Where can I find stories from the past about what now would be like?
July 12, 2004 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a story written in Victorian times, which was basically the author predicting what everything would be like in the 1990's. I think it was in Project Gutenberg, and it had funny predictions such as that we'd all have wires going from our houses to local concert halls so we could listen to the 'latest music' in every room! This story has eluded me for some years now, and I want to read it again. And to avoid this becoming a useless 0 answer question, if anyone can recommend any other notable old stories or books which try to guess what the future would be like, this is the ideal place!
posted by wackybrit to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
by Bellamy? Looking Backward or something like that? this is the one i think
posted by amberglow at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2004

No help on the main question, but there are lots of socialist/utopian books about the future. I, uh, can't actually tell you the titles of any of them offhand and I'm at work so can't devote a lot of time to finding them, but I infer from the link leading to this (which I recommend) that one such was written by a Velimir Khlebnikov.
posted by kenko at 2:37 PM on July 12, 2004

Looking Backward is one of the ones I was thinking of.
posted by kenko at 2:38 PM on July 12, 2004

I've been reading H.G. Wells's When the Sleeper Wakes lately. It's essentially a sci-fi Rip Van Winkle story, but a lot of fun, even if it doesn't rank alongside Wells's better-known works.
posted by Acetylene at 2:41 PM on July 12, 2004

I loved Looking Backward. If I remember correctly, he foresaw credit cards.
posted by GaelFC at 2:44 PM on July 12, 2004

Jules Verne's Paris in the Twentieth Century, first published widely in 1996, is supposed to have gotten some things right.
posted by profwhat at 3:00 PM on July 12, 2004

Today Then: America's Best Minds Look 100 Years into the Future on the Occasion of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition is a collection of essays from some of the late 19th century's leading figures, put together for the looking forward to the world of 1993.
posted by Guy Smiley at 3:18 PM on July 12, 2004

Response by poster: Amberglow: Genius! I have briefly looked for this from time to time over the past few months, and thought I'd throw it out here, so thanks a lot for that! Looking Backward is, indeed, the piece.

I shall also have to check out the Jules Verne recommendation, and look forward to any further recommendations here.
posted by wackybrit at 3:23 PM on July 12, 2004

E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops from 1909 gets a hell of a lot right about the Web and the blogosphere (really.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:48 PM on July 12, 2004

slightly closer to home (chronologically speaking) is Nobel Prize winning electron physicist Dennis Gabor [no relation to Zsa Zsa]'s Inventing The Future, written in 1963.
posted by nylon at 4:22 PM on July 12, 2004

ah, wackybrit, you're lucky i'm a cheapskate that downloads from there : >
posted by amberglow at 5:19 PM on July 12, 2004

New Zealand's only Jewish Prime Minister, Julius Vogel, wrote a novel called AD2000 in which he predicted that women would rise to have equal status with men. Given that in NZ right now the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and the Chief Justice are all women, I guess he was right...
anyway, my dad has a copy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:32 PM on July 12, 2004

That should be Anno Domini 2000 - A Woman's Destiny. Sorry.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:34 PM on July 12, 2004

In a similar vein, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's "The Difference Engine" imagines an alternate London where computers were invented in 1885, and the city is filled with giant building-sized calculating machines... Worth reading while you're on the subject of Victorian computing.
posted by Gortuk at 6:52 PM on July 12, 2004

To throw another book from the late Victorian period into the pot, there is William Morris's News From Nowhere. A socialist falls asleep and wakes up in the socialist future, organized along vaguely anarcho-syndicalist lines. He is guided by a vivacious young daughter of the revolution, and gets to see the socialist future of Kelmscott Manor (a real Tudor building). No whizbang gadgets, though. This is William Morris, after all! At best, machines were a tool that could be used beneficially by the proletariat when they controlled the means of production, or at worst, just another bloodsucker of the capitalist.

Anyway, just to give a little prediction from the book, the Revolution occurred in 1952, I think.
posted by Gnatcho at 7:54 PM on July 12, 2004

Oooh--on the subject of the Difference Engine, do yourself a favor and read the true story of Charle's Babbage's Difference Engine (and the even more amazing Analytical Engine).
posted by Acetylene at 8:04 PM on July 12, 2004

Things to Come also, by Wells is an interesting but dry read (and it's an incredible movie too)
posted by amberglow at 8:30 PM on July 12, 2004

As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush (1945) is great. He predicts the internet, hypertext, cd-roms, wearables, and blogs -- but they're all based on contact photography, not digital representations.

There's a big display, but it's a light table! There's a ton of storage, but it's microfilm! One can create links between pieces of content (and share them with friends), but the links are physical!

Crazy old Bush.
posted by zpousman at 7:00 AM on July 13, 2004

I love this story from Harper's -- written in 1856.
posted by josh at 7:11 AM on July 13, 2004

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