The future is a fascinating place. Especially when you consider it a place where our children, nieces and nephews, and the next generation can call home. A gateway to the future can be found in the pages of the shelves. The books speak of the future as a fantasy, a future populated by extraterrestrials and interstellar travel. Some even warn of toppled empires and dystopias, offering a sometimes harrowing glimpse of what can happen if the current course is not corrected. So here are ten books that accidentally showed us our future.
Related: Top 10 TV Shows That Predicted The Future And Got It Right
ten Essay on the principle of population
In 1798, Thomas Robert Malthus identified a potential problem in his native England that would soon affect the world. In his day, infant mortality was falling and people were living longer. That was great news, except that food production couldn’t keep up. The reason was simple. Population increases geometrically, doubling roughly every 25 years, but food production can only increase arithmetically. If you wanted more potatoes, you had to plant more potatoes.
The amount of land available was limited, but population growth was potentially unlimited. In the near future, the only way to get enough food would be to take it from others. What Malthus was wrong, however, was that he had not foreseen the revolution in agricultural techniques. But he identified a problem we face to this day. New farming techniques have only delayed a crisis that many experts believe is imminent: too many mouths to feed and not enough for everyone. Better yet, not enough hands to work the fields.
9 parable of the sower
In Octavia E. Butler’s 1993 novel, she jumps to the United States in the year 2024. The narrator grows up in a gated community that manages to cling to past ways of life and is the envy of the desperate people living around from her. Society in general shakes as the foundations weaken. Social inequality and corporate greed are severing community bonds while climate change affects everyone.
Butler built on trends she identified in her present and predicted a world we are beginning to see today. As we head into another economic downturn, the financial gap between rich and poor is widening and begs the question: is the modern globalized economy accentuating a trend toward societal fragmentation?
8 Fahrenheit 451
Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel describes a world where fire crews start fires rather than put them out. (The “451” in the title is the temperature at which the paper automatically ignites.) In the book, the authorities want to build a society that cannot think for itself and becomes easier to control. People will believe what they are told and will not ask questions.
Bradbury passed away in 2012. He lived long enough to see the rise of fake news and the so-called “dumbing down” of mainstream culture. The Internet had the potential to open up the marketplace of ideas to a wider and much better informed audience. Perhaps the opposite has happened, and we are losing the facts in a jumble of misinformation.
seven Standing on Zanzibar
At the start of the last century, people said that the entire population of the world could fit on the Isle of Wight, a mere 147 square miles. When John Brunner published Standing on Zanzibar in 1968 he estimated that the then world population of 3.5 billion would need a larger island. The Isle of Man, 221 square miles, would probably do. Brunner guessed that in 2010 we would be 7 billion, and we would need to use Zanzibar, 600 square miles.
His 2010 guess was nearly perfect. Now the world population is around 8 billion, so we will need a bigger island. Brunner foresaw a world dominated by corporations and computers, genetic engineering and psychedelic drugs. Did he hit the nail on the head?
6 2001: A Space Odyssey
Author Arthur C. Clarke and director Stanley Kubrick worked together on the project. The book and movie were released in 1968, and many educated guesses about the future in 2001 have been made. Perhaps most frightening was the Heuristic Programming Algorithmic Computer or HAL. This AI robot controlled many of the ship’s routine functions and resisted being turned off with fatal consequences. HAL seems smart but isn’t. He can only make rational decisions based on the information he has.
Artificial intelligence plays an increasingly important role in our daily lives. Many people suspect that even designers and programmers don’t fully understand what their kids are doing or how they’re going to evolve.
5 Fugue for a darkened island
In Christopher Priest’s 1972 novel, he paints a bleak picture of a future on the brink of collapse. The country is waging a civil war that broke out because a new political party appeared on the scene. The founder of this party wins a perfectly legal election but quickly turns out to be authoritarian. At the same time, waves of refugees are arriving on British shores in search of a better way of life – well, any way of life, really.
Tensions rise, political discourse becomes impossible and civil war breaks out. At first, the narrator’s only concern is for his family, but he becomes involved in the larger struggle. Fugue for a darkened island shows us what can happen when dialogue becomes impossible and populist remedies seem to address serious problems.
David Brin’s novel Earth came out in 1990 and is an exercise in prediction. He looks at the world 50 years later and tries to guess what will happen. The plot seems to come from an older era of sci-fi fantasy. We created an artificial black hole, but it got lost inside the Earth. In a race against time, we must recover it before it swallows our whole planet. This scenario is really nothing more than a vehicle for Brin’s guesses about the future.
Most of his predictions had a solid foundation in current events; he glimpses a World Wide Web and even predicts that technical progress will inevitably lead to a loss of privacy. Algorithms track our purchases and suggest future purchases, cameras with facial recognition watch us at airports, and our cell phones tell anyone with the software where we are. Planet Earth is most definitely a spaceship into the future.
3 The machine stops
In 1909, EM Forster published a short story entitled The machine stops. The machine is an omnipotent maintenance device that tends to the needs of the vast majority of the human population who have chosen to forgo life on the surface of their world. It’s easier to live underground. Everyone lives alone in identical rooms and can communicate with each other by videoconference.
Some people have rejected this comfortable life and continue to live on the surface of the planet. Those who have chosen underground life can no longer survive on their own. From the title, we guess what is happening. The Machine collapses and with it dies the whole system. When Forster wrote his story, it was a real flight. After recent experiences, one might think that such a world is not too far away.
2 Looking back
At the end of the 19th century, the two best-selling books in the United States were Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben Hur. Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy closely follows these two classics.
The plot is familiar from fairy tales. In 1887, Julian West fell into a hypnotic sleep in Boston, Massachusetts; he woke up in the same place but more than a century later in 2000. We can highlight two of the changes observed by West. People are working fewer hours because you don’t have to work a 40-hour week, and everyone can and usually retires at 45 with a generous pension.
Bellamy’s utopia reflects many socialist ideas of the time. But it’s certainly true that in a modern economy people don’t need to work as much. We have not yet figured out how to fairly distribute wealth or what we could replace work with. After all, for many of us, work is an important part of who we are. We could do it, but should we? When Bellamy’s book came out, clubs emerged across the United States to debate his ideas. Of course, they haven’t solved the problem, and the debate continues.
1 A clockwork orange
Alex is a 15-year-old gang leader in Anthony Burgess’ satirical novel. When the book was released in 1962, the sex and violence it contained shocked many readers. Alex’s gang robs and rapes through a depressing cityscape, speaking a slang almost incomprehensible to outsiders. But Alex is not just a thug. He is an intelligent child who loves classical music. However, he is a young man with no sense of empathy.
Alex is caught by the authorities and subjected to aversion therapy. It works for a while, but he eventually returns to a life of crime. Interestingly, the UK version of the book ends on a hopeful note as Alex contemplates giving up his life of crime on his own and starting a family. In the US, the publisher dropped the final chapter, and the US edition has a much darker ending.
The book describes a divided society. Gangs seem to operate in an amoral universe inaccessible to authorities and ordinary people. The popular television series, Thread showed us that such a chasm exists and seems to be widening.