Dude, Where’s My Flying Car!

by limebirddennis


With the revelations about the NSA’s global listening network, sales of George Orwell’s 1984 have shot up (more than 7,000% on Amazon, jumping from a rank of 13,074 to 193 and still climbing). That prompted me to think about other predictions that science fiction authors have made, and what actually happened…

In 1865 Jules Verne described the first mission to the moon in From the Earth to the Moon. It had a three man capsule called the Columbiad (NASA’s, in 1969, was Columbia) it took off from Florida and splashed down in the Pacific, to be recovered by a US naval vessel.

In 1898 Mark Twain wrote a story From the London Times of 1904 in which there is a world-spanning internet called the ‘telectroscope’ in which the “daily doings of the globe are made visible to everybody”. The protagonist is saved from execution when his ‘victim’ is seen on a live streamed event in China.

In H. G. Wells’ book The World Set Free, from 1914, he writes about atomic bombs. Some details are wrong (they are roughly the same strength as conventional explosives and ‘burn’ for days, but some aspects were spot on, e.g. the health problems that they would cause and making the impact zones uninhabitable. (Wells also described tanks – Land Ironclads in a 1903 story.)

In the 1920 play R.U.R. Karel Čapek gave the world the term robot (in its original Czech, robota means forced labour and is derived from “rab”, meaning “slave”). The R.U.R. of the title stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. While robots now perform functions in the home and in industry, thankfully they have not rebelled as in the play. (In South Africa we don’t have ‘traffic lights’ we have ‘robots’, and I love hearing traffic advisories such as “The robots are out on Empire”.)

Coming back to Orwell’s 1984, which was published in 1949; the number of CCTV cameras in the UK (both public e.g. on street corners, and private e.g. on homes and corner shops) is estimated at 4,200,000. That is one camera for every 14 people! A report in ‘CCTV Image’, based on the Cheshire Constabulary, claims that the average person appears on 70 different CCTV cameras in a typical day. (A copy of my satirical story Closed Circuit can be downloaded here)

In 1968 Arthur C. Clarke, in 2001: A Space Odyssey described online newspapers delivered from the news satellites. (He first described geostationary satellites as telecommunications relays in a letter to the editor of ‘Wireless World’ in 1945.)

What stories have you read that suggested some new technology and you thought “Hey, that has really happened!”.

Oh, and as for the perennial complaint of the science fiction reader, “Where’s my flying car?” Since 2006 Terrafugia have been working on the Terrafugia Transition Roadable Aircraft (see the photo at the top of this article) so it’s on its way!

15 Comments to “Dude, Where’s My Flying Car!”

  1. Oh what an interesting and thought provoking post!

    When I was a kid I loved all of the Back to the Future movies (well I still love them of course…) and I never could understand then why if they have a flying car on the movie Why don’t we have them in real life. The concept of movie magic was lost on me as a child lol!

  2. I haven’t thought about this yet but how interesting. I guess if you can think it, you can make it happen. What a concept!

    • Thanks for the comment. If only we could make everything that we can think happen. My vote would be for a replicator as in Star Trek!

  3. I never thought about that before. Thanks for this… Its going to keep me busy for days.

    • Thanks for the comment. I really enjoy it when there is new tech news and I think “It’s about time they made that!”

  4. What a great post Dennis, and how weird to think of these predictions being made so long ago! I wonder what kind of things we’ll be writing about now that might come true. Hopefully not some of the dystopian fiction I read…

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m hoping that (before I die) I can upload my personality into a shared virtual reality! Hopefully someone is working on that…

  5. Great post there Dennis, really interesting. Aside from the flying car, the ultimate awaited sci-fi thing is the time traveling device right? Although, like Laura, I’ve loved the Back to the Future films, and so I know the great risks associated with such a machine! In terms of ones that have come true, I can’t think of any right now, but if I do, I’ll pop back later…

    • You’re right, Vanessa! I’ve used time travel in a number of stories and poems (plus my current novel); I would love to be able to travel in time! Plenty of risks though…

  6. Hmmm, maybe I should be looking into the time-travel-licensing procedures and coming up with a curriculum. After all, we can’t have just any old person going back and stealing the crown jewels or stealing the jackpots in Vegas!

  7. Dennis, this post takes me back: I remember reading R.U.R. in high school and really enjoying it, though I’d completely forgotten about it until today!

    Science fiction truly does “predict” the future. I think because the science part is often so well-thought-out. I remember hearing about how technology sometimes models itself after science fiction, as well. Wasn’t there something about one of the early mobile phone designs, that they deliberately modeled it after Star Trek’s communicator?

  8. It’s funny how many advances are dreamed of in fiction and then become a reality. Very cool post. 🙂

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