French illustrator Albert Robida (1848-1926) was, in the eyes of some observers, something of a luddite or at least conservative when it came to making predictions about the future from his Victorian vantage point.
Although it might be stretching things to infer that his fiction series about the 20th century - Le Vingtième siècle (1883), La Guerre au XXe siècle (1887) & La Vie Électrique (1893) - was intended as any kind of overt warning, he seems to say that a world filled with gadgetry will be one where people will deceive themselves into believing that the 'new' is worthy despite obvious incongruences. He envisioned mass killing machines and an obliterated environment. Emancipation of women was portrayed not as advancement but as a lateral step. There are many new technologies to which people must adapt without any real progress in the quality of life.
This underlying pessimissm combined with artistic vision conferred a uniquely accurate (on some levels) presaging of things to come. Robida's téléphonoscope was the first inkling of the television that followed 30 years later. It was also a video conference phone allowing people to see and speak to anyone around the world. Telephone-like devices are of course ubiquitous, armies use robotic missiles and the atmosphere is polluted in Robida's future. Nevertheless the illustrations often retain a sense of humour and they provided another outlet for Robida's satirical observations, which proved equally as popular fashioned as caricatures for many magazines of his time.
In addition to his science-fiction body of work, Robida issued quite a few travel books and also did a large number of illustrations for contemporary and classic volumes. It was only 20 years ago that Le Vingtième siècle was translated into english and reissued.
- Albert Robida : Visionnaire de la Société du Futur has by far the best quality examples of Robida illustrations - bonus points if you read french. (the .pdf of La Guerre au XXe siècle is complete and excellent)
- The Gallica website at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France has a number of Robida publications but they are all photocopy quality.
- Robida's prefiguring of television at L'Institut National de l'Audiovisuel - (translation).
- Indiana's DePauw University review of Le Vingtième siècle reissue.
- Les explorateurs des millénaires futurs par Mme Hélène Carrère D’Encausse - (translation)