I remember as a kid trying to figure out just how old I would be when the year 2000 rolled around. That year seemed impossibly far off, a time straight out of the pages of science fiction. Would we live on Mars and commute via jet pack? Now that we’re well into the 21st century, it’s a bit strange that many red-letter dates from the science fiction of my youth have already come to pass, and many more are just around the corner. While the infamous Skynet computer network from the Terminator movies series is not operational yet — more on that later — I now carry in my pocket far more computing power than was available to the Apollo space missions. That said, here are 12 significant fictional dates in sci-fi history.
12. April 4, 1984: Protagonist in 1984 Starts Diary
Winston Smith started his illegal dairy as a rebellion against Big Brother on this date in George Orwell’s 1948 novel 1984. Winston’s understanding of the traditional calendar date as a citizen of Oceania and Airstrip One was only hazy at best, but served as a marker for the title and timeline of the book. An essential work of the 20th century, it’s been said that the warning issued in 1984 about an all-consuming totalitarian state may be why it didn’t come to pass.
11. Jan. 12, 1992: HAL the Computer From 2001 Goes Online
The HAL 9000 computer from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey supposedly went online at Urbana, California. The date changes around a bit from the novel to the early adaptations of the screenplay, but it’s always HAL’s statement as astronaut Dave Bowman shuts him down that fans will remember. HAL’s name was also a play on the acronym IBM, being one letter each removed.
10. Oct. 16, 1997: Robinson Family Gets Lost In Space
The Robinson family, plus Major Don West and a quirky stowaway, took off on their adventure in the Jupiter 2 spacecraft on this date in the 1960s Lost in Space series. Dr. Zachary Smith sabotaged the craft, kicking off their interstellar adventure. Ironically, the Lost in Space movie was released just a year after that fictional launch date, in 1998. And while we’re nowhere near ready to send families on exploration missions into deep space, Virgin Galactic hopes to begin “space tourism” flights into Earth orbit in 2013. The cost: $200,000 a person.
9. Sept. 13, 1999: Explosion Knocks Moon Out of Earth Orbit
This was the date that flashed on screen at the beginning of every episode of the 1970s series Space: 1999. On this date, the Moon was to have been blown out of Earth orbit via an accident at a lunar nuclear waste dump; the residents of Moonbase Alpha go along with it. While the original series is almost painfully hokey to watch by today’s standards, Space: 1999 occupied that brief niche between Star Trek reruns and the release of Star Wars in 1977.
8. 2010: Humanity Reaches Tipping Point
This was the year and the setting for John Brunner’s dystopian 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar. The title refers to a tipping point in the expansion of humanity, when the entire human race could no longer fit on the surface area of the African island. That point of no return was said to occur when the Earth’s population hit 7 billion people, a number we hit nearly right on schedule in 2011.
7. April 19, 2011: Terminator’s Skynet Computer Network Gains Self-Awareness
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s robot character in the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the original Skynet became self-aware on Aug. 29, 1997. In the alternate timeline of the TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the malevolent computer went online on April 19, 2011. The latter date passed with much fanfare in the cyber-geek community, and yes, you can now follow Skynet on Twitter! As for a computer system one day becoming self-aware, consider this: Scientific American chose SElf-AwarE Computing (SEEC) as one of 10 “World Changing Ideas” in its December 2011 issue. The magazine specifically cited Project Angstrom, an MIT-led research effort in the field.
6. Dec. 22, 2012: Aliens Start Colonizing the Earth
Right around the corner, this is the date revealed to Dana Scully and Fox Mulder that aliens were to colonize the Earth from the X-Files series. This was laid out in the two-episode series finale The Truth. And of course, the date ties into the Mayan prophecy surrounding the end of the world in late 2012.
5. 2013: The Postman Delivers
Starring Kevin Costner, the near-future apocalypse of The Postman (1997) was to take place in 2013. In the film, a worldwide nuclear war has thrown society into collapse. Costner’s character happens upon a bag of mail, and resurrects the spirit of the U.S. Postal Service and along with it, law and order. Given the USPS’ alarming report that it was losing $57 million a day as of mid-2012, it appears an apocalypse of sorts has struck the post office a year early.
4. Oct. 21, 2015: Back to the Future Part II
This was the future date that Marty McFly and Doctor Emmett Brown “returned” to in the 1989 time-spanning adventure Back to the Future Part II. Rocket-powered skateboards and cybernetic implants were supposed to be the norm by 2015. The timeline changes as Biff journeys back to 1955 in an attempt to “profit off of the future,” and it’s up to Marty and the Doc to set things to rights once again.
3. November 2019: Replicants Live Among Us
The classic 1982 dystopian future film by Ridley Scott sets the future world of Blade Runner as “Los Angeles, 2019.” In the near future of Blade Runner, illegal replicants will supposedly live among us undetected. Blade Runner was a pivotal film in that it was one of the first that depicted a convincing “used future” reality in a complex setting.
2. 2022: Company Makes Plankton Crackers To Feed the Masses
Quick spoiler alert… “Soylent Green is PEOPLE…” This 1973 film starring Charlton Heston was billed as set in the year 2022. Like the novel Stand on Zanzibar, Soylent Green depicts a warning of a future where society and population have run amok. In 2022, the city of New York alone contains over 40 million people, and desperate measures must be taken to support an exploding population. In a tribute to the movie, in 2011, the Parallax Corporation began marketing green plankton crackers under the Soylent Green name, complete with the motto, “People Food.”
1. April 5, 2063: Scientist Invents Warp Drive
On this date, Zefram Cochrane will supposedly make the first space “warp flight” aboard his vessel the Phoenix. Cochrane and the invention of warp drive is mentioned throughout the various iterations of the Star Trek mythos, from the original series up until the Star Trek: Enterprise franchise, but the date and the events surrounding it are best known by its depiction in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact. The invention of the warp drive and its use will grab the attention of the Vulcans and lead them to initiate our first contact with an alien species shortly thereafter. Let’s see, by then I’ll be …