Most of the alternatives and suggestions are variations on "and they lived happily ever after" and ignore the reality that in order to end the Shares, Ishmael has to go back to NOT being a spacer. He's not running away, as some of you have suggested. He's not selling out. He's completing a part of his journey. It's part of life. Every so often, if you're very lucky, you get to gather yourself, assess your circumstances, and find a new trajectory. From that standpoint, this book is right in line with the other stories.
At first, my reaction was "wait ... what? I thought that he was going to go back to being a spacer in some capacity or other, but with a sense of having been renewed. Or some such.
But you're right about changing courses through circuitous routes. (Oh, was that a mixed metaphor?) Sorry.) One of Canada's best-known TV national news anchors started out in the Navy, then dropped out of college, worked as a baggage handler, got hired by a radio exec who heard him make an announcement over the airport PA system, etc. You never know.
A common theme through all six books, Ishmael helps the people around him. In most instances he brings about some growth and whom ever he is helping becomes more than they were before. At the same time Ish seems to gain as well, sometimes in great bounds and others only incrementally.
That was what I got from the last chapter.
Ish: "Usually it's given out by the village shaman, to someone who needs strength or guidance"
Stacey (nodding at the collection on the desk): Looks like you've got your work cut out for you.
Earlier, Ish says "a rough bundle reminded me of a task I needed to do." It sounds to me like he's not ready to give up that role, whether he does it as the captain of a ship, or what.
Also, like Otto Krug, Ishmael didn't have any Owner's Manual to follow doing what he did. He just winged it.
About the dolphin whelkie: My take on that is that unlike Captain Ahab ...
The harpoon was darted; the stricken whale flew forward; with igniting velocity the line ran through the grooves;—ran foul. Ahab stooped to clear it; he did clear it; but the flying turn caught him round the neck, and voicelessly as Turkish mutes bowstring their victim, he was shot out of the boat, ere the crew knew he was gone. Next instant, the heavy eye-splice in the rope's final end flew out of the stark-empty tub, knocked down an oarsman, and smiting the sea, disappeared in its depths.
... Ishmael is able to give up his cetacean
, and move on.
Finally, I don't think it was really a downer ending. The last episode reminded of the opening theme music to the TV show Millenium
. It's all scary, tragic, and sad until the very last chord where it changes to (I think) a major 7th, which completely brings the mood up.