I am trying to remember a sci-fi novel I read in the 1980s.

  • I think it was published in the 1980s. My dad tended to buy new books and this was one of his I read.
  • It takes place in the future on a mostly ocean world.
  • There are no aliens.
  • The human society's growth is stunted by its limited population (maybe a million or two? It was in the millions, maybe it was tens of millions). This seemed to be an important point.

Maybe they were trying to get off it? I think it was some sort of colonization attempt, or at least a colony ship that ended up there.

It seemed they didn't have contact with the rest of the humans in the universe.

5 Answers 5


I might suggest another possibility, Arthur C. Clarke's 1986 The Songs of Distant Earth.

It's set on the ocean planet Thalassa (which is the Greek word for "sea") where there are essentially only three inhabitable islands on the entire planet. The population is small and has lost their interstellar communications. (Not, with the death of Earth, that they think there's anyone to communicate with anyway.)

The plot is kicked into motion by the arrival of a large colony ship from Earth carrying nearly a million people in cold sleep. Thalassa is not their target (which is "Sagan 2," it is simply a way-point where they can replenish their water shield, and they are surprised to find a colony.

There isn't room for the colonists if they stay, so after the events and conflicts of the novel (driven primarily by cultural differences) most of the crew re-embarks for the remainder of the voyage to Sagan 2.

There is much more detail on the book's Wikipedia page.

  • 1
    This was my initial thought too. Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 13:33
  • Thank you, this was it! I also appreciate all the other suggestions by folks. Looks like I've some interesting reading to do. Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 0:32
  • Mike Oldfield has a great album based on it as well Commented Aug 21, 2023 at 23:29

Could this be The Blue World by Jack Vance?

This is a carefully thought-out world, a stratified society, and a man in conflict with its rules. During the space of twelve generations, the descendents of a crash on a water-covered planet have managed to adapt to the marine culture. But they are always at the mercy of the kragen, giant, squidlike monsters. The colonists can communicate with the biggest of these, King Kragen, and must appease him. But finally, one man has had enough of this life of slavery and sacrifice. Can he convince his fellow citizens that they must kill King Kragen? But...how can they do it in a world without weapons?

  • 2
    My first thought.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 21:38
  • 1
    @Spencer My first thought, too. Although then I thought that even a population of a million was probably a lot more human beings than existed on that world at the time of the novel.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 3:23

This could also be a sub plot from Isaac Asimov's "Foundation and Earth" (1986), where characters Trevize, Pelorat and Bliss end up on planet Alpha (spoilers):

They arrive at the planet Alpha, which orbits Alpha Centauri and is all ocean except for an island 250 km long and 65 km wide on which live a small group of humans. In a reference to the radioactive Earth of Asimov's novel Pebble in the Sky, the restoration of Earth's soil was eventually abandoned in favour of resettling the population to "New Earth", which the First Galactic Empire had already been terraforming.



Could be The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, or a sequel. It was published in 1979; the sequels in the 80's.

The survivors of the events of the earlier book Destination: Void (Involving an attempt to create an AI) are trying to colonize the planet Pandora, which is mostly ocean with only a few small land masses, and native life that is very unfriendly to say the least. Many of the colonists are clones, or people taken by the Ship to Pandora from other worlds it has encountered (Said Ship is run by a godlike AI and demands worShip). They have no contact with Earth (I vaguely recall them not knowing if Earth even still exists)

  • 2
    The Face Of The Waters by Robert Silverberg is yet another possibility. Should that go in a second answer?
    – Shawn
    Commented Aug 19, 2023 at 12:26
  • Frankly at this point I think this page would be more readable if all answers were collected into one single community wiki answer with one bullet point per possibility.
    – Stef
    Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 15:10
  • @Stef It's certainly a popular setting.
    – Shawn
    Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 23:29

Though published in '62 'A Drowned World' by J.G Ballard is a potential contender as it may've been on yourschool's reading syllabus if you read it in the '80s.


  • 1
    Hi, welcome to the site. You could improve this answer by editing it to explain why you think this might be the book the OP was looking for, specifying any plot points that match the description given in the question, and any that don't. I know you provided a link to the Wikipedia page, but we prefer any relevant information to be present within the answer itself, so that the information is preserved on this site even if the link becomes invalid at some point in the future. Commented Aug 20, 2023 at 13:19

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