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In Attack on Titan (2009-) , titan shifters are able to see the future of themselves and other titan shifter's inheritors.

In Minority Report (2002), "precogs" attached to a computer are able to previsualize crimes of extreme emotion and violence.

And in Star Wars:

Precognition was an ability of the Force that Anakin Skywalker utilized during his time as a Jedi Knight and Sith Lord to peer into the future to know where and when an attack was coming from

Which was the first sci fi story featuring precognition?

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  • 12
    Probably depends on how you define "sci fi story".
    – user14111
    Feb 1 '21 at 12:21
  • 12
    And how tightly you define "precognition;" are prophetic dreams or oracular pronouncements counted?
    – DavidW
    Feb 1 '21 at 12:28
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    You can push the date back to 1956 by considering the short story by PK Dick that the movie was based on. Feb 1 '21 at 12:48
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    During the Golden Age of SF, influential editor John W. Campbell became interested in parapsychology in the 1930s, and pressured his writers to include psionic elements in their stories. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 1 '21 at 13:02
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    It's going to be Gilgamesh.
    – Valorum
    Feb 1 '21 at 14:53
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As Valorum alluded to in a comment, the oldest known appearances of precognition in fiction (broadly defined) are from He Who Has Seen Everything, better known as the Epic of Gilgamesh. Precognition is more fundamentally a fantasy trope than a science fiction one, since the idea of prophecy and foretelling the future is surely older than written literature—whereas virtually everything he have learned about the world using scientific methods has pointed to the probability of precognition being impossible.

This does not mean that science fiction cannot include precognition, obviously—although it is hard to envision a work of hard science fiction that could include it. The earliest works of science fiction I am familiar with that feature precognition use it as part of a framing story, in which someone from the present day or comparatively recent past (as measured relative to the time the work was written) has a vision of the distant future. Sometimes this involves communication with another specific individual in the future; sometimes the precognitive experience involves traveling as an external observer only.

One early example is News from Nowhere (1890)—a work of utopian political science fiction by the designer and fantasy author William Morris. Morris was influenced by the earlier Looking Backward (1887) by Edward Bellamy, in which the protagonist falls asleep and awakens in 113 years in the future (rather like Rip Van Winkle). Morris's main character also falls asleep, but he only dreams of the future, rather than staying asleep until the future was there ready to be experienced.

However, Morris's books may not count as precognition either, but rather mental time travel, since the main character is able to interact with and question the people he meets in the socialist future he visits. Moreover, the end of the frame story leaves significant room for the possibility—or even likelihood—that the whole episode recorded in the book was a merely a dream—a meaningful dream, perhaps, but not necessarily a true vision of the future.

A definite example of precognition in science fiction may be found a few decades later, with The Night Land (1912) by William Hope Hodgson. The narrator of The Night Land is a seventeenth-century Englishman in mental contact with a future representative of himself—an inhabitant of the Great Redoubt in the far, far future of humanity. He gets to follow along with this alter ego as he sets out on a quest across the sunless wastelands in search of his lost love.

It is certainly possible that there are other novels from earlier than either of the ones I have mentioned that have a similar precognitive framing story. However, these example do show that this notion was becoming part of the soft science fiction genre by around 1900.

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    It's always Gilgamesh.
    – Valorum
    Feb 1 '21 at 23:05
  • @Valorum dunno - there's doubtless some bible verses which demonstrate precognition, but not by name of course. However calling that Sci Fi is another topic completely, its clearly a fanfic :)
    – Criggie
    Feb 2 '21 at 6:20
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    @Criggie But Gilgamesh is older than the any part of the Bible—much older.
    – Buzz
    Feb 2 '21 at 6:21
  • I think precognition does well as concept in Sci Fi - depending on how it's handled, it leads to similar questions and problems as time travel, and interesting questions in general, which I think is (one of) the main feature(s) of Sci Fi. Grandfather paradox / self-fullfilling prophecy are very similar imho.
    – kutschkem
    Feb 2 '21 at 8:56
  • "This does not mean that science fiction cannot include precognition, obviously—although it is hard to envision a work of hard science fiction that could include it." Depending on how you define "precognition", predictive machine intelligence algorithms like the Youtube recommendation algorithm might count.
    – nick012000
    Feb 2 '21 at 10:36
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I'll through this one out there as a contender for the earliest story from a sci-fi writer using precognition.

Young Strickland's Career, was written by J D Beresford and published in his short story collection Signs and Wonders in 1921.

The rather bleak story covers the story of a middle aged man that witness a vision in a crystal ball, concerning the future of his then young son aged 7 or so. The narrator tells of the incident when Strickland sees the vision.

And when the vision came, neither he nor I related it in any way to his ancient search....

He came to my rooms one evening after dinner, produced the crystal from his pocket, and tossed it over to me.

“A present for a sceptic,” he said. “I’ve finished with it.”

I might have thought that he was clearing up the lumber of his old fancies if it had not been for his manner; but the garment of his initiation still clung to him and affected me with the strangeness of its mystery.

I shuddered.

“What did you see?” I asked.

“Oh! don’t say you believe in it,” he said; “after all your jeers at me.”

“Did you see anything?” I insisted, nursing the crystal in the cave of my two hands. I stared into it and saw the faint pink of my magnified palm. No vision came to me; yet I was aware of some potency in the thing.

“Perhaps some reflection, some translation of one’s sub-consciousness....” I ventured.

Strickland sneered. “By God, I hope not,” he said.

“What were you—looking for?” I asked.

“For nothing. I wasn’t looking for anything,” he said. “I picked the thing up by the merest accident. I was going to give[83] it to the little girl—as a plaything.”

“And then....” I prompted him.

“I saw a picture in it. It snatched my attention. I wasn’t thinking....”

“And the picture?”

“Hell. Just hell. The real thing; none of your picturesque flames and torture. It came out at me, as it were, and it was—well, the abomination of desolation, nothing more nor less than that.”

“But....” I began.

He interrupted me. His eyes were fixed on the vision of a future that had become a fragment of his past. “A waste,” he said, in a low, thoughtful voice. “A dead, horrible waste ... all black and pitted and furrowed ... it looked as if there had been some awful, blasting eruption ... or as if the whole earth had been scorched and blighted by some unimaginably vast fire. But, oh! the terrible gauntness and death of it all.”

He paused and threw his head back with a queer laugh before he continued in a new tone, “It was just a silly nightmare, that’s all. And it had its inevitable element of the grotesque. In the middle of that waste there was a scarecrow, a live scarecrow—digging. Digging turnips, if you please. Oh! it was bosh, of course, absolute bosh. I shall have forgotten all about it next week. But I couldn’t give the crystal to the little girl after that. You can keep it. Tell me if you get anything....”

So I kept the crystal, and sometimes stared into it. But no vision came to me.

The story continues jumping forward in time to the year 1919. Strickland requests that the narrator accompany him to France to help search for his son you is listed as missing after the events of the First World War.

The denouement is below....

I do not believe that he remembered his vision when, after a week’s fruitless enquiry, we came one afternoon to the historic desert that had once been beautiful France. Certainly, he made no reference to his old experience; but he was almost senile. I noticed a difference in him, even in that one week.

But I remembered; and I had a fit of cold shivering that I could not control when we came out on to the awful plain that they now call The Plain of the Dead, and saw the figure of that one demented peasant, dressed in the grotesque relics of two nations’ uniforms.

He was digging feverishly with his pointed spade, and I heard the ring of it as it struck.

It was not a turnip that he wrenched up.

The thing rolled towards us....

Young Strickland’s head had always been a queer shape.

The collection is available on Project Gutenberg website where these quotes have been collated from.

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    Sounds like fantasy, not science fiction.
    – causative
    Feb 1 '21 at 23:23

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