Several years ago, an anthology titled “Skylife: Space Habitats in Story and Science” caught my eye from its perch on Borders’ bargain shelves. Not being all that deep into science fiction, I was more attracted to it for the section of color illustrations inserted in the middle, containing representations of what artists from several decades ago thought we’d be living like today. This entailed such items as commuter jetpacks and outer-space bubble cities.
I can’t name a single story that appeared within those pages, but I still remember those pictures. And now, there’s an entire book full of them: “Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future” by brothers Eric and Jonathan Dregni. No Isaac Asimov-penned tales of flight and fancy here “ just page after page of vintage photos, advertisements and assorted ephemera depicting predicted advances in science that never came to pass. I mean, the Internets and iPhones are great and all, but where’s my solar-powered car made of balsa wood? My two-man airship? My buxom robot secretary?
Judging from the art on display, we should all be floating around town, shooting laser guns, eating meal pills, vacationing on the moon and using personal computers. Well, they got the personal computer prediction right, but our forefathers believed the machines would be the size of six refrigerators. Fail!
Some things just never caught on, and with good reason. In the 1960s, Sanyo was developing a “human washing machine.” A few decades earlier, another company had released the invasive “Recto Rotor,” intended for personal, ahem, “prostate troubles” and was “small enough for anyone over 15 years old.” And women of all ages could enjoy the piece of “exercise” equipment known as the vibrating “health jolting chair.” It was guaranteed to leave the user with “bright, sparkling eyes “¦ and a vivacious manner.” Nudge, wink.
The addition of magazine covers from various sci-fi pulps of the day helps make the Dregnis’ fun book even more fun. But it’s not entirely a glimpse in the rearview mirror; the final chapter quizzes futurists as to what we can expect in the decades to come! Get set, ladies and gentlemen, for skin-implanted cell phones, smart paper and self-repairing roads! Oh, and most forms of cancer should be cured by 2012, too, so I smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em!
Me? I’m still waiting for that orgasmatron.