The first half Futility introduces the hero, John Rowland. Rowland is a disgraced former Royal Navy lieutenant, who is now a drunkard and has fallen to the lowest levels of society. Dismissed from the Navy, he is working as a deckhand on the Titan. The ship hits the iceberg and sinks somewhat before the halfway point of the novel. The second half follows Rowland, as he saves the young daughter of a former lover by jumping onto the iceberg with her. After a number of adventures, in which he fights a polar bear and finds a lifeboat washed up on the iceberg, he is eventually rescued by a passing ship and, over several years, works his way up to a lucrative Government job restoring his former income and position in society. In the closing lines of the story he receives a message from his former lover, pleading for him to visit her and her daughter.
Similarities between Titanic and Titan:
1. Unsinkable / Indestructible
- The Titanic, world's largest luxury liner (882 feet, displacing 66,000 tons). The Titanic was once described as being (nearly) unsinkable. - The Titan, largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men (800 feet, displacing 75,000 tons). The Titan was considered 'indestructible'.
2. Number of propellers and masts
- The Titan was equipped with three propellers and two masts
3. Launched in April
- The Titanic steamed from Southampton, England on her maiden voyage in April 1912.
- The Titan was also launched in April.
- The Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats, less than half the number required for her passenger capacity of 3000.
- The Titan carried "as few as the law allowed", 24 lifeboats, less than half needed for her 3000 capacity.
5. Struck an iceberg
- Also on an April night in North Atlantic, the Titan hit an iceberg while traveling at 25 knots.
6. The Unsinkable Sank
- The unsinkable Titanic sank, and more than half of her 2,207 passengers died screaming for help.
- The indestructible Titan also sank, more than half of her 2500 passengers drowning, their "voices raised in agonized screams"
Differences between Titanic and Titan:
1. The ship does not make a glancing blow with the iceberg on a clear night, as in the case of the Titanic, but drives headlong onto an ice shelf possibly formed by the recent overturning of a berg.
2. The Titanic hit the iceberg in perfect sailing conditions, while the Titan hit the iceberg in bad, misty and foggy conditions.
3. 705 people aboard the Titanic were saved, while only 13 of those aboard the Titan survived.
A copy of Futility can be seen in the apartment at the beginning of the PC game Titanic: Adventure Out of Time. The obituary of a Titanic survivor is used as a bookmark.
Similarities between the Titan and the Titanic were mentioned at the end of the episode 'Night of April 14th' in the TV series One Step Beyond.
A dramatisation of the what led the author to write it and detailing the similarities between the events in the book and the Titanic disaster were shown in an episode of Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction.