“The future isn’t what it used to be,” to quote Paul Valéry. And, it seems, neither is the business of predicting the future.

Granted, learned men and women still generate hypotheses about the prospects for mankind. But they don’t seem to have the public exposure that they did in the first half of the 20th century, when both science fiction and science fact magazines were painting pictures of rooftop airports, nuclear-powered everything, and vacations on the moon. Whatever the reasons for the current lack of a future in Futures, it can still be interesting to look back and see where we were supposed to be by now, and Tales of Future Past offers a thorough selection of the early pulp prophets’ hits and – mostly – misses.

The personal project of webmaster David Szondy, Tales of Future Past is a collection, with commentary, of early magazine covers and other speculative illustrations – portraying life on distant planets and in the distant future…like the 1970s. The first thing that surfers with smaller screens will notice about Tales is that the content is too wide for an 800×600 resolution. Things aren’t as bad as they first appear though, since the indexes down the right and left sides of the page are text and image mirrors of each other – and one side or the other, along with the main content of the site, will fit into an Explorer browser window. Those still using 640×480 screens or those with Netscape – non-standard coding, presumably – will still be doing a good deal of horizontal scrolling when they visit the site.

That minor distraction aside, most of Tales’ pages are dominated with an opening image from the early 20th century, followed by text and additional graphics. (The first theme, Life on Other Worlds, features a three-eyed ‘blob’ – I hope that’s not politically incorrect – on an extraterrestrial Segway, lecturing a pair of fedora-ed Earthmen.) Along with the entertainment value of the subject matter, the scans also reveal a period when magazine artists were really using color for all it was worth – while the text by Szondy adds the occasional bit of factual background as well as more subjective, ‘editorial,’ observations. (“Welcome to Mercury; tanning salon of the Solar System.”)

More here.