Decades before the atom bomb was even a glimmer behind Einstein's bifocals, H.G. Wells had already written a novel about it, 1914's The World Set Free. Note that Wells didn't know at this time that a nuclear detonation was actually possible -- he just knew a little bit about radioactive decay and thought that, if we ever figured out a way to blow it all up at once, it would probably make a really big bang.
There's more. He also figured out it would be bad news for anyone who got drenched in uranium fallout:
Making H.G. Wells the first man to ever fear atomic mutants.
"In the map of nearly every country of the world three or four or more red circles, a score of miles in diameter, mark the position of the dying atomic bombs and the death areas that men have been forced to abandon around them. Within these areas perished museums, cathedrals, palaces, libraries, galleries of masterpieces and a vast accumulation of human achievement, whose charred remains lie buried, a legacy of curious material that only future generations may hope to examine."
It was in this speculative novel that H.G. Wells coined the term "atomic bomb." And immediately after reading this book, Leo Szilard figured an atomic bomb might be a profitable commodity to control, so he patented it in 1934, though it was still just a weird, way-out-there science fiction idea, like flying cars.
"It just, like, came to me. You know?"
Hugo Gernsback was a writer you've probably never heard of, in which case you should be ashamed of yourself. Considered by many to be the father of science fiction, he was the founder of Amazing Stories magazine, and he's the reason the annual science fiction awards are called the Hugo Awards.
He also predicted almost every aspect of modern society, from remote-control television to solar power. But perhaps his most impressive premonition was radar technology. Not because he predicted some vague "magical device that detects things!" but because he worked out the exact mechanics of how it would function.
For some background, actual radar was invented in 1934, when Robert M. Page demonstrated a pulsing radar system while working at the U.S. Naval Research Labrotory. But it was more than two decades earlier, in 1911, when Gernsback wrote a serial novel called Ralph 124C 41+ (read it as "one to foresee for one other"), which, according to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, contained "the first accurate description of radar, complete with diagram."
Gernsback figured that radar detection was possible because "A pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light-ray is reflected from a bright surface or from a mirror."
This is basically true, except for the "ether wave" thing. In Gernsback's time, scientists thought that light needed a medium to travel through, just as sound needs to travel through air. That turned out to be bullshit, but that's not his fault. And the rest is pretty much spot on.
Though taking place in the distant future, the original series of Star Trek debuted in 1966, so its vision of the future was often hilariously campy and inaccur- hang on, is that a freaking cell phone?
In the Star Trek of the 60s, the communicator is freakishly similar to the cell phones we use in our daily lives today, down to the trendy "flip" design that many of our phones use now. Though Capt. Kirk used them to communicate with orbiting starships rather than finding out what his buddies were doing on a Friday night, the similarity is astounding, considering that early cell phones, even up to the 90s, resembled concrete bricks that we had to use both hands to manipulate.
More than that, through the wireless communicator, Star Trek was forced to introduce a plot device that has become a staple of modern-day horror movies. But if Kirk and the gang could just call up their buddies on the Enterprise every time they ran into a tribe of Amazon spacewomen, then all the episodes would be only five minutes long.
"Scotty, lube up my girdle and prepare the sound dampers in my bedroom."
So, in every episode, they needed to find explanations for the communicators not working so that they would be stranded long enough to entertain the audience. So Kirk was frequently confronted with the problem of whipping out his communicator and finding "no bars" in his reception, be it through some magnetic nova storm or interdimensional interference. Yeah, we've all been there.
But you also can give the Star Trek prop department credit for a little wireless Bluetooth-style headset:
And The Next Generation gave the crew a freaking iPad:
We would kind of rather had a holodeck than either of those, but we'll wait.
For sci-fi tropes that'll never come true, check out The 8 Most Common Sci-Fi Visions of the Future (And Why They'll Never Happen). Or learn about some sci-fi weapons you can build yourself, in 5 Deadly Sci-Fi Gadgets You Can Build At Home.
And stop by Linkstorm to learn how you can make your bedroom just like Capt. Kirk's.
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