Monday, August 15, 2016

Impossible fictional things

     The enduring Star Trek TV stories that began in the mid-sixties featured a flip-open communicator.  In 1973, that idea inspired engineer Martin Cooper to invent the first hand-held cell phone.  (Yet, if you have a flipper today you’re considered dinosaurian.)

     In an 1898 short story, the beloved Mark Twain presented the “limitless-distance telephone.”  With this gadget persons could see and hear daily happenings around the globe and discuss them with anybody else separated “by any number of leagues.”  Today we’ve got the World Wide Web.  And it’s accessible on every smart phone.

     A 1911 Tom Swift novel by Victor Appleton had “electric rifle bullets” that were similar to the discharges of lightning.  Many years later Jack Cover invented a stun gun he called Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, or the TASER.  Other highly popular Tom Swift novels of that period included Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone ... Wizard Camera ... Aerial Warship ... Electric Runabout ... Giant Telescope.  All of which have come to pass.

     In Ray Bradbury’s epic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 he envisioned tiny ear buds like “little seashells” that could produce “an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk.”  Headphones of the time were large, heavy, and cumbersome.

     In Philip K. Dick’s children’s novel, Nick and the Glimmung, an alien could reproduce from itself any valued object it touched.  A prediction of today’s 3-D printing?

     And in Arthur C. Clarke’s haunting classic 1968 novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, he described a digital “Newspad” on which “A postage-stamp-sized rectangle would expand till it nearly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort.”  An uncanny description of today’s iPad.

     Happily, many times instead of fiction mirroring fact, fact can be born from good fiction.


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