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July/August 2018
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The Wreck of the Titan, or Futility, by Morgan Robertson (1912)

Sometimes a writer may be remembered not for the undying literary quality of his work, but for some bizarre synchronicity. Such is the case with the 1898 novella Futility by Morgan Robertson.

The tale prophetically describes an enormous ocean liner, the Titan, deemed unsinkable till it meets an iceberg, as famously did its near-namesake in 1912. The unpopulated first chapters, crisp engineering porn, are reminiscent of the interminable Enterprise fly-by scene from 1979's Star Trek. But eventually appears John Rowland, common sailor, once noble but now on the alcoholic, atheist skids since his rejection by Myra Selfridge—who's also onboard with husband and toddler Myra. Her father-in-law is the biggest Titan shareholder. Upon catastrophic glacial impact, Rowland finds himself stranded on the iceberg with child Myra, while wailing Mom drifts off unaware in one of the few lifeboats. After killing a polar bear, Tarzan-style, with a knife to the eye, Rowland is rescued, ultimately restoring little Myra to her mother and, we foresee, stepping into dead hubby's shoes. More words are devoted to the legal aftermath of the wreck (featuring a greedy Jewish insurance man) than to the disaster itself.

Reissued with alacrity in 1912, the novella was joined by Robertson's Beyond the Spectrum. Japan declares war on the U.S.A., striking with both laser-like and blinding rays. But they're the stolen invention of Navy Lieutenant George Metcalf, who captures a Japanese sub and turns the beams on the perfidious foe's whole fleet, ending the war. Is there anything rayguns can't do?

—Paul Di Filippo

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