Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Titanic and Titan: The novel that 'predicted' the Titanic disaster

     The RMS Titanic sank nearly 100 years ago (the anniversary is April 15), and in this centennial year, there are many special events planned, including "Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" at Dearborn's The Henry Ford,  March 31-Sept. 30, and a 3-D re-release of James Cameron's 1997 film.
     But this a book blog. If you want to commemorate the anniversary with a book, you could read "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord (1955) -- the basis for the popular 1958 movie -- or maybe some stories by Jacques Futrelle, an author who died on the Titanic (read about him here or read some of his stories, including the most famous, "The Problem of Cell 13," here). Or you could read a book that, though published 14 years before the Titanic sank, seems to predict the disaster almost down to the name of the ship.
     "Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan" by Morgan Robertson describes a giant passenger liner named the Titan, described as "unsinkable," that hits an iceberg in April, then sinks, with only a few of its passengers surviving in part because there were insufficient lifeboats.

     It's not precisely the story of the Titanic, of course, and the plot continues long after the ship sinks, in part devoted to the heroic rescue of a child by the ship's mate -- involving climbing on the iceberg and fighting a polar bear -- and a dispute over whether the insurance will be paid. If Cameron's film is a romance story, Robertson's is a story of personal redemption and lawsuits. It's not a literary masterpiece, but it has its charms.
     First-edition copies of the 1898 book are rare. One has recently been put up for sale with an asking price of $10,000 (read an article about that here), but you don't have to spend that kind of money to read it. The book is in the public domain, and there are multiple sites online where you can read it for free (including here and here), and there are many e-book versions -- four here for the Amazon Kindle, from free to $3, and six here for Barnes and Noble's NOOK, from free to $3.59 -- as well as several print versions.


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