Ancient Prophets

Predictions are always fascinating, and here is a collection with special appeal. It's by the intermittently celebrated US psychic Criswell, whose name is forever branded across the forebrains of science fiction fans for his bit part as Voice of Doom in perhaps the most fabulously awful sf movie of all time: Ed Wood's 1956 Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Criswell's book appeared in 1968, but has yet [1996] to pass its sell-by date ... for this is Criswell Predicts: Your Future from Now to the Year 2000! (His exclamation mark.) We are talking major-league prophecy here. 87% of Criswell's predictions come true, says the cover, which boasts that just like everybody else he pinpointed a certain famous assassination: 'I predict that President Kennedy will not run for re-election in 1964....'

These have been interesting times. The book's first prophecy is that 'perversion will flood the land beginning in 1970. I predict a series of homosexual cities, small, compact, carefully planned areas, will soon be blatantly advertised and exist from coast to coast.' In America, that is. Over here, homosexuality was discovered slightly earlier.

More sobering highlights from Criswell's prophetic pages....

9 Aug 1970: Fidel Castro assassinated, by a woman.

1973: Communism falls. Secessionist black state of Mississippi formed.

7 April 1975: San Francisco wiped out by earthquake.

27 Aug 1977: Lago Maggiore, Switzerland, boils as a result of violent volcanic action which continues for six weeks and kills thousands.

1979: Juvenile delinquency problem solved by 'ray treatment' which converts all transgressors into 'meek conformists'. This may be a slightly off-target prediction of the publication of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange in 1962.

Late 1970s: Antigravity discovered by female Nebraskan physicist.

21 Jan 1980: New York City is abandoned, owing to its growing tendency to sink into the sea. A replacement is constructed further inland – 'at great expense,' says the prophet, and I believe him.

28 Nov to 21 Dec 1980: Pittsburgh, USA, suffers uncontrollable cannibalism after 'a sudden release of gas from a large chamber' caused by the folly of hubristic science. 'Over one thousand flesh-mad and blood-crazed men will wander through the streets suddenly attacking unsuspecting victims.'

1981: All previous forms of birth control are superseded by putting contraceptives in the water supply and (to nobble those who drink only beer) adulterating the electricity grid with 'certain ionic particles that prevent conception'.

1982: Rogue planet named Bullarion hurtles past Earth causing worldwide earthquakes and storms, destruction of cities, changed shorelines and the rising of Atlantis.

11 Feb to 11 May 1983: St Louis, USA, suffers uncontrollable female baldness thanks to 'gaseous fumes polluting the city's air', caused by the folly of hubristic science. 'Beauticians will be beaten, slashed and shot. Divorce courts will be swamped with irate husbands seeking freedom from their bald-headed wives.'

1987: Atomic holocaust – somewhat disruptive except in Wyoming, where they have particularly splendid nuclear shelters.

1 May 1988 to 30 Mar 1989: United States suffers uncontrollable lust owing to 'clouds of an aphrodisiacal fragrance' released by the folly of hubristic science. 'Many men will flagrantly expose themselves in public.'

18 Oct 1988: Giant meteor strikes London, leaving a crater 'eight miles square'. (America is probably too busy exposing itself in public to notice this incident.) This is a Good Thing, because a large public park will be constructed around the 200-foot bulge of the meteorite and become a fantastically popular tourist attraction.

9 June 1989: Denver, Colorado, falls victim to 'a strange and terrible pressure from outer space, which will cause all solids to turn into a jelly-like mass.' Citizens who through diligent overeating have already become jelly-like masses may well get away with it.

10 Mar 1990: First Interplanetary Convention held, with human colonists from the Moon, Mars, Venus and Neptune gathering on the only logical neutral ground for all their diverse habitats ... Las Vegas.

1 June 1995: Utopia on Earth is very nearly achieved thanks to the elimination of pyjamas, nudity taboos, fossil fuels (in future stoves 'the yellow flame is solar'), dietary bulk, disease, crime, competitive marketing, eyeglasses, tight bodices, basketball, football, tennis, boxing, racing and natural insemination.

1999: Over 200 space colonies now exist. Their inhabitants are the only survivors when, on 18 August, a mysterious space force sucks away all Earth's oxygen – with the side effect, unpredicted by purblind and hubristic science, that Earth loses its gravity and wanders off into space. A Bad Thing.

... On the whole I think I'll stick with my favourite fictional prophet, who in Jack Vance's The Dying Earth is very clear about his scale of payment:

'I respond to three questions,' stated the augur. 'For the twenty terces I phrase the answer in clear and actionable language; for ten I use the language of cant, which occasionally admits of ambiguity; for five, I speak a parable which you must interpret as you will; and for one terce, I babble in an unknown tongue.'

Clearly Nostradamus wasn't paid enough. Criswell's prophecies might have been slightly more timeless if phrased with sufficient obscurity....