French Sci-Fi Novelist Robida Rediscovered

Art and literature often predicts and inspires innovation: da Vinci’s helicopter, Jules Verne’s submarine, Arthur C Clarke’s communication satellites, and William Gibson’s virtual worlds to name but a few. But one author is often left out of this account, in spite of the fact that he with surprising clarity envisioned many of what we see as great and recent innovations more than a century before their time. It’s the French author Albert Robida, whose most famous novel is Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique from 1890. Therein, Robida describes futuristic technology such as “le t´léphonoscope” – a large oval screen which can show moving images as well as record them: a two-way transmitter. Or “le phonographe” which carries speech over distance by way of wire (ok, by 1890 Bell had invented the telephone, but Robida understood its extended application). Apart from his technological predictions, Robida also foresaw social change such as women’s emancipation and feminism. On a less sympathetic note, the French novelist suggested biological warfare as a more humane alternative to military combat, as it would only kill weaker individuals(!). Albert Robida would not have been a real sci-fi writer if he didn’t have a dire scenario with technology spiraling out of control – in La Vingtième siècle it is an electric storm from a power station. For more on this often forgotten futurist author, go to (French only).