Sometimes, a writer inadvertently creates an Alternate History
, which causes problems when referencing later events. The reason? Real life has simply progressed beyond the fictional events, meaning that the work suddenly becomes inaccurate. Adventure thrillers are especially vulnerable to this, as they are often written Twenty Minutes into the Future
. Sometimes, the writer will refer to later events such as 9-11, In Spite of a Nail
. In other cases, what was a series of adventure novels experiences a Genre Shift
and becomes some kind of science-fiction or true Alternate History.
The science-fiction version is a special case, where dates or rates of technological advance
become invalidated by the march of time. Zeerust
is an aesthetic version, where "futuristic" designs wind up dated.
The title comes from a famous newspaper headline. The Chicago Tribune printed the predicted winner of the 1948 presidential election on its front page. By morning, the headline was proven wrong.
See The Great Politics Mess-Up
for a particularly frequently encountered example.
- 24. Season 1 was written and filmed pre-9/11 but was set in 2004. By the second season, 9/11 had happened, and the Department of Homeland Security suddenly existed when it hadn't before.
- Deliberately spoofed in More Information Than You Require, which is apparently set in some kind of Alternate History where, among other things, Dewey Defeats Truman, and in the follow-up volume, That Is All, we learn that Hitler drowned while on vacation during the 1930s. Roosevelt was right there and he allowed it to happen.
- Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series gradually developed from a series of "Well, it could have happened in real life" techno-thrillers into a full-blown Alternate History.
- Lord of the Flies features a nuclear war breaking out sometime in the late 1950s, making it this trope if you block out all the heavy handed symbolism.
- Sometime Never: A Fable for Supermen has a nuclear war where there shouldn't have been, though Roald Dahl is just looking for a convenient time to kill humanity.
- Ironically, the title of this article and the accompanying photo are somewhat of an aversion. The initial run was immediately intercepted and destroyed, but not before one of Truman's cronies got a hold of one, providing for the famous photo op.
- The fact that the Tribune was an arch-Republican paper hostile to Truman didn't help matters any.
- Modern Warfare predicted a civil war in Russia by 2011 which obviously did not come to passnote .
- Call Of Duty Black Ops 2 predicted that David Petraeus would be Secretary of Defense in 2025. Given the fact that Petraeus was caught up in an extramarital affair in late 2012, that seems really unlikely.
- Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey.
- And now, its sequel, 2010.
- Someone needs to set an alarm to come back and edit this page in 51 years.
- All of the Space Odyssey series has already been invalidated this way, one way or another. For example, the first three books all feature a still-existing USSR; the backstory of 2061 involves a revolution in South Africa in the 2030s which overthrows the apartheid regime; then of course there's the invention of HAL...
- We'll see in just over two years after this edit what did and didn't come to pass as predicted in Back to the Future Part 2 - not that the film had any pretensions of prescience. So far it's predicted flat screen TVs and dozens of channels and the increase in popularity and decrease in cost of plastic surgery among a few other things. On the other hand, we're unlikely to have flying cars, hoverboards, 80s cafes and dust-repellent paper. Lawyers will probably get to keep their jobs, too.
- Space: 1999, likewise.
- Isaac Asimov's novels have Ridiculously Human Robots, but no personal computers and (in most novels) even no television.
- Anything that doesn't have The Internet.
- Which is basically everything written before the mid-90s but set after. Anything vaguely similar to the 'net as we know it, tends to be limited to looking up a remote, probably centralized, database. The idea of it being a many-to-many medium doesn't seem to have occurred to many people until it actually happenednote .
- Averted in a Mark Twain short story.
- Larry Niven's Known Space has humanity midway through colonizing the solar system and beginning to get slowboats to nearby habitable systems ready by this point in its history, as well as widespread death penalties to force organ donation.
- Star Trek initially had the Eugenics Wars occurring in the 1990s.
- There were a couple attempts to fix this one—later there was a claim that it actually happened later sometime, while a series of books suggested that they were "secret wars" where the actual historical events were being manipulated from behind the scenes. The latest series of comics just says "screw it, we're going all in" and has Khan destroying Washington D.C. and Moscow in 1992.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four predicts a decidedly dystopian '84 that did not come to pass. Not that we wanted to. Although it did predict iPods and flatscreen TVs. And the NSA's warrant-less surveillance of everything on the internet. Of course, wasn't specifically said that the book takes place in 1984 (Winston explicitly says he's not sure what year it really is) — Orwell simply flipped the last two digits of the year it was published (1948). The book was originally going to be called "The Last Man in Britain"; a trace of this remains when O'Brien tells Winston that "if you are a man, then you are the last man". And given Big Brother's ability to lie about everything to the point of altering the definition of "truth," there's no way for anyone in-story to be sure what year it is, either.
- Dream Park by Niven & Barnes has California decimated by an earthquake and associated tsunami in 1985. The second sequel bumped this to 1995, after which the authors threw up their hands and let it stand as an alternate-history Verse.
- 2012 predicted...well...
- Robert A. Heinlein is often credited with inventing the idea of an author linking his works into a single timeline and coining the term "future history." None the less, he eventually had to declare his Future History to be an alternate universe (and he then introduced inter-universal travel so those characters could visit worlds more like our own).
- Martian Manhunter was originally from a thriving and prosperous Mars. After space probes found Mars to be barren, a Retcon was introduced to explain what had happened to J'onn's people.
- Brilliantly averted in G. K. Chesterton's The Napoleon Of Notting Hill. After an introduction in which he pokes fun at authors and pundits who make authoritative-sounding predictions about the future only to inevitably run afoul of this trope, he announces that he is setting his story the better part of a century in the future, and that apart from one major, and deliberately silly, change to the operation of the British government, he is assuming that the future will be exactly like the present. The marvelous thing is that, a hundred years later, his book actually does stand up to this trope far better than most of his contemporaries. Make of that what you will.
Some real-life examples:
- This incident occurred on June 28, 2012. As the Supreme Court handed down their 5-4 ruling that President Obama's health care bill (often colloquially known as "Obamacare") was constitutional on its face,note both CNN and Fox News went on the air to announce that the bill was overturned, apparently having not bothered to read the entire very complex ruling in their rush to "scoop" each other. They would retract those reports some moments later, and get mercilessly mocked by their competitors at MSNBC. This lead to a viral image of the above picture of Truman, with Obama's face and holding an iPad reading "Mandate Struck Down."
- January 24, 1961: Mel Blanc, the voice of many Warner Bros. cartoon stars, was critically injured in an automobile accident in Los Angeles. The Honolulu Herald reported the next day that Blanc died of his injuries when in fact he was still alive but in a coma. He died of emphysema just over 28½ years later.
- George W. Bush once expressed his condolences for the death of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Sharon was not and still is not dead, though he is in a persistent vegetative state.note
- On November 7, 2012, Mitt Romney's campaign accidentally launched the victory website they had been preparing. It was quickly taken down.
- Paul Keating, Australia's Prime Minister from 1991-1996, was utterly indifferent to cricket, unlike his predecessor Bob Hawke and successor John Howard. Allegedly Keating once mentioned "the late Sir Donald Bradman" in a speech in the early 90s. Bradman's death was news to many, not least Bradman himself, who died in 2001 at the age of 92.
- Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, had seen the consequences of this when he read his own obituary (his brother had died instead, and the editor made a mistake) denouncing him as making warfare much gorier and riddled with casualties than before thanks to his explosives. Seeing that he would be remembered as a merchant of death, he used the money he made from dynamite to set up a foundation that would reward achievements in promoting science and peace with recognition and cash awards - which became known as Nobel Prizes.
- Cardinal Angelo Scola was hailed as Pope during the 2013 Papal conclave shortly after the white smoke went up. The real winner was Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina.