The Machine Stops

As a relatively young man in 1909, E. M. Forster imagined pretty much how humans would live in the 21st Century.

The futuristic world portrayed in The Machine Stops is an eerily familiar one - people mostly communicate with each other via screens, the rarity of face-to-face interaction has rendered it awkward, and knowledge and ideas are only shared by a system that links every home.

Yet that world was imagined not by a contemporary writer but by the Edwardian author Edward Morgan Forster.

Best known for his novels about class and hypocrisy - Howards End, A Room With A View and A Passage To India - The Machine Stops was Forster's only foray into science fiction.

Published in 1909, it tells the story of a mother and son - Vashti and Kuno - who live in a post-apocalyptic world where people live individually in underground pods, described as being "like the cell of a bee", and have their needs provided for by the all-encompassing Machine.

It is a world where travel is rare, inhabitants communicate via video screens, and people have become so reliant on the Machine that they have begun to worship it as a living entity.

Now, aside from the fact that we haven't had an apocalypse and that we don't live in underground pods, Forster got a lot of things right. We are replacing our various Gods on a regular basis. We are emerging from centuries of class warfare and strife. And we are talking to one another through screens instead of face to face. Sounds pretty accurate to me.