February 25, 2014

Futility, or The Wreck of the Titan by Morgan Robertson

You might think, ‘Wait a minute. A story about a luxurious ocean liner that transports over 3,000 people across the Atlantic considered to be “unsinkable”? It collides with an iceberg, sinks and most of the passangers are lost? Haven’t we heard that before?’

You might think so and you are certainly right. The similarities to the real events of the catastrophic fate of the ocean liner Titanic are striking right down to the similar name. It gets even eerier if you consider the fact that this novella by American author Morgan Robertson was written 14 years before the by-now famous accident.

Granted, there are differences (the Titan is bigger, can transport more people … and thus, lose more lives because of too few life boats; the route is from North America to England) but the similarities are uncanny and make this reading a weird one at best.

The story follows the disgraced former US Navy officer John Rowland who meets his former lover Myra on board the ocean liner. She is married by now and has a daughter. Rowland, an alcoholic and not very respectable in society anymore, has no way of reconnecting with her.
Half way through the novella, the ship hits an iceberg, Rowland can save Myra’s daughter onto the berg and has to endure several days before being rescued.

The last few chapters deal with the insurance question after the accident. Who is to blame, who will pay for the loss of the investment, and who might gain from it? Again Rowland’s integrity is at stake. For those of you Cameron-followers it is maybe worth noting that one of the share holders of the company is named Selfridge. Coinsidence? Who knows…

Maybe it is impossible to imagine how this story impacted on the reader before the fatal accident that happened on 15 April, 1912 that cost more than 1,500 lives. If you know at least the most common details you will inevitably compare the frame facts of the story to the real events. But that doesn’t diminish the reading experience—it just makes it … weirder. To imagine that somebody pictured something like this before it happened raises the question of ‘life imitating art’… It was something new for me as well in another area: this was my first eBook that I read completely on my mobile device.

Is it a tragic love story as in Cameron’s depiction of the events? Or does Robertson chooses a happy end for the protagonist? Well, you should read it yourself and find out. The book is available for free in eBook form. Enjoy (as far as possible).

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