Some time between 1980 and 2005, probably in the 1990s, I read a novel where in one chunk the two protagonists get shipwrecked on an island not on their charts, and stumble into a rather bizarre society.

(My initial thought based on the first pass of searching was Leo Frankowski's Conrad's Quest for Rubber, (I once owned at least a few of the Conrad books) but no plot synopsis or trope-criticism I've found online mentions this episode, and it was memorable enough that I'd expect it to be at least mentioned; also, there's a bunch of harsh criticism of that book online and I don't remember ANY of the specific details that got people upset.)

  • Because the island is really resource constrained, reproduction is controlled. Kids take aptitude tests and get slotted into an ability-based caste; there is both upwards and downwards mobility. The lowest is "servant", and a servant who is the child of a servant gets sterilized. (In fact, my starting point for this search was attempting to answer a Worldbuilding question about a society that selected for high intelligence and sterilized those deemed unfit.) (Think vasectomy or tubal ligation -- it's not obvious who is sterile.)

  • The protagonists are surprised to be served sushi, but it turns out a Japanese man washed up on the island a generation back and made some lasting contributions to culinary culture.

  • Clothing is made from an amazing material that lasts for centuries. Because of this, fashion is highly static, and even loose threads are saved for reuse.

  • When the protagonists first land on the island, the primary is seen as a high caste and his assistant as a "servant" -- later the authorities realize they have made a mistake and reclassify the assistant as more like a journeyman learning under the tutelage of a master craftsman.

  • The protagonists are matched up with conveniently vacant homes and widowed women, though that part isn't fleshed out very fully. It seems the islanders appreciate occasional injections of new genetic diversity.

  • The island is either floating or somehow mobile, which is how it has evaded detection for so long. (I'm less certain about this part.)

  • Eventually the protagonists repair their ship or acquire another one and leave.

  • The setting predates GPS or satellite technology, not a surprise since I read it before they were common.

  • We don't edit the answer into the question; we let the accepted answer stand on its own. (It's less confusing that way.)
    – DavidW
    Oct 25, 2023 at 21:05
  • There is nothing more frustrating than being waited on by a servant of some kind that is quite unintelligent. I will never understand why some eugenics theories suppose the best place for the unintelligent is service. By dint of unintelligence, we are suggesting there is virtually no way they can positively contribute. At least, not without soaking up a lot of time from handlers, who necessarily would need to be quite intelligent.
    – user15742
    Oct 26, 2023 at 18:06
  • Look at who takes service jobs in the modern economy, @fredsbend . In any case, IIRC "servant" did not mean "service" in this book, but rather someone who only works under the direction of their betters. (Yikes, even more creepy when I put it that way.)
    – arp
    Oct 26, 2023 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


This is The Fata Morgana (1999) by Leo Frankowski.

It had some clever ideas (many of which you've mentioned) but it's definitely a lesser work.

Ancient tales of European Man, recorded by pious monks, tell of the Western Isles, from whence King Arthur's father was said to have come. Ancient and medieval maps show them off the Western Coast of France. Irish records refer to floating islands drifting past the Emerald Isle. Modern sailors sometimes sight great, many tiered cities near the ocean's horizon, but they are rarely believed. It is easier for modern man to believe in an optical illusion, the Fata Morgana. And then two modern, hardheaded engineers found the Western Islands....

enter image description here

  • 5
    Yowch. A particularly harsh review on Goodreads: "Libertarian, rational and great if you love the works of Robert Heinlein, Ayn Rand or L. Neil Smith!" Sounds like a good one to avoid.
    – DavidW
    Oct 25, 2023 at 18:53
  • 10
    There's something wrong with liking Heinlein?
    – davidbak
    Oct 25, 2023 at 22:44
  • 4
    @davidbak His political views do not, shall we say, conform to the modern liberal egalitarian consensus.
    – Tevildo
    Oct 26, 2023 at 7:03
  • 7
    One does not have conform to an author's political views (even those that jump oviously from the page) to like their work, and there is nothing ethically wrong about the latter. Some people will not like works of fiction that are built around ethical values or political philosophies antithetical to their own, but others will.
    – sergut
    Oct 26, 2023 at 17:47
  • 3
    @sergut Exactly. I'm completely not bought in to Iain Banks's hedonist space communism in Culture, but I'd say Use of Weapons is one of the best Scifi books I've ever read.
    – user15742
    Oct 26, 2023 at 18:12

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