Sci-fi novels were valuable not only to literature, but also modern science and technology. Novelists from the 19th and early 20th century wrote about innovative ideas that later on became reality. Here are 5 of the most important and influential sci-fi novels in the history of sci-tech.
5 Sci-Fi Novels That Influenced Science and Technology
“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (Jules Verne)
Jules Verne’s classic novel is a mystery-adventure tale about an underwater marine expedition to find and kill a sea monster. After killing the monster, the crew discovers something else: an underwater mechanical ship manned by a certain Captain Nemo. They call the ship, Nautilus. What makes the novel fascinating is that it contains a very specific description of what an actual underwater mechanical ship would look like. The description was like a blueprint that inventors could use in the future.
The novel inspired inventor Simon Lake to study undersea exploration and eventually create the first real-life submarine. Verne sent a letter of congratulations to Lake after completing the submarine in 1898.
“Looking Backward“ (Edward Bellamy)
Edward Bellamy’s best-selling novel first gave us an idea of credit cards and debit cards. The novel follows Julian West, who, through hypnosis, sleeps and wakes up more than a century later in the year 2000. The future shows him that the US is now a socialist utopia. He meets Dr. Leete who explains to him the innovations of that age. One of the innovations in the novel was the debit card, which Bellamy called, a “credit card”:
A credit corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each year, and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between individuals and consumers. Perhaps you would like to see what our credit cards are like.
“Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle”, and “Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone” (Stratemeyer Syndicate)
In the early 1900s, the book-packaging firm Stratemeyer Syndicate began publishing a series of sci-fi novels starring a teenage inventor named Thomas A. Swift. Little did the firm know that Swift’s fictional inventions would be the precursor of two technologies we have today.
The novels revolve around Swift, his scientific inventions and his adventures. The most popular technology inspired by the series is the taser stun gun. The concept of the taser was first explored in the novel, “Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle” back in 1911. In the story, Swift used electricity to shoot animals and pygmy tribe members from Africa. NASA physicist Jack Cover named his invention taser to pay homage to the series which he loved as a child. The word taser is actually an acronym for the words, “Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle”.
Sending photos over the phone also appeared in “Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone” in 1914. A century later, sharing photos over phones became possible thanks to smartphones and online messaging systems.
“The World Set Free” (H.G. Wells)
H.G. Wells’ 1913 novel, “The World Set Free“, helped change the course of history. In the novel, Wells warns the world about nuclear weapons and how they could destroy the world. The novel is the last in a three-part serial narrating important events in the 20th Century using real and fictional characters.
A few decades later, his novel inspired scientist Leo Szilard to create the atomic bomb.
As authors continue to create innovations through their novels, there will be something to inspire future inventors. Now the question is, what’s the next fiction-based invention will we be seeing?
(Cover photo courtesy of Stratemeyer Syndicate)