After a journey that lasted decades, the great spaceship the scientists exiled from Earth left on is about to reach the Alpha Centauri triple system. However, the long journey was tough for the on-board systems, which were not built for an interstellar expedition. To save resources, many people were placed in a cryogenic stasis but a fire causes the death of part of them.
Larry Belsen and Dan Christopher grew up like brothers but this latest incident becomes a reason of disagreement between them that can have important consequences on the continuation of the journey when they have to decide whether to try to colonize a planet in the system or continue the journey on a spaceship that is already at its limits. The origin of the division between the two of them is, however, in their common love for Valery.
“Exiled from Earth” was a story of the Earth’s future with various technological, political and social elements. Instead, in “Flight of Exiles” Ben Bova tells what happened to the expedition after decades and in particular to the children of the scientists exiled from Earth. Among the many possible approaches to this second novel, the author chose to develop the science fiction elements around a very old idea, namely that of two great friends who fell in love with the same woman and as a result end up becoming enemies.
The novel opens with a crisis that gives the idea of the spaceship’s situation, which is becoming precarious because of its wear. Maintenance becomes increasingly difficult and the original crew members’ children don’t always have the skills needed to have the best management of the problems that affect more and more often the on-board systems. The result is that the spaceship is barely reaching what’s supposed to be the end of the journey which instead marks the beginning of various types of crisis.
In this situation, the disagreements between Larry and Dan broaden with each new decision about the future. Both of them are candidates to become the new Chairman of the Council, the body that governs the spaceship’s activities. When the planet that could be the future home for the crew starts revealing less than ideal characteristics, the two men start having opposite ideas about how to proceed.
It’s a state of crisis already very tense for those reasons that is made more difficult by the possibility that the incident that killed several crew members was actually the result of a sabotage. The disagreements between Larry and Dan start becoming suspicion, a new level to their clash whose consequences are mutual accusations of being responsible for the damage and especially multiple murder.
The science fiction elements of “Flight of Exiles” end up being developed around what is a kind of psychological thriller centered on the clash increasingly harder between Larry and Dan with Valery caught in the middle. The problem is that from that point of view honestly it seemed to me far from extraordinary affecting the quality of the whole novel. That kind of story requires a certain level of character development with nuances and subtleties to work but honestly I haven’t seen them.
The story of the analysis of the characteristics of the planet that might be colonized by the spaceship’s crew ends up being penalized because it’s used mostly to develop the story of the clash between Larry and Dan. Potentially very interesting ideas such as that of modifying humans to make them capable of living on a planet with characteristics not suitable to them are not really developed and that’s a shame.
Ben Bova’s approach in the development of “Flight of Exiles” led him to focus on a story I had little interest for. For this reason, I felt it was quite a step back from “Exiled from Earth” so probably you’ll like it if you appreciate that kind of story.