The creator of the key reference works on military hardware began his career as an inventor of war games and a writer of science-fiction. Fred T. Jane founded the annual series All The World’s Aircraft, which has run continuously for over 100 years. He prepared himself by writing three science-fiction novels – absurdist fantasies, each set in London, each dealing with time travel, and each destined for obscurity.
The end of the nineteenth century was an appropriate time to be forecasting man’s dominance of the heavens, as well as his possible destruction, or self-destruction. By the time Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft made its first appearance in 1909, flying machines, which seemed far-fetched in the previous century, had moved from fantasy to reality.
Jane’s obsession with war and manned flight sensitised him to the technological developments that led to large-scale aircraft production and gave him the lead to capture the market for information about military technology. He had published his science-fiction works a decade earlier. First was The Incubated Girl (1896), then To Venus in Five Seconds (1897). The Violet Flame (1899), would be his final excursion into sci-fi, although he wrote seven other novels.
Jane lived to see the outbreak of World War 1, but not its conclusion. He died in 1916 with many of the forecasts in his fictional works yet to be fulfilled. More of his pre-flight fantasies eventually became reality in later editions of Jane’s aircraft manual. But not time travel…yet.