Clarke, who served in British intelligence during the Second World War and made a second career teaching English, surveys with amused irony many of the futuristic novels written over the last two centuries. The first edition of this book appeared in 1966. Its author has expanded it considerably to include a review of the "Third World War" genre of books that did so well in the 1980s. The type flowered, however, more than a century before, when Colonel George Tomkyns Chesney wrote The Battle of Dorking. Chesney's account of a German invasion of Britain, which was widely translated, created a good scare and caused a thrifty British government considerable annoyance.
Clarke roams over the wide variety of novels of this ilk, most of which, he believes, fell wide of the mark in predicting the future. Still, there were uncanny forecasts, including H. G. Wells' discussion of atom bombs, and Hector Bywater's The Great Pacific War, written in 1925. Often enough, the novelists made no greater mistakes than war offices. Clarke argues that the end of the Cold War has put the novel of future war in "a terminal condition," but he gives enough evidence of hopelessly rosy promises of world peace to make one think that the novelists will have plenty of catastrophes to imagine for years to come. An engaging review of a class of books that may have more to offer strategic analysts than they suspect.