Sci-Fi Writer Jules Verne Wrote Predictions About The Future – And He Was Eerily Accurate

More than 150 years ago, much of the world that we recognize today was still a distant dream. Back then, Queen Victoria was on the throne of the United Kingdom, while steamships were the main mode of transport between Europe and the United States. And over in France, the prolific writer Jules Verne was busy penning some incredible stories that sometimes predicted the future in scarily accurate ways.

Today, of course, Verne is known as one of the most famous writers of all time. In fact, his work has been translated from its initial French into other languages more often than William Shakespeare’s oeuvre has been reworked from the original English. And even well into the 21st century, the fantastical worlds that Verne created continue to captivate and inspire.

Throughout his career, Verne spun tales of dark dystopias, incredible inventions and fanciful journeys that had never before been imagined. In Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, for example, he wrote of three men on an adventure deep below the ocean’s waves. In Around the World in 80 Days, meanwhile, he imagined one man’s attempt to circumnavigate the globe.

ADVERTISEMENT

And over the years, Verne’s vibrant output has earned him a reputation as a founding father of the science fiction genre. Yet not everything that the Frenchman wrote about remained confined to his books. In fact, as the decades have passed, some of the author’s most outlandish ideas have actually become reality. But what exactly did he predict?

Born in Nantes, France, in February 1828, Verne was the son of Sophie, whose family had been involved in the shipping industry, and lawyer Pierre. Then, when the future writer was just six years old, he was enrolled at a local boarding school. One teacher at this institution, moreover, regaled her students with tales of her missing husband, painting her errant spouse as a castaway who had been marooned somewhere.

ADVERTISEMENT

With his interest piqued, Verne would remain passionate about adventure for the rest of his life. In fact, one rumor claims that he attempted to abscond to the Indies at the age of just 11. Supposedly, though, Verne was caught by his father at the last minute. Seemingly keen to keep his son in check, Pierre then apparently made the boy promise to limit his travels to his fantasies.

ADVERTISEMENT

Verne had begun writing by the end of his teens, too, and wished to make it his career. Pierre had other ideas, though, and was insistent that his son become an attorney like him. So, in 1847 Verne was enrolled at a law school in Paris. And while he kept up the appearance of studying, he also threw himself into the city’s flourishing literary society.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then, after graduating from law school, Verne continued to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Progress was made, too, when in 1851 he struck up a connection with the editor of literary magazine Musée des familles. And, happily, the aspiring author’s adventurous travel stories were a perfect fit with the publication, meaning his first two pieces would appear in print later that year.

ADVERTISEMENT

Soon, then, Verne abandoned any pretense of pursuing a career in law. Instead, he spent his time writing and immersing himself in books at the French national library. And before long, he had come up with an idea for a new genre of fiction. Specifically, he pondered creating a “novel of science” that contained a significant degree of factual data.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 1856, meanwhile, Verne found himself in the French city of Amiens, where he was serving as best man at his friend’s wedding. And while there, he met and fell for Honorine de Viane Morel – the widowed sister of the bride. In part to impress Honorine’s family, then, he took a job in finance in Paris. And on January 10, 1857, the pair were married, with their son Michel arriving four years later.

ADVERTISEMENT

During this period, Verne was also discovering the world outside of France, with his love of exploration beginning to creep into his writings. And, eventually, in 1863 his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, was published. An adventure story that combined a thrilling narrative with technical details, the work offered a glimpse into the style that would later make Verne famous.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 1866, moreover, Verne’s editor announced that the writer would be embarking on an ambitious task. Apparently, his intention was to publish a series of novels dubbed the Voyages extraordinaires. And through these works, Verne would tell the story of the universe itself – all in a captivating way, of course.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, from 1863 right up until his death in 1905, Verne penned 54 novels for his Voyages extraordinaires series. And even in the 21st century, many of these are still considered among the greatest science fiction stories ever told. In 1864, for example, he published Journey to the Center of the Earth, which remains acclaimed to this day.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then, six years later, Verne released what would go on to become arguably his most famous work. The critically successful Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea told the story of Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus. And almost 150 years after its publication, the book is still very much admired by many readers.

ADVERTISEMENT

Around the World in Eighty Days – another of Verne’s most well-known novels – was also published in 1872. Continuing the theme of men embarking on impossible adventures, the story followed explorer Phileas Fogg attempting to complete the journey mentioned in the title. This time, however, the author did not evoke themes typically associated with science fiction; instead, he depicted the British Empire in its prime.

ADVERTISEMENT

After having lived to see his work become a commercial success, though, Verne succumbed to diabetes and died in March 1905. Still, his literary legacy endures. In fact, the Frenchman’s novels are said to have inspired other renowned writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Jean Cocteau. Several scientists even claim to have been influenced by the great author, too.

ADVERTISEMENT

Indeed, there are many today who consider Verne to be an expert at blurring the lines between science and fiction. And while his work sought to in some way reflect the world around him, he also appeared adept at detailing things that were yet to happen. Yes, several passages in Verne’s books seem to foretell the future with startling accuracy.

ADVERTISEMENT

Perhaps the most famous example of Verne’s prognostication is found within the pages of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. In this adventure epic, three men find themselves on board the Nautilus. This craft is painted as fantastical and submarine-like, and it takes the protagonists right into the depths of the world’s oceans.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, did Verne really predict the invention of the modern submarine? Well, although underwater vessels had been around in one form or another since the 17th century, Verne’s Nautilus was cut from a different cloth. Equipped with a vast dining area and on-board organ, it was a luxurious innovation that had more in common with the grand ocean liners of the time.

ADVERTISEMENT

But despite these eccentricities, the submarine that Verne imagined had its roots in scientific fact. For example, he depicted the Nautilus as running on electricity – an invention that still retained an air of mystery during the period in which he was writing. Nowadays, of course, it’s common for modern subs to be powered by batteries harnessing that very same force.

ADVERTISEMENT

Five years before Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, meanwhile, Verne had published another novel that ultimately brought him great success. In From the Earth to the Moon, a group of American gun lovers come together as part of a club in the aftermath of the Civil War. And, eventually, members of the gang attempt to send three people on an adventure to the Moon.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then, as the years went by, many of the book’s more fantastical elements became reality. In the story, you see, Verne describes a type of projectile that would send his aspiring astronauts into space. Or as historian Rosalind Williams explained in a 2011 interview with National Geographic, it was “a big gun going off, and you get enough force to break through gravity.”

ADVERTISEMENT

And more than a century later, crowds around the world watched the space mission Apollo 11 land the first men on the Moon. It could even be said that the lunar module Columbia bore a striking resemblance to the technology imagined by Verne. The module certainly had a similar name; its fictional counterpart was dubbed Columbiad.

ADVERTISEMENT

However, the similarities didn’t end there. In From the Earth to the Moon, Verne also imagined a launch site in Cape Town in the southern end of the United States rather than the European location that his readers may have expected. Apparently, the author had calculated that such a mission would need to begin somewhere near the equator. And when the real-life space flight finally took place in 1969, officials chose a launch spot merely 60 miles or so from where Verne had pinpointed.

ADVERTISEMENT

Interestingly, details such as the weight and speed of the Columbiad also matched the specifications of its real-life counterpart. But had Verne seen into the future? Or had he merely used science to predict what was likely to come? Regardless, some 40 years after NASA first landed man on the moon, another of the author’s fictional space inventions became reality.

ADVERTISEMENT

In 2010 Japan’s space agency launched a spacecraft named IKAROS on a path to Venus. Yet this was no ordinary rocket; it was the first solar sail vessel to embark on an interplanetary journey. Yes, the groundbreaking technology that IKAROS uses harnesses the power of the sun to propel missions over great distances. And the idea wasn’t entirely a new one, either. You see, Verne had imagined light-powered space travel as far back as 1865.

ADVERTISEMENT

Interestingly, though, Verne’s apparent predictive abilities were not only confined to his novels. In 1889, for example, the author penned the short story “In the Year 2889,” which describes innovations that he believed one day may become a reality. Among these theories was one that suggested news reports would eventually be televised – very much like the bulletins of today.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of this notion, Verne wrote, “Instead of being printed, the Earth Chronicle is every morning spoken to subscribers, who, from interesting conversations with reporters, statesmen and scientists, learn the news of the day.” And in a bizarre turn, this wasn’t the only video-based prediction to feature in the author’s prescient work.

ADVERTISEMENT

In what is perhaps the earliest ever reference to videophone technology, Verne imagined an invention that he called the phonotelephote. With this device, users are apparently able to transmit images using a complex system of wire and mirrors. But despite the remarkable detail Verne used to describe this innovation, its real-life counterpart wouldn’t even begin to be developed until the 1920s.

ADVERTISEMENT

Elsewhere, “In the Year 2889” features a reference to ads that are spelled out in the skies above the Earth. “Everyone has noticed these enormous advertisements reflected from the clouds – so large that they may be seen by the populations of whole cities or even entire countries,” Verne wrote. And this could be seen as yet another prediction – one related to the skywriting craze of the 1930s.

ADVERTISEMENT

However, perhaps the most striking example of Verne’s apparent clairvoyant abilities can be found in his novel Paris in the Twentieth Century. Penned in 1863, the book tells the story of Michel, a young man with an artistic soul who is struggling in an advanced, yet culturally bereft world. And although the novel is a work of fiction, it accurately predicts the cities of the next century in many ways.

ADVERTISEMENT

In the book, Verne describes Paris as he imagined it may be in the 1960s. And somehow, he hits the nail on the head. Among the inventions dreamt up by the author are skyscrapers, lights powered by electricity and trains that can travel at great speeds. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, too.

ADVERTISEMENT

You see, in Paris in the Twentieth Century, Verne also appears to predict modern cars, referring to them as gas-powered cabs. At the time the writer was penning this work, the commercial automobile was more than two decades away. Verne even describes the infrastructure that would be necessary to operate these vehicles, including fueling stations and asphalt roads.

ADVERTISEMENT

And when the 1960s actually rolled around, computing was still in its infancy, meaning few could have predicted how ubiquitous the technology would become. All the way back in 1863, though, Verne managed to describe devices that would exchange digital information across large distances. Is it possible that he foresaw the internet long before its conception?

ADVERTISEMENT

Amazingly, these were far from the only future innovations that Verne predicted in this novel. He also made reference to technology that harnessed the power of the wind as well as a type of punishment similar to the electric chair. The latter of these two inventions would not exist until 1881, while the former only came into use 25 years after the author put pen to paper.

ADVERTISEMENT

Elsewhere in the book, Verne appeared to accurately predict the state of warfare in the 20th century. In fact, he imagined a world in which weapons had become so advanced and destructive that conflict was now inconceivable. Today, this concept is known as mutually assured destruction – although that phrase wasn’t actually coined until 1962.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet it wasn’t just inventions that Verne foresaw. In the novel, he also described a society uncannily similar to the ones that developed in western cities in the 20th century, taking in everything from the rise of suburbs to the growth of feminism. His predictions have remained correct well into the following century, too.

ADVERTISEMENT

Amazingly, Verne even described the music of the future with unnerving accuracy, proposing that there would one day be an instrument much like a modern synthesizer. With this gadget, the author suggested, songs would become electronic. He also claimed that entertainment would become increasingly lewd in order to captivate the masses. But in an ironic twist, Paris in the Twentieth Century was deemed by Verne’s own publisher to be potentially unsuitable for public consumption. As such, then, its publication was deferred.

ADVERTISEMENT

In fact, the novel didn’t hit stores until 1994, with an English translation following two years later. But while its release reignited modern speculation that the author was a prophet of sorts, some scholars had already started casting doubt on such claims. The engineer Theodore L. Thomas dismissed these notions back in the 1960s, in fact, by accusing readers of exaggerating Verne’s scientific accuracy over the years.

ADVERTISEMENT

During his own lifetime, it seems that Verne was also quick to dismiss any attempt to paint him as a prophet. Instead, he attributed his ability to seemingly foresee the future to his exhaustive research methods. And more than a century later, Rosalind Williams agreed. “He predicted a lot of things that have happened, but that’s because he was reading a lot and talking with people, and he knew what was going on in the world around him,” she told National Geographic. “It wasn’t magic. He was just paying attention to things.”

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT