic design and it has been created by Michal Sobel. The second one is a poster of the cover for the first edition of the book designed by AllStarCrick
From the Earth to the Moon art prints. Minimalistic design by Michal Sobel (left) First edition cover poster by AllStarCrick (right)

    🔮 Electric submarine

Probably one of the best known books by Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea features an electric submarine almost a century before electric submarines were a reality. The submarine in question, the Nautilus, is commanded by Captain Nemo. Nemo, along with a Canadian harpooner, a French oceanographer, and the oceanographer's assistant travel 20,000 leagues among wonders and fantastical places deep undersea.

For lovers of this book, we have found the blog page for the book club Delicious Reads. In 2015, Delicious Reads met to discuss Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and they have shared the menu for the meeting, along with recipes and pictures on their page. The menu is full of creative drinks and food including Ocean Blue Punch, Seaweed Dip, Crab Cakes, Sea Cucumber Salad, Clam Chowder, Sand Dollar Sugar Cookies, and Oyster Macaroons. We must say, Delicious Reads sounds like a great and tasty book club. 

For fans of Jules Verne, if you are excited to vote in this week's Book vs. Book, you might also want to learn about Nantes, the French seaside town where Jules Verne was born. If you ever find yourself there, don't miss The Machines of the Isle of Nantes, where you can admire and ride some of the giant automatons inspired by Verne's books. One of these mechanical creations is the Marines World Carousel inspired by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. While in Nantes, visit Jules Verne Museum for a fascinating collection, unique memorabilia, and a sculpture of Captain Nemo outside. There is also a downloadable brochure for the Jules Verne Trail (in French) which takes you to several locations in Nantes related to the author.
The Grand Elephant at The Machines of the Isle, Nantes. Photo by Ishan Loya

    🔮 Credit cards

In this novel, an American form the nineteenth century is suddenly transported to a utopia  in the twentieth century, where individuals get certain amount allotted to cards they can use for purchases. Sounds familiar? 

We have chosen the cover for the 1951 Hardcover edition designed by Edward McKnight Kauffer for our Cover Gallery this week. The designs for which he became famous were influenced by Cubism and Modernism, so much that in the 1930 he was known as the “Picasso of Advertising Design”. He was better known by his posters, but Kauffer designed many book jackets that he considered mini-posters. One of these is the one for Looking Backward, where geometric forms are the highlight of the design. 
1951 Hardcover edition by Modern Library

    🔮 Titanic's wreck

Are you familiar with a story about the largest ocean liner of its time hitting an iceberg in the North Atlantic and tragically sinking on its maiden voyage? But we are not talking about the Titanic, we are talking about Morgan Robertson's book Futility, written 14 years before the Titanic's tragedy. Even some of the details of Robertson's book are spookily close to the real events which took place later: the name of the ship in Futility is Titan,  and, as in the Titanic, many passengers were not able to survive due to the scarcity of lifeboats.

For souls braver than ours, there are plans for the Titanic II, a replica of the ill-fated Titanic, to set sail in 2022 following the same journey as the original from Southampton to New York. There is space for 2,400 passengers in the ship, whose design will mirror the one in the original Titanic. The Chairman of Blue Star Line, the company in charge of the enterprise, have ensured the public that the ship will benefit from modern safety procedures and technologies; however, these two book ramblers find the journey a little eery. 

    🔮 Smartphones

In this short story, the protagonist is awaiting his death sentence after being accused of murder. While in prison he uses a telectrosope, a device that allows him to speak with people while seeing them in real-time and from any corner of the world. Through this device, which is extremely similar to today's smartphones, the sentenced man make some very important discoveries related to his case. However, we will not spoil the story for you, especially since Mark Twain certainly tells it best.  

Mark Twain lived from 1896-97 in London's Chelsea neighborhood. During the time he must have written From the London Times in 1904, published in 1898. He secluded himself here with his family after the death of his eldest daughter from meningitis. Fans of the short story and of Mark Twain who find themselves in London can see the place at 23 Tedworth Square, although only from outside, since it is a private residence. 

    🔮 Automatic motion-sensing doors

In this dystopian novel, a man suffering from insomnia resorts to medications as a cure to his problem, resulting in him sleeping for more than 200 years and awaking to a future that contain, among other advances, automatic motion-sensing doors. 

We have chosen the booker our Six-Word Review this week: Bicentennial sleeper awakes as world's master.

Would you know which book, published in 1889, featured skywriting more than 25 years before it was first seen in an airshow in San Francisco? You can read its first line in GuessWork and see if you can guess its title.

After this episode, we certainly will be looking at books featuring technologies we don't use...yet, as a bit of literary oracles. If you know of any other books that have prophesied future events or technologies, go ahead and let us know. 

To buy books covered in this episode, visit our TBR Bundles.


Contact Us


Email *

Message *