French novelist and playwriter Jules Verne is often referred to as the father of the science fiction genre. Author of several literary classics including Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), he’s the second most translated author in the world after Agatha Christie.
Verne had a very unique writing style which combined incredibly imaginative tales with an uncommon passion for describing the scientific workings and mechanics behind seemingly fantastic occurrences. As a result, the reading can be pretty heavy at times! However, Verne’s attention to detail also makes his fiction all the more believable and immersive.
Verne lived in the 19th century, an era characterised by rapid technological advances and the industrial revolution. Yet, much of his writing dealt with technology yet to be invented. In many cases, Verne’s ideas eventually took shape outside the realm of fiction, with remarkable accuracy. Here are a few of Jules Verne’s predictions come true.
The submarine (from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea)
Perhaps Verne’s best known work is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In the novel, a group of passengers are thrown overboard a ship, and rescued by a submarine manned by the notorious Captain Nemo.
Nemo is the main character of the story, a mysterious man with superb intelligence which enabled him to build the Nautilus, a submarine with features never before seen by the novel’s protagonists – nor by the readers of the time.
While submarine concepts and early experiments were already present in the minds of some 19th century scientists, the advanced characteristics and unimaginable comfort of the Nautilus exceeded all expectations of the time.
To this day, crew who work on submarines observe that beyond the technical accuracy of Verne’s novel, his writing perfectly captures the feel and experience of life inside a submarine.
The helicopter (from Robur the Conqueror)
Flying has been one of man’s fascinations throughout history. Studies to create flying machines go as far back as sketches from Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance. But it was during the late 19th century when the helicopter as we know it began to take shape.
At that time Jules Verne published Robur the Conqueror, a novel in which the main character built an aircraft which flew using rotors, like modern helicopters do. Additional rotors at the bow and stern served to propel the vehicle upwards. Verne took the existing helicopter prototypes and imagined how they would develop.
He also rejected coal as the main source of fuel, proposing electric batteries to propel the machine instead. The batteries describe by Verne arguably make him a precursor of alternative fuels.
The moon landing and space travel (from From the Earth to the Moon)
Perhaps the most notorious of Verne’s foretellings. In his 1865 novel, Verne describes a journey to our planet’s satellite, undertaken by a crew of three men aboard a bullet fired up from a giant cannon. Needless to say, this then crazy idea was challenged by many and dismissed as fantasy. Which it was.
Verne nonetheless became a reference, and his contribution permeated popular culture. Not only did his story predict the historic event of the Moon landing over a century before it took place, it did so with style and once again, frightening accuracy.
Around the time of Apollo 8 and 11 missions, people noticed Verne had made an astonishing number of correct predictions about man’s trips to space. The dimensions of his projectile are very close to those of Apollo 11, and both the crews in his story and Apollo consisted of 3 members. Verne used real calculations in the book, which were found to be accurate at a time when nobody had even considered such ideas.
The novel also introduced the concept retro-rockets, a motor designed to decelerate a speeding rocket. In 1969, Apollo 11 would actually employ retro-rockets to slow down before landing on the lunar surface. Finally, in the novel’s sequel Around the Moon Verne imagined a spacecraft landing in the ocean and floating as a way to safely return to Earth —just like this Mercury capsule.
Jules Verne’s fictional mission was launched at a site in Tampa, Florida – in the same state and a mere two hour ride from Merritt Island, where NASA would launch Apollo mission.
The modern city (from Paris in the Twentieth Century)
Many predictions have jumped out at readers from the pages of Jules Verne’s lost novel, which was found in a vault by a relative and published in 1994 long after his death.
Originally written in 1863, the book’s essentially a list of what Verne expected the French capital to look like by 1960, nearly a century after his time. At random, these predictions included: the explosion of suburban living and shopping and large-scale higher education; career women; synthesizer-driven electronic music and a recording industry to sell it; cities of elevator-equipped skyscrapers electrically illuminated all night long; gas-powered cars, the roads they drive on, and the stations where they fill up; subways, magnetically propelled trains, and other forms of rapid transit; fax machines as well as a very basic internet-like communication system; the electric chair; and weapons of war too dangerous to use.
The city Verne describes does not paint a positive vision of the future, one in which technology may assist mankind towards a more comfortable life. Rather, his story is that of an artistic soul adrift in a culturally dead, progress-worshiping technocracy where automation and mechanization essentially suck humanity out of every day life.
The book was so bleak Verne’s publisher opposed its publication. In a letter, he wrote to the author, “even if you were a prophet, no one today would believe this prophecy… they simply would not be interested in it.”