39) Bob Shaw — Shadow of Heaven
[NEL abridged edition]
Short novel set in a future where an act of terrorism has rendered much of the world’s arable land unusable without reducing the population. As a result, most of the first world population is crammed into narrow urban strips along the seaboard, with much of the feed coming from the sea. There is a small amount of arable farming carried out on multi-mile-wide antigravity disks high in the atmosphere, where some of the remaining uncontaminated soil has been placed for security. No people are allowed there and the disks, nicknamed Heaven, are farmed by robots. But when a reporter’s borther goes missing, he realises that Johnny has fulfilled a childhood fantasy and run away to Heaven. Stirling follows him, using his job as a reporter as cover for tapping into the underground railway. What he finds there is a community of refugees, and a rule that nobody can break the community’s cover by returning to the surface. Stirling has no intention of staying, but his brother has no intention of letting fraternal loyalty get in the way of his plans for the disk.
It’s an interesting concept and story, but time has not been kind to it. Giant anti-gravity disks, but the press room where Stirling works uses card indexes to store their data? There are too many things to break a twenty-first century reader’s suspension of disbelief for it to quite work for me now, which is a shame. One for the Oxfam box.