Mar 18, 2010 I Micah Hanks

Fiction is Strange, but is Truth Always Stranger?

Throughout history, a surprising number of fiction novelists have managed to spin plot elements into their stories which, though they had no idea at the time, would later prove to have startling ramifications in the real world.

In many instances where such startling similarities have occurred, names, dates, and places have even accurately been named, as though the authors had somehow tapped into actual future events and predicted their outcome.

One of the more startling instances of such "psychic novelist" activity involved Edgar Allan Poe, who managed to predict with frightening detail an exact series of events that later transpired at sea aboard a seagoing vessel called the Mignonette. In his longest (and arguably his strangest) story, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the ship carrying the narrator and its crew encountered a freakish squall, in which only a handful of men survived. Among them was a lowly cabin boy named Richard Parker, who later was cannibalized in what was then known as the grim "custom of the sea." Though this series of events was conjured from Poe's mind, decades later the Mignonette was destroyed under almost identical circumstances, where a sudden 40-foot wave capsized the ship. Among the survivors--and first to be killed and cannibalized--was the cabin boy, whose name was none other than Richard Parker! Captain Tom Dudley, along with those who had helped devour young Parker, were later discovered alive, and were tried for murder.

Another instance of science fiction predicting strange incidents that would occur later involves Alexander Kazantsev, who wrote what appeared to be fiction based on an actual event, the Tunguska blast of 1908, in his 1946 story “A Visitor From Outer Space.” In the story, an alien spacecraft attempting to get water from Lake Baikal in Russia explodes in mid air. Although it is widely known that Kazantsev was perhaps the first to link aliens to the Tunguska event, in 2009, Russian Naval documents dealing with UFOs also revealed that 50% of all encounters with UFOs they reported had occurred under or near water. Strangely, a 1982 encounter military divers reported dealt with the appearance of "three humanoids clad in silver suits at a depth of 50 meters," which resulted in the death of three of the divers. Perhaps Kazantsev had been closer to being accurate with his story than even he realized!

Then take into consideration Pulitzer Prize winner Norman Mailer, who managed to weave a strange psychic prediction into the plot of his novel Barbary Shore, in which a Soviet spy character is living undercover in a New York Boarding House. The setting for the novel is based loosely on the apartment building in which he lived while writing it, and strangely, after its publication it was revealed that a soviet spy had actually been living upstairs, just as written about in Mailer’s fiction! Perhaps Mailer had his own affinity for psychic phenomenon, as this great quote illustrates with its mention of “psychic bullets”:

In America all too few blows are struck into flesh. We kill the spirit here, we are experts at that. We use psychic bullets and kill each other cell by cell. –Norman Mailer

Jules Verne, one of Edgar Allan Poe's proteges, also went on to be rather predictive with his fiction. Verne discussed the future of space flight in his book From the Earth to the Moon, which ended up describing events uncannily similar to what later became NASA's real Apollo Program. In the story, three astronauts are launched from the Florida peninsula and later recovered through a splash landing. Also, in the book the spacecraft in question was launched from what Verne called "Tampa Town." Tampa, Florida is approximately 130 miles from NASA's actual launching site at present day Cape Canaveral.

So next time anybody brings up the old phrase "truth is stranger than fiction," you'll have no problem correcting them; if anything, it's often apparently only as strange as the fiction that predicted it!

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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