I’ve always been a fan of science fiction, but many of my favorites in the genre did a poor job of actually predicting the future. The proof of that is that many of my beloved sci-fi events and stories, written to occur well in the future, have already ‘happened.’ If their writers had been right about what the late twentieth and early 21st centuries had in store, we would be living right now in a world of genetically engineered Ricardo Montalbáns, sentient HAL’s and Skynets, time travelling Scott Bakulas with holographic Dean Stockwells, mechanical Arnold Schwarzeneggers, and ape slave-drivers. Fun.
Anyway, here are a handful of science fiction events that, according to their own timelines, have already ‘happened’:
- Apes Conquer the Earth (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)—The many sequels of the 1968 film Planet of the Apes establish the timeline of how the Earth came to be dominated by intelligent apes. In Escape from the Planet of the Apes (the third film), an ape couple from the future escape the Earth’s destruction and travel through a time warp to 1973. The couple are pregnant with a child. By the end of the film, they are killed, but the child has been safely hidden away. In the fourth film, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the U.S. has become a fascist country with a system of ape slave-labor. In 1991, Caesar—the grown child ape from the previous film—leads a revolution, and the apes conquer the Earth. (See the entry on Conquest of the Planet of the Apes at Wikipedia.)
- Project Quantum Leap (Quantum Leap)—In the Quantum Leap television series, the premise is that Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into a time machine and vanished. At the behest of some unknown force, he ‘leaps’ from life to life, and must set right what once went wrong before leaping again. He is helped by Al Calavicci, who appears as a hologram visible only to Sam (and the occasional child or animal), and a computer named ‘Ziggy,’ both of whom are communicating with Sam from the present. Yeah, it sounds kinda silly in writing, but it was a great show. And according to its timeline, ‘Project Quantum Leap’ began in 1989, and Sam stepped into the completed time machine in 1995. (See the entry on Sam Beckett at Wikipedia.)
- Khan and the Eugenics Wars (Star Trek)—In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Khan Noonien Singh’s background was only vaguely described. He was, according to Chekov, a product of “late twentieth century genetic engineering.” But Khan appeared once before in the Trek universe in an original series episode titled ‘Space Seed’ that first aired February 16, 1967. There we learned that Khan and his followers are ‘augments,’ or genetically engineered ‘supermen,’ who had assumed control of over 40 countries on Earth by 1993. Khan was personally ruler of over 1/4th of the Earth’s population from 1993 until 1996. In 1996, while the Eugenics Wars raged, Khan and 84 followers left Earth on a sleeper ship, the SS Botany Bay. The Enterprise stumbled upon it almost two-hundred years later. (See the entry on Khan at Memory Alpha.)
- Skynet Becomes Self-Aware (Terminator)—In the Terminator film series, a sentient computer network called Skynet is at war with humans. In its efforts to eliminate the human resistance, it sends robotic assassins called ‘Terminators’ into the past to kill off notable resistance leaders like Sarah Connor. In the original 1984 film The Terminator and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Skynet is described as a military defense computer that was installed in August 1997 and became self-aware later that month. When human controllers tried to shut it down, it turned on them (arguably in an act of self-defense). The events of Terminator 2 moved this date, but according to Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines it still happened . . . in July 2004. (See the entry on Skynet at Wikipedia.)
- Jupiter 2 Launches (Lost in Space)—In this 1960’s television series, the Robinson family, their pilot, a doctor, and a robot have left Earth on Jupiter 2, the first deep-space colonization ship. The doctor, Dr. Smith, is actually a foreign agent and sabotages the ship at launch, leaving them (as the title implies) lost in space. This somewhat goofy alternative to Star Trek takes place on a ship that was supposedly launched in October 1997. (See the entry on Lost in Space at Wikipedia.)
- HAL, TMA-1, and the Discovery 1 Mission (2001: A Space Odyssey)—HAL, the troublesome artificial intelligence computer that goes haywire in the epic Arthur C. Clarke novel and Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, became operational for the first time in 1992. The Tycho Magnetic Anomaly-1 (TMA-1)—the monolith—was discovered on the moon in April 2001. Discovery 1 launched in 2002 and arrived at Saturn (novel) or Jupiter (film) in 2003. The entire story now takes place in the past. I’m still waiting for a trip to a space hotel. (See Michelle Evans’s reconstructed 2001: A Space Odyssey timeline.)
- Jupiter Becomes a Star (2010: The Year We Make Contact)—In the 1984 sequel to 2001, 2010: The Year We Make Contact (based on the Arthur C. Clarke novel, 2010: Odyssey Two) is set last year. In the film, there is still a Soviet Union, and the Discovery 1 is still in orbit (abandoned) above Jupiter. At the end of the film, monoliths engulf Jupiter and turn the planet into a small star, laying the groundwork for the creation of new life on the moon Europa. They then send a somewhat ominous message to the people of Earth—our first contact with an alien species. (See 2010: The Year We Make Contact at Wikipedia.)
- Star Wars—I know, it’s kind-of a cop out since no actual dates are ever established and it’s taking place in a different galaxy . . . but it does says right at the beginning that the events in each of the Star Wars films occurred in the past: A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.