Here are the top 10 books that predicted the future with eerie accuracy.
When authors write about the future, they have to predict what technology and life might be like for decades down the road. While the books are often written as a metaphor for contemporary society, some authors have made amazingly accurate predictions about what modern life has actually become.
In this blog post, I will be looking at fiction books that somehow managed to predict the future.
- The World Set Free by H.G. Wells
Written three decades before the detonation of the first atomic bomb, H.G. Wells’ novel predicted the invention of nuclear weapons. In the book, Wells describes the invention of uranium-based hand grenades with infinite power which he calls “atomic bombs”. He writes that they threaten the existence of mankind. At the time in which Wells was writing his novel, scientists were aware that radioactive elements could release huge amounts of energy.
The book also has an interesting role in the technology it predicted – it helped inspire its invention. In 1932, English scientists had successfully split an atom through artificial means and the experiment didn’t show any evidence that splitting an atom would cause a huge release of energy. Later that year, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard read The World Set Free and thought Wells was correct.
Splitting an atom would release a large amount of energy: the question was how to split the atom. A year later, he has a eureka moment. Szilard said, “It suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, such an element if assembled in a sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction.”
Szilard patented the idea in 1933, but he was disturbed by The World Set Free. He didn’t want the patent to become public because it might fall into the wrong hands. Something else that worried him was the rise of Nazism.
So in 1939, he drafted the letter that was sent by Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt, saying that Germany was stockpiling uranium. This letter, in turn, gave birth to the Manhattan Project. Szilard and some British scientists worked with the American, and this eventually led to the first nuclear bombs. Two of those bombs were dropped on Japan in August of 1945 at the tail end of World War II. Wells dies in 1946, after having seen the weapon used to get civilians in a war.
- Neuromancer by William Gibson
Credited with coining the term “cyberspace”, Gibson’s seminal dystopian novel about a group of computer hackers is said to have predicted the World Wide Web.
The book follows Case, a former computer hacker and drug addict. Before the book starts Case was fired from his job and his central nervous system was poisoned, so he couldn’t “jack in” to cyberspace, which is called The Matrix (Sound familiar). Millions of people can jack into the Matrix, which is a 3D virtual world that appeals to all the senses. One day, Case meets a mysterious employer who says he will help Case getting back into the Matrix, but in exchange, Case has to complete an incredibly difficult hack.
Although academics were using the internet by the 1980’s, Neuromancer introduced the idea of everyday people being connected by a global network of millions of computers. The predictive powers of Gibson led author Jack Womack in 2000 to ask “what is the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”. As well as the World Wide Web, Gibson is credited with predicting Uber and virtual reality tools very similar to Google glass.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
When in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the United States National Security Agency was operating a global surveillance of US citizens journalists across the pond posted the question: “are we living in 1984?” In the orwellian dystopia citizens are watched through two-way televisions called telescreens by the government all-seeing leader, Big Brother.
In the real world, however, our telescreens come in the form of mobile phones. The technological possibilities of surveillance and data collection surpass even what Orwell imagined, with our social media accounts and online communications being monitored as default by government agencies.
- 2001 A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke
Written alongside the development of Stanley Kubrick’s epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel predicts the development of a host of future technologies. Kubrick heavily contributed to the development, along with the help of more than 50 organisations who gave advice on what kind of technologies may exist in the future.
The books astronauts use gadgets that resemble the iPad to read the news and they also have video messaging not dissimilar to Skype. HAL, the spaceships artificially intelligent robot, can even lip read. In 2016, almost 50 years after the release of the book, the University of East Anglia announced that have developed a new, real-world lip-reading technology.
- Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Set in 2010 the dystopian novel stand on Zanzibar takes a dark look at the consequences of human overpopulation Since the novel was published, a disturbing amount of Brunner’s social economic and political predictions have been realised.
His novel is set in the United States led by President Obomi. Terrorism is the country’s biggest threat: lone individuals are targeting schools, while others destroy buildings. Meanwhile gay and bisexual lifestyles and mainstream and the books young characters have to embrace a hook-up culture rather than marriage. Bunner also correctly predicted global satellite TV and digital video recorders.
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
This early example of science fiction predicted organ transplants. Shelley told the story of scientist Victor Frankenstein, who creates a monster using a jigsaw of dead body parts. At the time that Shelley wrote her masterpiece, scientists have just begun to explore how electricity could be used to reanimate dead tissue. But in her novel, Shelly pushed the realm of scientific possibility, predicting that organ transplants would actually be a part of the future of medicine.
As predicted by Mary Shelley, modern science essentially allows doctor’s to “play God”. In 2012 US scientists performed a groundbreaking multiple organ transplant on 9-year-old Alannah Shevenell, replacing her esophagus, liver, stomach, spleen, pancreas and small intestine.
- Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
A crater on Mars moon Deimos was named after the English satirist Jonathan Swift after it emerged that correctly predicted that Mars is orbited by two moons – 150 years before the discovery. In his classic text, Gulliver’s Travels, the novels titular character visits the fictional island of Laputa. This floating world is filled with scientists and astronomers who tell the protagonist that Mars is orbited by two tiny moons.
Amazingly Swift descriptions of Mars’ moons include nearly accurate details of their orbital distances and revolution periods. The predictions don’t end their either, in the fictional city of Legado Gulliver observes The Engine, a machine that can write books which many have credited as being the first description of a device that resembles a modern computer.
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Described as one of the most prophetic sci-fi books ever written and one of my all-time favourites, Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World paints a gloomy view of a society blinded by psychological manipulation and superficial commercialisation.
The novel, Brave New World, takes place in the year where babies are born in Labs, meaning the family unit is dead. When they are children, they are told whispers while they sleep to buy things and to love consumer products. When they are older the state demands that they be sexually promiscuous, and women wear birth control on their belts. No one has any real worries about life because society is controlled by mood-boosting drugs “Soma” which promises to induce stability and reduce sad and anxious thoughts.
Written two decades before experiments with antidepressants, Huxley accurately predicted their rise. The way he imagined the future of the family also eerily foreshadowed reproductive technology such as test-tube babies.
What’s interesting about Brave New World’s relationship to contemporary society, is that in 1985 writer and media critic Neil Postman published the non-fiction book Amusing Ourselves To Death. In the book, Postman accurately predicts the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump and the prevalence of fake news in society. In the introduction of the book, Postman explains that he got the idea in 1984s, when he was participating in a panel on parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and real-life in 1984.
What Postman realised is that modern life is becoming more like Brave New World than nineteen eighty-four. Post wrote “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be that no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”
Essentially, what Postman says Huxley was warning us against is the dangers of being oppressed by our own amusement; meaning we use endless streams of entertainment to distract ourselves and fail to engage with real life. Sound familiar with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Netflix.
- Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy
Although written in the 19th century, this utopian bit of fiction incredibly predicted the invention of credit cards, which didn’t come into existence until 1950. The novel follows protagonist Julian West who falls asleep in 1887, only to wake up in a utopian society in the year 2018. Everyone has been given an equal amount of credit, backed by the government, which can be used globally to purchase goods.
Furthermore, Bellamy’s descriptions of department stores were revolutionary for the time in looking backwards Bellamy details massive department shops stocked with a great abundance of a variety of goods.
- Earth By David Brin
In 1989, Brin published the novel Earth, which takes place in the year 2038. While the novel does have a plot, the book is more or less Brin’s predictions about the future. If you’re curious what the plot is, it’s that an artificial black hole has fallen into the Earth’s core. Scientists have a year to fix it, or the Earth may be destroyed. The book has a large cast of characters and through these characters; Brin explores what life might be like in the future.
Some of the predictions that Brin did get right are on global warming, rising sea levels, and the breaking of the levees on the Mississippi River. Another natural disaster that is postulated in the book that has come was the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In 1990, people knew about the internet, but Brin accurately predicted the World Wide Web that was invented by Tim Berners-Lee a year after the book was published.
On the “net” as Brin calls it, there are pages full of hyperlinks. Brin also thought that the net would also be used by major news outlets and citizen reporters, along with everyday people who wanted to express themselves. Finally, he also foresaw spam and trojan horse viruses.
- Ralph 124 c41 plus by Hugo Gernsback
Arguably one of the first major works of American science fiction films backs futuristic tale of technological innovation successfully predicts some of the everyday gadgets that we use today even though it was written more than 100 years ago. The novel begins with the character Ralph who rescues the stories heroin Alice from an Avalanche after he sees her video message crying for help.
This book has retained its elevated status as a sci-fi classic due to the remarkably accurate predictions Gernsback made throughout the novel include a host of now comedy and it’s including television, tape recorders as well as the predictions of Radar and the use of solar energy.
And to finish off here is a bonus book that I believe has given some insight into the future and this one maybe a little more controversial and up for debate. During my research for this post, I kept thinking about what is going on in the world at the moment with the current Coronavirus. It’s hard not to when you are isolated at home and the news consistently tells you about the rising death tolls around the world.
We are all currently living through the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic right now and it has infected millions of people (with thousands more likely to have gone undetected) and killed over 148,000 worldwide. In the case of bookish déjà vu, the downward spiral of the virus has been penned by numerous novelists who have long been fascinated with the idea of a deadly outbreak.
So here is my bonus book that predicts the future.
- The Stand by Stephen King
American author Dean Koontz predicted something weirdly similar to Coronavirus in 1981 in his novel, The Eyes of Darkness, where he invented a killer virus called “Wuhan-400” in the Chinese city where Covid-19 later emerged. For anyone who read the book, the virus differs from Coronavirus as it’s described as having a “kill-rate” of 100% and was developed in labs as a biological weapon.
Even as far back as the 16th century, this fascination existed, French astrologer, physician and writer Michel de Nostredame wrote a book in 1555 called Les Prophéties, made up of 942 four-lined poems predicting future events. One spoke of a plague and future destruction. He wrote: “From the vain enterprise honour and undue complaint, Boats tossed about among the Latins, cold, hunger, waves, not far from the Tiber the land stained with blood, And diverse plagues will be upon mankind.”
But as we said this section is about the book The Stand. This book is a post-apocalyptic dark fantasy novel written by American author Stephen King. Apart from the main storyline of good vs. evil, with one side led by a benevolent elder and the other by a malevolent being, it’s the back story that I think is relevant here to the Coronavirus. Also if you have read this book then big respect as it is a very big book.
When a deadly virus escapes from a government research facility, few prove to be immune to its effects. With symptoms similar to the flu, those who come into contact with it soon die. The virus, christened the “superflu” or “Captain Trips”, quickly spreads across the country and soon becomes a global pandemic of apocalyptic proportions killing nearly the entire world population. Society collapses with the near-extinction of humanity.
In, The Stand, King also mentions George R. Stewart’s novel Earth Abides, which describes the odyssey of one of the last human survivors after the population, is nearly annihilated by a plague, as one of the main inspirations. OK, so I know the Coronavirus isn’t as lethal as “Captain Trips” or some other apocalyptic super virus found in the pages of other novels. It’s more about the principle of a real non-fiction virus getting into the human population and causing mass deaths and global destruction.
We should be glad of the fact that the Coronavirus isn’t as lethal as others predicated may infect the planet, but we should heed them as warnings. The current Coronavirus could simply be the tremor before the bigger destructive mainshock for mankind.
Well, that got a bit dark very quickly, anyway, King originally wanted to write a fantasy epic like The Lord of the Rings but The Stand an American fantasy epic, was set in a plague-decimated USA. Only instead of a Hobbit, the hero was a Texan named Stu Redman, and instead of a Dark Lord, the villain is a ruthless drifter and supernatural madman named Randall Flagg. The land of Mordor (‘where the shadows lie,’ according to Tolkien) was played by Las Vegas.
So there you have it, these authors are either mystic’s who can predict the future or just good storytellers that just happen to get it right every now and then. Either way, keep reading because what you are reading may be arming you for things to come and showing you what you have to look forward too.