When Peta causes a damage that greatly reduces food production, a severe punishment is inevitable. His friend Linc tries to intercede for him but can’t save him because the message from Jerlet through his priestess Magda shows no change in the laws governing the community’s hard life. Linc would like to try to restore food production but it’s using the machines is forbidden so it’s impossible to repair anything that is broken.
In spite of that law, Linc finds out how to run one of the repairing equipments but this gets him in trouble with Monel, who wants to take power in the community. The only hope for Linc is to look for Jerlet to gain his support and to ask him what’s the star that’s getting bigger and bigger.
“End of Exile” is set long after “Flight of Exiles”, perhaps even several generations. Now only a small part of the starship is still habitable and the crew is made up of only a few dozen kids who live without knowing anything about their history or their origins. Even worse, they can’t use the machines that are still working because the ban on using them is among the laws given them by Jerlet, a man initially mysterious who for years has been seen only in a video reproduced by the priestess.
Even for those who haven’t read the previous novels of the trilogy, it quickly becomes clear that the characters live on a barely functioning generation starship. Aside from the mysterious Jerlet, they’re all kids, who have very little skills and live a society at the limit of barbarism. In essence, once again Ben Bova completely changes the scenario from a novel of the trilogy to the next one, providing only very vague information about what happened in the meantime so the readers feel a bit like the kids.
At the time Ben Bova wrote novels that were quite short even for those years’ standards so the story of “End of Exile” is quickly developed, focusing on the dynamics among the most important characters. Among them, Linc is the one who still shows some glimpses of higher intelligence so he wants to understand what’s going on with him and the other kids, meet Jerlet to get explanations about his rules and know why one of the stars he’s seeing is getting bigger and bigger.
Because of its limited length, the story’s pace is fast but character development is limited. Very few have a definite personality and it’s functional to the plot. Linc’s intelligence wasn’t extinguished by the conditions in which he grew up but this leads to a clash with other members of the community. Monel is basically a bully seeking to gain power over the community and to control the priestess Magda, who only wants to follow the laws dictated by Jerlet.
“End of Exile” can remind of Robert A. Heinlein’s “Orphans of the Sky” but in Ben Bova’s novel on the generational starship there’s only a small group of kids and an elderly man, Jerlet, whose role is explained in the course of the novel. Overall it’s inferior to Heinlein’s classic but in my opinion is better than “Flight of Exiles”.
In the end, “End of Exile” represents a dicent conclusion to the Exiles trilogy but it’s nothing special. The story is so detached from those of the previous novels that you can read it independently. It may be of interest for Ben Ben’s fans, fans of generational starships subgenre and those who want to end the trilogy.