Reviews of Reefs of Space, the (1964)
Review by clong (2006-07-09)
I am not sure why I came to this short novel with fairly low expectations, but I am happy to report that it was quite a bit better than I expected.
Despite the title, most of this story takes place on Earth, a dystopian overpopulated Earth where the need to maximize the efficiency of the utilization of scarce resources has led to the development of the all controlling “Plan of Man.” Under the Plan, computers micromanage every aspect of every person’s life, supposedly under the guidance of the human “Planner.” Every person is required to be an efficient cog in the wheel, and those who can’t meet the Plan’s performance expectations are consigned to the Body Bank, where their limbs and organs are made available to more efficient workers.
In the first third of the book, our protagonist Ryeland is working with a team of scientists to unlock the mystery of an alien reaction-less drive; in the middle third Ryeland has been sent to the Body Bank, after being sabotaged by military types who have learned to manipulate the Plan computers by feeding them misinformation; in the final third he escapes the Body Bank with all bodily appendages intact (thanks to some outside help from a completely predictable source) and flees into space, ultimately to the titular reefs thereof. It sounds pretty formulaic, but it is carried off pretty well, with plenty of tension, a few surprises, and surprising shades of grey in what could easily have been a black and white world.
There was one funny editing gaffe later in the book. At one point Ryeland looks out at the awe inspiring galaxy of stars and notices that he cannot identify any of the familiar constellations, as they are lost in the overwhelming myriad of stars that cannot be seen from earth. Then, about fifteen pages later, he looks out into space and makes similarly poetic observations while picking out constellations in the beautiful heavens. I can only assume that these kinds of things happen when you have two authors working on a book and an editor who didn’t pay enough attention.