Clive James once said, when reviewing the 1930s Flash Gordon, that nothing dates a society quite so much as its vision of the future. But when it comes to science fiction, nothing dates it quite so much as, well, a date.
Many books, movies and TV shows striving for a sense of gritty realism in their near future worlds make the fatal mistake of assigning an actual date to them that’s not too far in the future. As a result, they’re left looking slightly foolish when that actual date comes and goes without the projected future actually happening. Never mind flying cars, I’m still waiting for the black market brain recorders we were promised by 1999 in 1995’s Strange Days.
As a bit of fun, I thought it might be interesting to go through some dates in recent history that were once projected as fantastic futures in science fiction, and compare what the visionaries thought would happen with what actually did. So here goes!
What science fiction said would happen: A genetically engineered plague would sweep the world, causing the extinction of humanity. Only Charlton Heston would remain, to do battle with the mutated vampirelike survivors. (The Omega Man)
What actually happened: Abba swept the world, causing the extinction of good taste in music.
Reality vs Fantasy: Which is more terrifying?
What science fiction said would happen: A monolithic, all-controlling Party called Ingsoc would subjugate humanity in its quest for ultimate control and power. (1984)
What actually happened: A monolithic, all-controlling Party called the Conservatives subjugated the UK in its quest for the ultimate free market and profit.
Spot the difference?
What science fiction said would happen: Shrivelled space vampires from Halley’s Comet would terrorise London, sucking the “life force” from their unfortunate victims (Lifeforce)
What actually happened: Yuppies from the Home Counties terrorised London, sucking the character from formerly working class neighbourhoods by filling them with wine bars.
Which would you rather moved in next door?
What science fiction said would happen: Intelligent slave apes would rise up against humanity and conquer the planet at the behest of their leader, Caesar. (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)
What actually happened: Apathetic slackers from the American Northwest rose up against major music labels and got too stoned to achieve anything, at the behest of their leader, Kurt Cobain.
Which one used more hair products, I wonder?
What science fiction said would happen: The world would become engulfed in an ideological war between normal humans and genetically engineered supermen led by the tyrant Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek: Space Seed)
What actually happened: The UK became engulfed in an ideological war between the increasingly corrupt Conservative Party and the spin-engineered creation that was New Labour, led by the tyrant Tony Blair.
I know which one I’m voting for.
What science fiction said would happen: LA would be a violent dystopian wasteland where police struggled to maintain control against heavily armed drug gangs while an alien creature stalked the rooftops on a hunt for humans. (Predator 2)
What actually happened: Actually, pretty much the above. Just without the alien creature. Unless you count Michael Jackson.
“You are one UGLY mo-“
What science fiction said would happen: The Moon would be blasted out of Earth’s orbit by a nuclear explosion, and the crew of the Moonbase established there would have unconvincing adventures as the satellite travelled improbably fast to a different planet every week. (Space 1999)
What actually happened: The Greenwich Peninsula was blasted out of recognition by an architectural monstrosity known as the Millennium Dome, and the owners came up with unconvincing excuses as it haemorrhaged more taxpayers’ money every week.
Moonbase Alpha was later leased to Tottenham Hotspur
What science fiction said would happen: Man would travel to Jupiter to investigate a mysterious black slab that had something to do with our evolution. (2001: A Space Odyssey)
What actually happened: The West travelled to Afghanistan to investigate a mysterious terrorist who was never there in the first place.
Cradle of civilisation?
What science fiction said would happen: We would go back to Jupiter to reactivate the murderous computer HAL 9000 in the hope he could tell us what had happened to the first mission. (2010: The Year We Make Contact)
What actually happened: We went back to Afghanistan to plead with Prime Minister Hamid Karzai in the hope he could stop the Taliban from blowing things up.
“I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that.”
April 21, 2011
What science fiction said would happen: The third iteration of “Judgement Day”, as Skynet becomes self-aware and launches nuclear weapons to destroy humanity. (Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles)
What actually happened: TV news outlets the world over devoted an excessive amount of screen time to the fact that this is the date of “Judgement Day” in The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
“And I understand you have a book coming out…”
That’s just a few, and I’m sure there are many others. Why not try and list some yourselves? And with 2012 just round the corner, we could think what else is due to happen soon…