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Monday, July 4, 2022

Book review: Clay's Ark (Patternmaster #3) by Octavia E. Butler

 


Book links: AmazonGoodreads

OCTAVIA E. BUTLER (1947–2006) was the renowned author of numerous ground-breaking novels, including Kindred, Wild Seed, and Parable of the Sower. Recipient of the Locus, Hugo and Nebula awards, and a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award for her body of work, in 1995 she became the first science-fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship ‘Genius Grant’. A pioneer of her genre, Octavia’s dystopian novels explore myriad themes of Black injustice, women’s rights, global warming and political disparity, and her work is taught in over two hundred colleges and universities nationwide.

Genre: Sci-fi First Published: 1984 Page count: 228 



The Patternmaster series is disturbing and unforgettable. Clay's Ark portrays the beginnings of Clayark's race. 

Clay's Ark is the interstellar ship that returns to Earth carrying a deadly alien parasite. Only the pilot, Eli, survives the crash, but he's no longer human. The parasite has infected and transformed him, making him faster, stronger, and virtually indestructible. He also feels a powerful sexual urge that drives him and later the humans he infects.

Eli wants to contain the disease, so he establishes a community of infected people deep in the desert. When the community needs new sexual partners, they simply "recruit" (kidnap) people. The latest recruits are doctor Blake Maslin and his daughters, the self-assured Rane and Keira, ill with leukemia. Despite their efforts, all three become infected. Even though they know they'll eventually spread the disease, they try to escape. Stupid, but you shouldn't be surprised. The parasite's victims look terrible, eat raw meat, and produce non-human offspring. Still, Blake's attempt to save his family may doom humanity. 

The wrong timing catches them in the middle of a fight between disease bearers and bandits ravaging the desert. Violence ensues. 

World-building is cool, but rather generic. On this future Earth, the middle class lives in gated communities. Outside, there's no social order and violent gangs rule the highways. We've seen this elsewhere, and it's probably explored much more deeply. Nevertheless, this book isn't about the setting but about people who find themselves in an impossible situation. And it depicts their struggles superbly (if unsparingly).

Like the rest of the series, Clay's Ark is a brutal read; Butler doesn't shy away from hurting and killing her characters. The violence is visceral and the fight scenes are vivid. I admire Butler's minimalist writing style, which keeps the narrative supple and suspenseful. She also never asks easy questions or settles for easy answers. There's no clear distinction as to who's good or evil here, or whether the parasite victims and their descendants deserve a place on Earth. They're a new life form and like all life forms, they want to expand. That's their right and their drive.

Clay's Ark is an excellent entry in the series, but also most brutal. Potential readers should be aware it comes with all the trigger warnings (violence, sexual violence, maiming, gore). Despite this, it's an amazing and memorable book that should be read before Patternmaster.

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