Sophont
Sunday, January 23, 2005
 
Victorian author had future off to a tee
Scotsman.com News : by CLAIRE SMITH

A FORGOTTEN Victorian text, written by a little-known Scottish author, accurately predicted the invention of flat-screen televisions, bullet trains and digital watches.

Written in 1892 and published under a pseudonym, the science-fiction work set in 2000 describes many modern inventions and social changes with uncanny accuracy.

Very little is known about the author, Jay McCullough, who is believed to have been from St Andrews and who wrote only one other book, a golf instruction manual.

The rare text - published under the pseudonym J.A.C.K. - goes under the hammer this weekend at Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon and Turnbull.

Entitled Golf in the Year 2000 or What Are We Coming To, it follows the tale of avid 19th-century golfer Alexander J Gibson, who falls into a deep sleep on 24 March 1892 and wakes up Rip Van Winkle-style on 25 March 2000 to find a world transformed.

Television, superfast trains, digital watches and female emancipation are all predicted in the tale, which envisages a world of leisure where golf is paramount.

Philip Gregory, of the auctioneers, said he was expecting a lot of interest in the book, which is part of the private library of golf professional and past captain of the PGA, Alan Walker. The small ink-stained book is estimated at £250, but the auctioneers believe it could double that price and that the golf library of more than 300 volumes will raise £70,000 in total.

While Mr McCullough’s book is not the most expensive item in the sale, its uncanny prescience makes the rare first edition a work of great curiosity value.

'I was really surprised that somebody back in 1892 had thought of the idea of television and digital watches. It was an age where there were huge jumps in technology, but only somebody with the imagination of Leonardo da Vinci or HG Wells would have made such accurate predictions.

'It makes you wonder where it all came from. It was very much written as a humorous book, but he seems to have got so many things right.'

McCullough’s time-travelling golfer is astonished to be invited by his host to watch famous comic actor Marmaduke Kinmont on a 'dark sheet of glass 12-feet square'.

Writing more than 30 years before the invention of television Mr McCullough describes watching a live performance from the West End stage on the magic screen, on which images are projected by a system of mirrors and wires.

The narrator also describes a superfast underground train, which links New York and London in less than three hours, anticipating the introduction of accessible international travel and the introduction of bullet trains, which were brought to Japan in 1964.

Mr McCullough also describes digital watches and predicts electronic miniaturisation, telling of rings, which display the time in numerals, rather than on a conventional watch face. The description predates the introduction of digital watches by more than 80 years.

He anticipates female emancipation and equality of employment, although his vision of the future is tinged with some wishful thinking.

In the author’s halcyon vision of the future women and men wear similar clothes, and women have taken over much of the work once done by men.

More than half of all MPs are now female and it is unheard of to see a male clerk. Men take advantage of their new lives of leisure by spending many hours on the golf course.

He writes: 'The dream of my former existence come true. I am indeed a lucky man to see it. The women working while the men play golf. Splendid.'

HITS AND MISSES

WHAT J.A.C.K. GOT RIGHT

• Flat-screen television
• Bullet trains
• Mini digital watches
• Driverless golf carts
• Unisex clothing
• Women in men’s jobs
• International golf competitions

WHAT HE GOT WRONG

• Control of the weather to ensure good sporting conditions
• The exchange of dinner dress for scarlet breeches
• A society of leisure where people work less than ever
• Parliament half female (currently 18 per cent)
• A world obsessed by golf"

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