Sunday, November 01, 2009

Crime fiction of the past that looks to the future

A discussion on Adrian McKinty's site takes me back to an eye-catching passage from John Buchan's spy thriller Greenmantle:

"The ordinary man again will answer that Islam in Turkey is becoming a back number, and that Krupp guns are the new gods. Yet — I don't know. I do not quite believe in Islam becoming a back number."
Such a passage, a prediction that Islam is not quite a spent force, has to capture the attention of anyone who reads Greenmantle today, yet Buchan published the novel in 1916.

What other striking foreshadowings or predictions have you found in your crime or other reading? (I can think of one especially chilling one that I'll tell you about if you're good.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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11 Comments:

Blogger R. T. said...

Arthur C. Clarke created HAL in 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, and now we are perhaps adrift in a vast, unsettled cosmos dominated by the ethernet's "artificial intelligence." The form and substance may be different from Clarke's visioin, but are we not now very much subordinating ourselves (like Clarke's astronaut) to something other than human (face-to-face) interactions when our culture is dominated by texting, cellphones, Twitter, Facebook, et al? For example, students in my classrooms are almost completely inept at face-to-face discussions of important topics and issues; they have surrendered their intellect to microchips and microwaves. The future (foreseen by Clarke) seems very grim indeed.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If I recall 2001 correctly, HAL was a kind of controlling intelligence. We have certainly abandoned literacy, social interaction and consideration for others. The surrender is well under way, in other words, but I'm not sure we're surrendering to anything so neat and intelligent as HAL. There is plenty of room for plain, old human stupidity, frustration, incompetence and bullshit that I don't think existed in Clarke's world. Our real world is much more comic than his fictional one, in other words.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger R. T. said...

You would be amazed (or perhaps you would not be amazed) at the surrender of intellect that goes on in university classrooms. Students would rather Google for information about literature than come up with their own readings and interpretations. As you say, "the surrender is well under way." No, there is not yet a unified controlling A/I (like HAL); however, a significant portion of the world, as I see it, has forgotten how to think about and talk about life's issues, and instead the world turns outward to others via media (especially through the Internet and cellphone applications). It may be a comic trend at the moment, but it has the potential to backfire badly and turn into something grim.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Perhaps our best hope is that we shall all be gone before the grimness gets too bad.

I do take it as a positive trend that I seem to see fewer proclamations about the liberating potential of technology these days. I do, however, see lots of grim young capitalists dressed up as artists in the cafes of my gentrifying neighborhood.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Yet on the other hand, here we all are, huh?

On the theme, there was a line in Kerouac's On the Road that has to strike any post 9/11 readers:

"Dean had a sweater wrapped around his ears to keep warm. He said we were a band of Arabs coming to blow up New York.". It is more startling because in context it is largely irrelevant. Pretty odd non-sequitur for 1951.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You know, I'd thought the book was a few years later than 1951. For some reason 1957 stuck in my mind as the publication date, but I found one edition that also has copyright dates of 1955 and 1957. I mention this because I thought the Suez Crisis of 1956 might have put the Middle East in Kerouac's mind. But regardless of the date, the bit about blowing up New York has probably caused a frisson of excitement in more than one reader these last few years.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Make that 1955 and 1959.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

I looked it up because my brain is a sieve, you're right it was published laterbut Kerouac actually wrote it in 1951, according to my sources. When he scribbled it down is meaningful in this context. Although I suppose Dean/Neil must have done this even earlier if this has any basis in fact.

v word=rammight, which I am not touching with a ten foot pole.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I don't know what kind of a product Ram Might is, but I bet it works every time.

Who knows when Kerouac added the bit about the bomb? I wonder if there was some time before 9/11 when people associated the ideas of "Arab" and "bomb." Maybe it was just some random firing of Kerouac's neurons.

November 01, 2009  
Blogger seana said...

Ram might, but then again, it might not. Probably not the best advertisng campaign.

November 02, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha! I was thinking Mighty Ram, not Tentative Ram. Yes, Ram Might would be open to satirical ads by competitors ... like the amusing Mac ad I saw on television last night aimed at Microsoft's new operating system (as opposed to the Microsoft ads, which are weird to the point of incomprehensibility.)

November 02, 2009  

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