Friday, 9 January 2009

Now, Ross, don't be rude. You look like a pink weasel to him.

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I managed to catch an episode of Quantum Leap over the Christmas period. The episode in question involved Sam leaping in to the body of "Futureboy", a television star and side kick to "Captain Galaxy" in one of those 1950's Saturday morning serial type programs. The show revolves around Captain Galaxy and Futureboy travelling in to the future where all manner of adventures involving aliens and laserguns await them.

The problem with things like the above mentioned show is that they never get the future right. I mean being both lazy and kind of stupid when it comes to things that might be dangerous to my health, the self tying shoe laces and hoverboards from Back To The Future Part II seem an ideal way to get rid of a lot of bothersome fiddling, coupled with a great opportunity to break my neck while trying to "cut a flip" in an effort to seem cool and with it. Sadly we're rocketing towards 2015 and there's still no sign of either on the market place. So in six years time I'll either be jumping in to a pair of Cons, hoping on to my board and whizzing on by in one fluid, sexy, aerodynamic motion, or I'll be swearing profusely at my sausage-like fingers inability to tie a knot before moaning about having to walk all the way to the bus stop. Only time will tell I guess.

The good news is that although we're without all the fancy gadgets that the 1980's promised us, the machines have also yet to rise up against us (Gee Note: Unless you count my Windows XP laptop which I swear to God takes perverse pleasure in torturing me). In fact the year that Skynet was supposed to become self aware and launch a shed load of nuclear warheads on major cities before creating a series of murderous cyborgs to mop up the rest of the world's population, as according to the Terminator movies, has passed without incident. Which is a blessing really, as if it came to a war between us and the machines I'm pretty sure I'd be one of those guys in Star Trek who wear red shirts and get capped off in the first 30 seconds (Gee Note: "So it's settled then. Captain Handsome, Norma Luscious, and Doctor Nicesmile will all head out and investigate the sun blessed poppy filled meadow. Gee, you go and take a look at the abandoned abattoir in Deathsville. See you when you get back.")

I guess the moral of this story is that it's pretty hard to predict what the future will hold in store for us (Gee Note: Well that and you've got a better chance of surviving the apocalypse with you hang with Captain Handsome). Unless of course your name happens to be Morgan Robertson.

Morgan Robertson was a writer of short stories and novels who was born in September 1861. By all accounts he suffered from many of the demons that afflict creative types, and died in a hotel room in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1915 from an overdose of protiodide. Despite being relatively successful and quite well known in the literary world he died as he had lived, dirt poor. Add to that the fact that he looked liked a member of the fictitious race of supervillains from Doctor Who known as the Sontarans and you do start to feel really sorry for the guy.

(A Sontaran)

(Morgan Robertson)

Robertson was an interesting character. He claimed to have invented a prototype periscope and wrote a novel called The Submarine Destroyer in 1905 in which periscopes were used freely by submarines. The periscope had in fact been invented in 1902 by a pair of chaps called Lake and Grubbs, three years prior to Robertson's novel. However the periscope wouldn't become a common submarine instrument until years later. So the question is did Robertson have inside knowledge of this, or did he genuinely put his mind to work an envisage something that future generations would find invaluable? Well seeing as the majority of Robertson's work was based at sea then it's not unlikely that he had contacts within the U.S. Navy that would have been aware of Lake and Grubbs work. So it's more than possible that a well place source could have given him the nod, and maybe even some specifications for a prototype periscope.

But, and here's the kicker, Robertson was a dab hand at accurately predicting the future in his fiction.

In 1914, Robertson wrote a short story called Beyond the Spectrum about a future war between Japan and America. In the story Japan does not actually declare war but instead launches a sneak attack on US Naval ships off the coast of Hawaii. At the conclusion of the story the hero prevents an invasion of San Francisco by stopping the Japanese fleet using a weapon very similar to an atomic bomb. On December 7, 1941 in the midst of World War II Pearl Harbour on the island of O'ahu in Hawaii was the victim of a surprise attack by the Japanese military, forcing the U.S.A in to joining the war. Japan surrendered on August 15th 1945, after America had dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In the same volume this short story appeared in was a reprint of Robertson's earlier work entitled Futility. Two years previously on April 15th 1912, the world had been shocked over reports that the unsinkable RMS Titanic had, er, sank on it's maiden voyage after colliding with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. Because the ship had been designed with the aesthetic rather than practicalities in mind, there were only 20 lifeboats on board, able to carry a maximum of 1,178 persons despite the ships maximum capacity of 3,547 souls. All in all over 1,500 people lost their lives when the Titanic went down.

The story of Futility mirrored the Titanic's in many ways. An unsinkable ship travelling between New York and Southampton strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic and, er, sinks, killing most of the passengers on board. Physically the ship is described as almost identical to the Titanic, sharing three propellers and two masts. Both were launched in the month of April, and when both met their demise they were travelling too fast, the Titanic at 23 knots, the ship in Futility at 25 knots. Robertson's ship was even named the Titan.

Now to the observer it would appear that Robertson had simply used a well known and highly reported naval disaster as the backdrop to a piece of fiction. Which isn't uncommon by any stretch of the imagination. Hell James Cameron did the exact same thing by introducing a ridiculous love story in to his film version of the story of the Titanic. (Gee Note: Hmm. I don't know. We've got the greatest non war time naval disaster ever, the backdrop of the Atlantic ocean, and a ship being torn apart by a bloody great big piece of ice. Which don't get me wrong is all good stuff. But I can't help but think that we're missing something. Wait! I've got it. How about, guys come here, how about we get some irritatingly bland Canadian to sing an awful song, while Leonardo DiCaprio doodles Kate Winslet's nipples badly in chalk? Whaddya think?!?!)

Except Robertson's story was first published in 1898. A full 14 years before the Titanic set sail.

Spooky huh?

So was Robertson a latter day Nostradamus or just a guy who history made look a lot smarter than he actually was? Well he differs from Nostradamus in one key aspect. Michel de Nostredame's predictions are so vague as to be rendered useless (Gee Note: Typical Nostradamus prediction: “There's this dude who has a yellow jumper. He will do something that will cause many people to get upset”. Honestly that's about as detailed as they get.) while Robertson was almost so on the money in regards to the Titanic that it's kinda scary.

Now the chances of Robertson being able to foresee the future are pretty slim. But some of the world's most creative and brilliant minds have attempted to set stories in the future and came nowhere near to matching Robertson's accuracy.

So maybe for once, just once, the truth is actually stranger than the fiction.


Naveed said...

Sounds like an author that I should read! Not only did he write short stories (which I prefer to novels), but he may have unknowingly predicted future events...groovy!

Scumbag Sam said...

you KNOW i will have to look up this Author now, and see what other short stories he had up his sleeve... What if he wrote one about me? it could happen... couldn't it? hehe.

good blog! :)

Daryo Tabayani Siampa said...

Happy new year from Toraja. Nice blog. Link Exchange ya. Good Luck.

Freeallcards said...

You have an excellent grasp for the right words. Keep us posted always.

Til then!