The Titanic foretold? Futility,or The Wreck of the Titan
On April 14, 1912 (or “nineteen ten and two”, as an old song I used to sing had it), the “unsinkable” passenger ship Titanic struck an iceberg.
One hundred years later, books are still being written about the incident.
Interestingly, a book that was written in 1898 (fourteen years before the sinking of the Titanic) appears to eerily foretell the disaster.
I’d heard about
before, but had never read it.
Thanks to so many public domain e-books being free (pioneered by Michael Hart and Project Gutenberg), I was able to download it and see both how similar it was and if the book was any good.
I could have downloaded it from Amazon at the link I gave to you above and listened to it in the car on my Kindle Touch, but I wanted to have my Fire with me and didn’t want to carry both.
Let me say that if you didn’t know this book had been written first, you would very likely think it was based on the Titanic. You might even call it a “rip off”, if you thought of it inspired by, say, the James Cameron movie.
Take a look at the opening:
“She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession, and trade known to civilization. On her bridge were officers, who, besides being the pick of the Royal Navy, had passed rigid examinations in all studies that pertained to the winds, tides, currents, and geography of the sea; they were not only seamen, but scientists. The same professional standard applied to the personnel of the engine-room, and the steward’s department was equal to that of a first-class hotel.
<Two brass bands, two orchestras, and a theatrical company entertained the passengers during waking hours; a corps of physicians attended to the temporal, and a corps of chaplains to the spiritual, welfare of all on board, while a well-drilled fire-company soothed the fears of nervous ones and added to the general entertainment by daily practice with their apparatus. From her lofty bridge ran hidden telegraph lines to the bow, stern engine-room, crow’s-nest on the foremast, and to all parts of the ship where work was done, each wire terminating in a marked dial with a movable indicator, containing in its scope every order and answer required in handling the massive hulk, either at the dock or at sea–which eliminated, to a great extent, the hoarse, nerve-racking shouts of officers and sailors. From the bridge, engine-room, and a dozen places on her deck the ninety-two doors of nineteen water-tight compartments could be closed in half a minute by turning a lever. These doors would also close automatically in the presence of water. With nine compartments flooded the ship would still float, and as no known accident of the sea could possibly fill this many, the steamship Titan was considered practically unsinkable. Built of steel throughout, and for passenger traffic only, she carried no combustible cargo to threaten her destruction by fire; and the immunity from the demand for cargo space had enabled her designers to discard the flat, kettle-bottom of cargo boats and give her the sharp dead-rise–or slant from the keel–of a steam yacht, and this improved her behavior in a seaway. She was eight hundred feet long, of seventy thousand tons’ displacement, seventy-five thousand horse-power, and on her trial trip had steamed at a rate of twenty-five knots an hour over the bottom, in the face of unconsidered winds, tides, and currents. In short, she was a floating city–containing within her steel walls all that tends to minimize the dangers and discomforts of the Atlantic voyage–all that makes life enjoyable. 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.”
If you didn’t wade through all that, and can’t compare the statistics to the real ship, at least notice the name of the ship: the Titan.
What fate befalls the Titan? Just like the Titanic, she strikes an iceberg on her starboard side…in April.
That said, there is a story here…we are particularly focused on a few people. This is, arguably, science fiction…the Titan is a projection of current (1898) technology, and the book looks in part at the effect that has on people and society.
It’s a bit melodramatic, but I found it interesting that the book was particularly concerned with the idea of atheism…and not in an immediately dismissive way, as one might expect.
If you are interested in the story of the Titanic, I’d recommend this book. The Titan part (the first of four stories in the book) could be sight-read fairly quickly: I think its about seventy pages in print. The free versions, I believe, contain all four stories.
If you were reading it just as a story…it had some interesting elements, but for me, the philosophy was a bit heavy-handed.
If you do read it, I’d be curious to hear what you think. 🙂
Oh, one last thing: some people claim this as evidence of a vision of the future, but it isn’t presented as fact. Predicting a large ship like this is a not illogical projection, and icebergs were a serious threat. As the book points out, what else afloat was a risk to a ship this large? As to the name…I’ve always sort of wondered if someone involved in naming the Titanic might have read the story in Collier’s…and subconsciously or not, suggested it.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.