5 Writers who predicted the future

Received wisdom would have it that truth is stranger than fiction. However, the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, and while the following writers may not have set out to make predictions for the future, life has since imitated their art in a variety of surprising, alarming, and tragic ways.

H. G. Wells: Inspiring a chain reaction

H. G. Wells Predicts the future

Not all H. G. Wells wrote came to pass. Time travel looks to be a remote possibility, after all, as Stephen Hawking asks: if it’s possible, where are all the tourists from the future? The chances of anything coming from Mars look considerably longer than a million to one. Save for a human ear grafted onto a mouse, the hideous experiments of deranged vivisectionist Doctor Moreau are yet to be replicated in real life.But that isn’t to say Wells didn’t hit the nail on the head on occasion. The characters of Men Like Gods (1923) communicate by cordless phones, leaving recorded messages when unable to reach each other. It’s testament to Wells’ optimism that in the novel this technology has led to everyone living substantially better lives as opposed to the reality: ignoring each other over the dinner table and having anxiety attacks when separated from their chargers. It would be remiss at this point not to give honourable mentions to two other authors who anticipated advances in communication technology. E. M. Forster’s 1928 short story The Machine Stops features an uncanny vision of tablets capable of texting and video calls, and William Gibson coined the term cyberspace in 1982, long before the internet was the ever-present in our lives it is now.

Wells’ most accurate prediction comes in The World Set Free (1914), where he speculated about the possibility of ‘a continuing explosive’ via a sustained, chain reaction. The book left a deep impression on Leó Szilárd, and two years after reading it he would pioneer the development of nuclear chain reaction. Wells’ hope was that nuclear power would prevent rather than exacerbate future warfare – how accurate this was remains to be seen.

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