The Shape Of Things That Didn't Come

WE GOT lucky last summer. The world should have ended on Aug. 29, when a secret government satellite called Skynet became self-aware and tried to eradicate all human life. It took Arnold Schwarzenegger, a flurry of time travel and lots of gunfights to stave off the threat and change the future--which is now our past. It also helped that Skynet existed only in the movies--""The Terminator'' and its sequel, ""Terminator 2: Judgment Day.'' As the new millennium approaches, we are tiptoeing through a minefield of dire predictions laid down by science-fiction writers in the second half of this century. If you feel more comfortable not knowing about the terrible events that were supposed to befall the planet Earth or the human race or the city of New York, do not read on. But if you like happy endings or averted catastrophes, here is a chronology of things that never were:

1966: Civilization on Earth is destroyed in a nuclear war waged with ""atomic satellites.'' Humanity won't recover for several thousand years. (The 1960 film version of H. G. Wells's ""The Time Machine,'' directed by George Pal)

1982: U.S. Robot and Mechanical Men Inc. is incorporated shortly after the end of World War III. The company's first robot models cannot talk, but they exhibit human behavior. Twenty years later the company will demonstrate the first mobile, speaking robots. (""I, Robot,'' by Isaac Asimov, 1950)

1984: The world is divided into three constantly warring totalitarian superstates, called Oceania, Eurasia and East-asia. ""Big Brother'' maintains control through the use of surveillance, torture and brainwashing. (""1984,'' by George Orwell, 1949)

1987: Life-support systems on Col. William (Buck) Rogers's deep-space probe, the Ranger 3, freeze. The ship disappears. (""Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,'' NBC, 1979-81)

1988: Crime in America rises 400 percent. The once great city of New York becomes a maximum-security prison. The U.S. Police Force is encamped like an army around the island of Manhattan to keep the bad guys at bay. (""Escape From New York,'' directed by John Carpenter, 1981)

1992: Genetically engineered megalomaniac Khan Noonian Singh begins his rise to power, sparking the Eugenics Wars, which all but destroy the Earth. (""Star Trek,'' NBC, 1966-69)

1995: Sam Beckett, brilliant physicist, speaker of several languages, expert in the martial arts, disappears into the past via time machine. (""Quantum Leap,'' NBC, 1989-93)

1996: A lethal virus wipes out 5 billion people. The 1 percent of the population that survives is forced to live underground. (""Twelve Monkeys,'' directed by Terry Gilliam, 1995)

1997: The brilliant but maniacal supercomputer HAL 9000 becomes operational in Urbana, Ill., on Jan. 12. Four years later HAL guides the spaceship Discovery to Jupiter on a mission to investigate a mysterious alien transmitter. (""2001: A Space Odyssey,'' by Arthur C. Clarke, 1968)

John and Maureen Robinson, their children Judy and Will, pilot Don West and a temperamental robot set off to colonize the stars on Oct. 16. Thrown off course by a mysterious 200-pound weight imbalance, their ship, the Jupiter 2, loses contact with Earth. (""Lost in Space,'' CBS, 1965-68)

And coming soon: in 1999, the beginning of the colonization of Mars, according to Ray Bradbury's 1950 book ""The Martian Chronicles.'' In a rainy November 2019, Los Angeles cop Rick Deckard will hunt androids in Ridley Scott's 1982 film ""Blade Runner.'' And, oh--watch out for 2022. That's when a totalitarian regime will feed overcrowded America the food substitute Soylent Green, which is made of people. Try not to panic yet, though. Science fiction's prognosticators aren't exactly batting a thousand.