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This is one I came across in a different forum that has gone unanswered for a long time. Anyone here have any ideas? Information from original post follows:

There was a sci-fi novel of standard length that dealt with a somewhat dystopic future. There might have been as I remember farm fields (in the UK?) where they tried to eliminate the birds from the hedgerows in order to increase crop yields.

The hero escaped from a factory farm, and somehow gets on a robot freighter headed to sea, probably down the West African coast. There is a description of the desolation of this future time, such as the atomic powered ship that could keep going regardless, but for what purpose? The seas were dead, but traveled by robot or lightly crewed freighters.

He arrives somehow in an area where the very old and rich have found a haven of compounds. Finally, I can remember a scene on the coast of Africa (the continent sure, but perhaps along a desolate sandy coast) where an individual of advanced age was found dead (murdered) drifting along the beach strapped to a refrigerator sized anti-gravity unit.

Also:

Set on Earth, probably in the 21st century (a long time in the future for its publ date of 60s), and in a setting where things have gone down the tubes environmentally due to the usual cast of "characters". The English agribusiness, contrary to even 60s UK farm fields, spanned miles and miles, like fields in Kansas or something.

And the protagonist saw the hedgerows made for wind control with fences or nets very high. But birds still survived their planned extermination and hid out in the hedgerows/nets. Due to some intrigue, he has to flee England, and my next recollection is the guy on one of these ocean-going robot ships (robot or staffed by a very few crewmembers) heading away from England on desolate seas.

I remember that the seas were almost lifeless and empty. At some point, he arrives in West Africa, where there are still villas and development for the very rich. These people are so rich that they have every possible aid and assistance to continue to survive and make money, including refrigerator sized anti-grav units that allow them to scud slightly above the ground in their comings and goings. There was some kind of an affair, or dinner party, in one of these villas as the protagonist was trying to find out something about his enemies or his predicament.

It may seem that the world population had crashed, for a number of reasons, so that there were automated production facilities, but no one needed to run them and the very rich who own these enterprises... And then he is out on the beach under a grey sky, and he comes across one of these rich people, dead, floating along the beach, unattended and maybe representative of the situation that the Earth had come to, technologically advanced, but a dead husk. Beyond those three scenes (England, ship, African Coast), I don't recall anything else.

Note: I am confident this is not T. J. Bass's Half Past Human or its sequel. I've read those and the social situation is quite different.

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I think this is Earthworks by Brian Aldiss.

I wish I could give lots of supporting quotes but I can't find my copy. However I'm sure I remember the refrigerator sized anti-grav units and the man in the sea. There are various summaries floating around. Brian Aldiss' site says:

Out of Africa comes a dead man walking upon the water – a portent of the political adventures into which Knowle Noland, ex-convict, ex-traveller and captain of the 80,000-ton freighter Trieste Star, is about to tumble headlong.

Choked, disease-ridden towns, robots and prison gangs tending the bare, poison drenched countryside are all characteristic of Knowle’s world; only in Africa is the soil still fertile and the people still relatively vital. On the coast of Africa, near Walvis Bay, Knowle runs his freighter aground; and there he meets Justine and the destructive destiny that purges him of guilt and frees him from hallucination.

As I recall the dead man walking upon the water is the corpse held up by the anti-gravity pack.

  • Much obliged, @JohnRennie. The OP on the other forum never responded, but another poster there (who has read this novel) agreed this was very likely to be the correct match. – Otis Jan 26 '16 at 2:53

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