Saturday, August 23, 2014

Didn't That Already Sink?

Part 3 of 3:  The Book Did It First

It was a dark April night as the massive ship cut through the cold waters of the North Atlantic.  The largest ship ever launched, she was considered unsinkable because of her massive size and modern construction.  Over eight hundred feet long, she was attempting to set a speed record by running at well over twenty knots, despite the weather and the presence of icebergs in the area.  The passengers, largely ignorant of the dangers, enjoyed the luxury of the liner and listened to the ship's orchestra as they walked the decks and met in one of the many dining salons of the ship.

When the lookout reported an iceberg ahead, the giant vessel attempted to steer to safety, but nevertheless struck the iceberg on her starboard side and foundered just 200 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

Despite her watertight doors, the ship sank rapidly.  Considered unnecessary on an "unsinkable" ship, Titan had fewer than half the lifeboats necessary to save the maximum capacity of 3000 people the ship could carry.  That freezing April night, as the ship rapidly sank beneath the waves, so few lifeboats could be launched that though there were only over two thousand passengers and crew aboard, over half of them drowned. 

The few that managed to secure safety in the boats remembered silently watching as the triple screws of the massive ship disappeared into the sea, leaving hundreds of bodies and random wreckage floating where the most luxurious passenger ship--a luxury for even the richest people in the world--had once floated.

So sank the ill-fated Titan

No, I don't mean the Titanic (though everything I have written above would be equally accurate if I were writing about the White Star ship).  The Titan is a fictional ship from the novel The Wreck of the Titan, Or Futility , by Morgan Robertson.  His book was published in 1898--a full fourteen years before the tragedy of the Titanic

The chapters dealing with the sinking of the ship sound eerily similar to what we all know about the real tragedy.  Consider this paragraph from the second page of the original edition:

Unsinkable - indestructible, she carried as few boats as would satisfy the laws. These, twenty-four in number, were securely covered and lashed down to their chocks on the upper deck, and if launched would hold five hundred people. She carried no useless, cumbersome life-rafts; but - because the law required it - each of the three thousand berths in the passengers', officers', and crew's quarters contained a cork jacket, while about twenty circular life-buoys were strewn along the rails.

Morgan Robertson was a writer of short stories and novels that were frequently based on his years at sea.  The son of a sea captain, Robertson started his naval career as a cabin boy and eventually rose to the rank of First Mate.  Though a prolific author, his writing was not financially successful.

Published as a serialized short story, Futility did not enjoy much success when originally published.  Shortly after the sinking of the Titanic, Robertson released the work as part of a book.  Not content with the startling similarities already in the book, the second edition increased the fictional ship's tonnage to more closely match that of the Titanic and, since the original story was rather brief for a novel, Robertson added three more stories to the book, one of which was Beyond the Spectrum.

The existence of Futility is not exactly a secret.  Whether the story is prophesy or a massive coincidence, the story of the Titan has become something of an inside joke among Titanic enthusiasts.  Walter Lord mentioned it in the forward of his great book, A Night to Remember, it was mentioned in an episode of Dr. Who, and it has shown up in countless comic books, video games, and movies.

For some reason, Beyond the Spectrum has been almost completely forgotten.  The 1914 story deals with a future war between the United States and Japan.  Plotting to replace America's economic position in the Pacific, Japan attacks naval ships protecting our military bases in the Philippines and Hawaii.  However, before Japan can land an invasion force at San Francisco, the American hero uses a secret weapon that utilizes bright light and intense heat to both blind and burn the invading army.

Well, no wonder you have never heard of that story!  Nobody would ever believe that crap!


  1. These four: The Wreck of the Titan, The Pirates, Beyond the Spectrum, and In the Valley of the Shadow are all available as a single download, FREE for the Amazon Kindle (or the Kindle app on your phone).

  2. There was also John Brunner's 1969 novel "Stand on Zanzibar" is widely regarded as one of the most prophetic novels ever, Brunner's novel, set in 2010, creates an America plagued with school shootings and terrorist attacks. Major cities like Detroit are practically wastelands and marijuana is decriminalized. Among the major inventions include electric cars, direct TV and laser printers. Genetically modified microorganisms are used as terrorist weapons. There's even a President Obomi in the book, though this one really was born in Africa and is president in a key nation there. Then there's crazy Bennie Noakes, perpetually tripping on Triptine, staring at the boob tube and frequently heard to say "Christ, what an imagination I've got!" He thinks the world is a dream. Reminds me of some couch potatoes I know.