At first glance, Futility by Morgan Robertson seems weak on imagination.
Robertson’s novel features a ship, the Titan, described as “the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men.” It was the height of luxury and comfort, where even the steward’s cabin is described as being “equal to that of a first class hotel.”
The latest technology was used in the building of the Titan, making it “practically unsinkable.” Because Titan was considered unsinkable she only carried only 24 lifeboats — enough to carry 500 of the 2,000 passengers on board.
The climax of the story is when Titan hits an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean on an April night, killing 2,987 people as it sank.
Sound familiar? It’s obviously based on the sinking of RMS Titanic, right? Granted, there are a few differences between the two ships, such as the top speed (25 knots for Titan and 22.5 knots for Titanic); the size of the ship (800 feet long, 45,000 tons with 15 watertight compartments for Titan and 882 feet, 9 inches long and 46,328 tons with 9 watertight compartments for the Titanic); the ships’ origins (Titan sailed from New York to Liverpool, while Titanic sailed from Southampton to New York); it was the Titan’s third voyage and Titanic’s first); and the power of the engines (Titan had 40,000 horsepower, and Titanic, 45,000 horsepower). Even these differences cannot disguise the obvious similarities:
- Both collided with an iceberg near midnight in the North Atlantic, 400 miles from Newfoundland, due to excessive speed
- Both ships had too few lifeboats
- Both were launched in April and their disasters happened in the same month
- Both were the largest ship afloat, deemed unsinkable and a wonder of its era.
- Both had passenger capacity of 3,000
- Both had three propellers and two masts
Even the names of the ships — Titan and Titanic — are so similar that it hardly seems worth pretending that Futility was not based on the Titanic disaster.
There is one other significant difference between the two events. Futility was published in 1898 — fourteen years before Titanic set out on its doomed voyage.