I wrote a book called The Oracle Year
, which is about a 27-year-old New Yorker named Will Dando who has a vision of 108 specific future events, things big and small. Once he realizes they’re all going to come true, he devises a plan to gradually release a few of the predictions into the world and otherwise use his foreknowledge for fun and profit. Cut to: the world going nuts once everyone finds out there’s an actual prophet running around, and increasing consternation from Will as he comes to understand that he got these predictions for a reason, and there’s a cost to knowing what’s going to happen.
It’s a fun read, full of twists and turns, and, ahem
, unpredictable. In celebration of its release, I decided to put together a list of Seven of the Worst Prophecies of All Time — not to be confused with the prophecies in The Oracle Year
, which I believe are Fairly Good Prophecies.
The list below contains prophecies from both works of fiction and actual, real-life events, with a bit of analysis explaining why I think each qualifies. What I did not
include were prophecies from doomsday cults like Heaven’s Gate and so on, because while they are certainly worse prophecies than anything I did list below, they are also Very Huge Bummers. As this is supposed to be a fun read that you are reading when you probably should be working, I decided to move away from such things.
Okay, now that we’ve got the ground rules established, join me, friend, as we loooook into the futuuuuuurrreeeee…
“Anakin Skywalker is the Chosen One! He will bring balance to the Force” — Star Wars, Episodes 1-6
Prophets: The Jedi Order (RIP)
Oof. This one brings up a pretty common flaw in prophecies in general — incomplete information. Anakin Skywalker did, more or less, bring balance to the Force, but it took him a really long time, and before he got there, he destroyed the Jedi, got burned to a crisp and stuck in a huge black suit of robotic horror armor, and then diligently and thoroughly terrorized an entire galaxy for decades. Seems like the prophecy could have mentioned some of that.
FLAW: Incomplete information.
“The world will end at midnight on January 1, 2000, because we planned poorly for the new millennium!” — The Y2K bug
Prophets: The Technorati
Now, I could see some of you disputing this one. The truth is, Y2K might have been an entirely accurate prophecy. As you may or may not recall, back in the late 20th century, computer systems all over the world used software configured to display dates with a two-digit year. So, December 31, 1999, was 12/31/99. The problem was that engineers had no idea how computer systems, including relatively important things like, oh, nuclear power plants and military systems, might react to the year suddenly flipping over to "00," because they wouldn’t know how to process Year Zero. We just had no idea. Forecasts ranged from “maybe your VCR timer will be confused” to “Armageddon!" So, we spent billions of dollars recoding and adjusting systems all over the planet, and then when midnight hit on 1/1/2000, not much happened. This one makes the list because it’s impossible to know whether we actually fixed anything. Are the software engineers of 1999 heroes who saved modern civilization, or just people who made bank on a ton of overtime that fall? Impossible to say. Y2K bugs me to this day.
FLAW: Impossible to verify.
“The world will end in nuclear fire on August 29, 1997.” (Or maybe later, depending on which movie you’re watching.) — The Terminator series
Prophet: Kyle Reece, but also the T-800 and… lots of others. Again, depends on the movie.
Look, I’m not urging you to watch any installments in this franchise past T2
, and even talking about this is some serious in-the-weeds nerd stuff, but one of the central conceits of the Terminator series is that the actions of each film don’t stop Armageddon, they just shove it back five or ten years. So, Sarah Connor or whoever goes through hell thinks they’ve saved the world when the day they were told is Judgment Day rolls by without incident, and then five minutes later Arnold Schwarzenegger (or sometimes Sam Worthington) shows up and tells them nope, you just delayed it a bit. So saddle up, let’s go through hell again. What a Sisyphean bummer!
FLAW: Moving the goal posts. Not cool!
“Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years.” — Someone actually said this in 1955!
Prophet: Alex Lewyt, President of the Lewyt Vacuum Cleaner Company
This one makes the list in part because it was so spectacularly wrong — probably for the best, really — but also because it’s just such an incredible statement, revealing the odd, specific ambitions of this gentleman. While I could have done further research on Mr. Lewyt’s beautiful quest to bring the wonders of the atom to carpet cleaning, I decided to leave the rest of his story to my imagination. My theory: he perished while attempting to build a NUCLEAR VACUUM CLEANER. I mean, right?
FLAW: Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners.
“Hey, Neo, guess what? You’re the One!” — The Matrix series (paraphrased)
Prophets: The Architect/The Oracle
Yup, another prediction from a sci-fi film. What can I say? Prophecies are the bread and butter of sci-fi and fantasy stories. Why? Maybe because the genre lets them fudge things a bit, or because a prophecy lets you set up a “chosen one” pretty easily. But I digress. This particular case is a Worst Prophecy because when its actual meaning is revealed, it totally reverses everything poor Neo thought was true. Yes, he’s the One (seems like he’s better at kung fu than he is at anagrams, our Neo), but the One’s job is not to save the world, it’s to bring it to total destruction so it can be rebooted by the jerk machines that use humanity as batteries. Ouch.
FLAW: Super mean.
“I predict the Internet will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse." — Someone said and believed this statement in 1995.
Prophet: Robert Metcalfe, founder of 3Com
Sigh. If only.
“Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care / Who chafes, who frets… until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him.” — Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Prophet: The Third Apparation, aka The Crowned Child
Okay — for this last one, I decided to go literary, to demonstrate that I don’t just spend all my time obsessing about late entries in the Terminator series. Also, I wanted to demonstrate that even one of the most famous prophecies in all of literature can qualify as one of the Worst Prophecies. Why? Because it is deliberately misleading! It’s a prophecy, true, but it’s delivered to Macbeth in a way that makes it difficult-to-impossible for him to understand or prepare for the truth of it. In case you haven’t read Macbeth
in a while, three fortune-telling witches tell Macbeth that none of his enemies will ever take him down until the trees themselves march against him. As trees don’t march, this gives Macbeth a nice boost of confidence. What the witches don’t tell him, but they clearly know, is that his enemies will cut down the trees and use them for cover, slowly advancing while holding the branches up above their heads. (That never made a lot of tactical sense to me, but hey, maybe they did things differently in old-timey Scotland.) Why did they do this mean thing? Eh, no reason, really. They just sort of decide to mess with him in the play’s opening scene, and by the time it’s done, Macbeth has made choices based on their predictions that… do not end well for him. They kill him with prophecy, basically.
FLAW: NOT COOL, LADIES.
There you have it! The Seven Worst Prophecies I could think of right here at this moment, although I’m sure there are plenty more out there. The truth is, after writing a whole book about foreknowledge and spending a bunch of time thinking about all the ways it can go wrong, I’m pretty firmly in the “ignorance is bliss” camp.
Where the future’s concerned, anyway. When it comes to Terminator movies… bring 'em on.
÷ ÷ ÷
is a New York Times
-bestselling, Brooklyn-based comic book writer, musician, and attorney. He is best known for writing Daredevil
, Death of Wolverine
, and various Star Wars comics
from Marvel Comics, as well as his creator-owned series Curse Words
from Image Comics and the award-winning political sci-fi epic Letter 44
from Oni Press. The Oracle Year
is his first novel.