Fantastical Inventions

Extract from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where Mrs Whatsit explains how tessering works.

Do you enjoy science fiction? I find it can be a bit too dystopian and scary for my bedtime reading. However, I love how science fiction writers go beyond the limits of their time and pattern spot to see the direction society is heading in, perhaps warning us, and other times they come up with some amazing, fun and useful inventions too. Here are a few fantastical inventions that became reality:

  • E-mail and the World Wide Web – Arthur C. Clarke (Dial F for Frankenstein). Tim Berners-Lee read this as a teenager, and credited Arthur C. Clarke as his original inspiration.
  • Automatic Translation Device – Douglas Adams (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).
  • Foodini Machine – Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Movie Adaptation. Imagine a microwave that can 3D print any meal you crave!
  • Submarines – generally attributed to Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) but actually, the idea was first mentioned in Margaret Cavendish’s The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World.
  • Videoconferencing – Jules Verne (In the Year 2889)
  • Oxygen in air travel – Jane Webb Loudon (The Mummy: A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century).
  • Liquid Fueled Rockets – H. G. Wells (War of the Worlds). The original interplanetary travel was armchair travel!
  • Atomic Power – H. G. Wells (The World Set Free).
  • Earphones – Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) conceived the idea of “Seashells (Thimble Radios)” – “An electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk, coming in on the shore of [your] unsleeping mind”.
  • Social media – Mark Twain (London Times of 1904) envisaged a “worldwide phone system” that he called the “Telelectroscope” – As soon as the Paris contract released the telelectroscope, it was delivered to public use, and was soon connected with the telephonic systems of the whole world. The improved ‘limitless-distance’ telephone was presently introduced and the daily doings of the globe were made visible to everybody, and audibly discussable too, by witnesses separated by any number of leagues.”
  • Nanotechnology – Arthur C. Clarke (The Next Tenants). From this seed of an idea, first developed by Arthur C. Clarke, of an organized network of tiny microbots, scientists are developing nanobots to target malignant cancer cells, carry out intricate eye surgery, and to suck up heavy metal pollution in the oceans. Clark said: “Any  sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; and [AI via nanotechnology] is going to be one of them”.
  • Thought Controlled Prosthetics – (The Empire Strikes Back)

Science fiction writers and inventors weave ideas between them too, setting off more ideas. Microsoft, Google and Apple all employ science fiction writers!

Here are some science fiction ideas that haven’t been developed yet but which I wish existed:

  • Tesseract – Madeleine L’Engle (A Wrinkle In Time) writes of a kind of wormhole through which her characters jump through space and time.
  • The One Ring / Invisibility Cloak – J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit) and J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter).
  • The Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie (Haroun and the Sea of Stories) conceives of a river of stories that people can drink from to find themselves the protagonist of the story.

What about you, do you have a favourite existing invention that was inspired by science fiction? Is there an idea/ concept from a book or film that you wish you could actualise in real life?