Futility - The Wreck of the Titan

Was Robertson a psychic?

As many know, I’m presently promoting my newest novel, Roll Me Away. But in this essay, I’m advocating a different book, called a novella, originally entitled Futility. It was later changed to The Wreck of the Titan. I think you’ll find this story amazing.

Futility was written by Morgan Robertson, formerly a merchant marine, jeweler, and later an author living in New York. He also published short stories in popular magazines but never made much money.

Robertson was in the merchant service from 1876 to 1899, which gave him a complete understanding of ships. This enabled him to describe accurate details of the Titan ship for his novel. Morgan died in 1915, three years after the novel was retitled to the Wreck of the Titan.

In the fictional tale, a British passenger liner, the SS Titan, was the longest and fastest ship in the world, and considered unsinkable. Robertson wrote, “it (Titan) takes its name from a family of giants in Greek mythology, is the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men, boasting every imaginable luxury. It’s a steel behemoth with two masts, three enormous propellers, and more than a dozen supposedly watertight compartments that can be quickly sealed off in the event of an emergency.”

John Rowland, a disgraced US Navy officer who had been dismissed from the service will become the hero of the novel, despite the fact he’s an alcoholic deckhand on the ship. 

One foggy night Rowland witnessed the SS Futility crashing into a smaller ship at full speed on a route between America and Ireland. The smaller ship was cut in half. Rowland will be bribed and even drugged by the captain for his silence.

The following night, the SS Futility crashes into an iceberg in the Atlantic, and promptly sinks.  Only 13 people survive, including Rowland, who saves a little girl.

In Morgan’s story he wrote the ship sank in the north Atlantic in April, was 800 foot long, was able to reach unheard of speeds, and was not carrying enough lifeboats for the passengers. This novel was published in 1898.

Costing about $190 million in today’s dollars to build, in April of 1912, a very real SS Titanic was launched from Southampton England on its maiden voyage. The ship was 882 feet long, considered the fastest ship on water at the time, and was not carrying a sufficient number of lifeboats. As you know from history, it sank in the Atlantic Ocean after hitting an iceberg at full speed in the Grand Banks off of Newfoundland Canada  

Eerily, this real-life event happened 14 years after the novel Futility was published. Was Robertson a psychic?

As horrific and paranormal as this story sounds, the late mathematician and author Martin Gardner may have debunked the psychic angle. He laid out in his book, The Wreck of the Titanic Foretold? how natural it would have been for Robertson to foretell the story. According to Gardner, there was no paranormal phenomena, particularly given Robertson’s background as a merchant marine. He would have known specifics of the shipping industry most would not know. Such as:

*        Icebergs were common in the North Atlantic at that time. It was called Iceberg Alley, and they were most plentiful in March, April, and May. Just the year before Futility was published, the Valliant sank after hitting an iceberg, killing 78 people.

*        Most ships at that time did not carry enough lifeboats, as the requirement was tied to weight, not passengers. 16 lifeboats were required for ships over 10,000 tons.

*        Robertson most likely had seen new ship designs to know of the technical specifications of ships being built at that time.

*        The owner of the Titanic, White Star Line, had built liners and named them similarly to the Titanic, such as the Britannic, the Teutonic, Oceanic, and the Majestic. Robertson most likely dropped the “ic” to not plagiarize.

So perhaps Robertson was not a master of the paranormal and had no psychic insight.

Yet…in 1914, the year before Robertson died, he published a story called “Beyond the Spectrum.” In the story the US Navy endures a surprise attack by Japanese forces somewhere near Hawaii. Did Robertson predict the attack on Pearl Harbor some 27 years before it happened.

Oh, by the way, Roll Me Away is available at my website alanwebber.com. Warning, I’m not a psychic.