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H their bodies and social relations The classic Butler themes of domination enslavement power and strange sexual relations are on full display here It s not an easy reading experience and I m sure that s one reason that Butler s books are not widely read but they are certainly challenging and force the reader outside their comfort zone We have no choice but to go along with the difficult decisions the characters face in whether to submit to an alien virus that will transform them Butler seems fixated on the idea of humans being transformed into something alien both and less than human The process of transformation is always difficult painful and invasive and people often don t survive Butler seems to revel in throwing readers and her characters into uncomfortable situations This was also the case in the previous books Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind though the transformation was psychic in nature So thematically Clay s Ark delves into the same territory but does not feature any of the telepaths from the previous books It s an interesting choice to group this book into the PATTERNIST series but if we consider the order of publication then the reasons are clear Patternmaster was Butler s first book written in 1976 and features both Patternists and Clayarks in a far future society so she was been filling in the backstory of that initial book over the next 8 ears With the exception of Kindred in 1979 all of Butler s earlier books are set in the PATTERNIST universe Her subseuent major series were the XENOGENESIS trilogy and Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents Parable of the Trickster was never finished and I think her writing met with greater critical acclaim as her ideas gained in sophistication Her untimely death was a great loss to the SF community Clay s Ark is narrated by Neal Ghant and I liked his strong voice and spare style This is a harsh story and his delivery is eually harsh He imbues the characters with the appropriate level of desperation as they face death and fight for survival in this unforgiving world In particular he does a good job of depicting the struggle against the Clayark disease and the horror of being compelled by an alien microbe This book would make an intense if bleak post apocalyptic action film and Denzel Washington would make a great leading manhold on that was already done by the Hughes Brothers in Book of Eli He had started what could become an epidemic Now if he were going to be able to live with himself at all he had to contain it That sounds like a good tagline for an ad poster for this book However as it was published in 1984 I doubt such a poster existsOctavia Butler is one of my all time favorite authors my reviews of her books tend to be somewhat fanboyish short on objectivity and of course completely unprofessional this not being my profession Still I find it uite pleasant to enthuse about her to anyone who would listen and also those who would not Clay s Ark is ostensibly part of Ms Butler s Patternmaster Series However it reads entirely like a standalone I have read the two previous volumes Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind and I cannot find any connection to this book I have heard that there is a connection somewhere on one page but it must have slipped under my radar Perhaps it is better this way so that anyone can just pick up and read this book without worrying about transpires in previous volumes Clay s Ark is set in a near future dystopia where people live walled up communities called enclaves to protect themselves from marauding outlaws Eli Doyle is a former astronaut the lone surviving crew member of the Clay s Ark spaceship which crash landed in a Mojave desert The entire crew of this ship has been infected by an alien virus sized microbe that give them enhanced strength and agility in exchange for considerable loss of humanity and agency The microbe creates a compulsion for the host to spread its disease Doyle does not remember why he is the only surviving crew member he does not want to spread the disease he knows it will spell the end of the human race as we know it but he has to the microbe will not be deniedThe theme of parasitic symbiosis is one which Butler has returned to a few times in her body of work particularly Bloodchild and Lilith s Brood In all these works she explores the human condition that we take for granted and the effect of the loss or involuntary modification of humanity Clay s Ark presents the reader with the moral dilemma of the people who have contracted the Clay s Ark disease They do their best to isolate themselves from the human population in order to avoid creating an unstoppable global epidemic and mutations et the microbe compels them to find new carriers for the disease two conflicting goals with a foreseeable outcome In this novel the good guys are bad guys who want to be good Clay s Ark like all Octavia Butler books that I have read is very well written with complex characters cool SFnal concepts and ideas worth pondering all wrapped up in a fast paced and compelling narrative This could easily be read as a brief standalone novel Rather than fly a wealthy family from a rich area takes a drive on the violent dangerous roads between enclaves and gets kidnapped Butler s series theme of genetics this time concerns an alien microbe that mutates human hosts Fascinating storyas always This is the third book I ve read in the Patternist series going in the order they are collected in Seed To Harvest I previously read Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind and those two books were directly related with a few of the same characters 200 ears down the road However I didn t notice any direct links between Clay s Ark and Mind of My Mind but maybe I missed something Anyway here s the plot in a nutshell an astronaut has crash landed on Earth carrying with him a contagious disease organism from another galaxy The organism assumes control over a human s body and makes it act in accordance with staying alive and spreading the disease to others It s like an evolutionary survival instinct except now humans are just a host for the real survivors Don t want to give much about the story Elinuish humanity and free will Desperate they kidnap a doctor and his two daughters as they cross the wasteland and endanger the world.
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The disease is affecting reproductive mechanisms in order to produce offspring who are carriers because anyone can catch it through just a scratch Still there are no test cases of strictly homosexual or asexual people prepubescent children or postmenopausal women I wouldn t want to inflict this situation on characters but the result is a bit sloppily heterosexist Some of these characters fear they may be driven to rape Butler carefully avoids having any of the carriers rape with physical force but given that none of them would be having sex without the disease it s not exactly consensual at bestThe sexual spread of the disease in Clay s Ark compares with the development of populations with psi abilities in Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind Those abilities are strictly genetic but again their transmission is forced Doro breeds his people like pedigree animals People with strong psi abilities repel each other so Doro resorts to murderous measures to coerce them into reproducing This masterminded eugenics is just as much rape as the uncontrollable sex drive produced by the disease They re two sides of the same coin that pays for The Next Stage in Human Evolution which is one of several good reasons to find it too expensive Enjoyable but certainly not the best of the Patternist series The characters are thin even for Butler and I never could fully suspend my disbelief in their motivations and subseuent actions Without giving too much away the only character I did have any affectionempathy for I ll let Zero Option (Geordie Sharp, you guess ended up dying gruesomely haha Oh wellHowever Butler does a tremendous job of describing the insidious and terrifying symptoms of the Clay s Ark disease ie the physical changes the urges need to infect etc She s just so good at providing believable visceral descriptions of what people are experiencing it s a strength across all of her books so far as I can tell And to some degree this phenomenological approach does make up for the thin characterizations at the story s best points I was turning pages just to read about the disease The book still suffers from some explain hand wavy writing which is unfortunate and possibly attributable to the fact that Butler wrote Clay s Ark as a kind of background postscript to the Patternist seriesAnyway not a bad book and this is the closest we ll ever get to the book that I always wanted from Butler Scratching Where It Itches A Day in the Life of a Clayark This was the most disturbing book by Octavia E Butler that I have read Rescued (The Missing, yet further inspiring my desire to have a conversation with her to find out just how that brain worked Her concepts are fascinating even when as disturbing as this onePerhaps it was the violence againstoung children that has me troubled The ending certainly is not for the faint of heart However I did not dislike this book because of this My dislike comes perhaps from a bias regarding its place as part of the Seed to Harvest collectionClay s Ark carries the similar theme of a community of humans mutated both physically and psychologically who must fight against outward and inward forces to maintain their humanity a theme that dominates just about every book I ve read from this author Beyond that and the name there is very little that relates it to the Patternists created by Mary in Mind of My Mind or the superhumans created by Doro beginning in Wild Seed In fact Clay Dana s involvement is not mentioned until than half way through the book I took a uick peek at the first few pages of Patternmaster and I see the results of Clay s Ark may play a part in that story but for now it is an odd addition to the series that perhaps was not intended to be part of the series at all considering it was created several ears after Patternmaster Clay s Ark An alien disease transforms a portion of humanityOriginally published at Fantasy LiteratureClay s Ark 1984 was written last in Octavia Butler s 4 book PATTERNIST series but comes third in chronology It takes place after Wild Seed 1980 and Mind of My Mind 1977 in the post apocalyptic California desert Society has collapsed into armed enclaves marauding car families organ hunters and isolated towns It s along the lines of Mad Max with fuel sources depleted and social infrastructure nonexistent violent death lurking at any moment and little room for anything than survivalThis world is gradually revealed via two storylines one set in the past and the other in the present The past story arc is centered on an astronaut named Eli the only survivor of a spaceship called Clay s Ark that went on an exploratory mission to Proxima Centauri The mission encountered an alien microbe that affected and transformed their DNA for it s own purposes Eli survives the return to Earth but is infected with this microbe which imparts on its host increased strength endurance healing ability and appetite However it also enslaves humans by forcing them to spread the disease Namely the men feel an overwhelming urge to infect unaffected females and mate with them and infected women also feel the same compulsion Infected men also feel intense aggression towards other males which leads to a lion s pride type social structure with the strongest males taking as many females as possible and fighting off competing males The most disturbing aspect of this book is that infected people are fully aware of these compulsions and rebel against them but cannot resist So they are both slaves and puppets to this alien microbe that drives them to animal like behavior In the current timeline we meet Blake a physician who still remembers pre collapse society and his twin daughters Rane and Keira Rane is healthy and confident while Keira suffers from an incurable form of leukemia The story wastes no time in throwing them into trouble as their car is stopped by two men who force them at gunpoint to return with them to a remote enclave in the desert As the story progresses we learn that this community is led by former astronaut Eli and consists of people infected by the sinister alien microbe brought back from Proxima Centauri They are no longer in control of their actions as the disease transforms bot. Es in the desert so as not to contaminate other humans To resist the compulsion to infect others is mental agony nut to succumb is to
I enjoyed the purity of this science fiction tale on the theme of alien possession In this short novel of less than 200 pages we are subjected to an intense story of survival of a single family with the fate of the human race at stake The terrible choices they must make put it over the line into the territory of psychological horror What makes this book stand out is its use of the story as a doorway to larger themes of what it means to be human and to be part of a communityWritten in 1984 the tale is set in the California Mojave Desert in 2021 close to our present but 40 ears from then The projection is of a dystopic future in which civilization is on the bleeding edge The haves live in gated compounds and the have nots live in sewers vast regions dominated by lawless gangs A doctor and his two 16 ear old daughters end up being kidnapped by a community of people infected by microscopic organisms brought back by an astronaut returning from Alpha Centauri For the subset of humans who survive the infection the alien invaders act symbiotically to change the host in certain ways to enhance their survival and the hosts I can t spoil the story with any details but I can share that it puts the family in the position of having to choose whether to resign themselves to living with the altered human enclave or to escape and risk creating an uncontrollable epidemic The book is the last in the set of four books and second in chronology termed the Patternist series which started with The Patternmaster in 1976 The others of which I have read one deal in various ways with alien modified humans trying to take over Earth Whereas these others deal with the threat of beings with telepathic powers here the threat is closer to home in that the organisms seem in a sense to be bringing the conflict down to an individual s limbic system versus higher brain systems The book seems to uestion whether our humanity lies with our emotional or out rational selves I was impressed with this icing on the cake of a thriller arn Alright This is the third or fourth Patternmaster book I m reading depending on which order Night Without Stars you read and by now they all seem to be the same plot but with different characters A group of people or individuals have to have sex to survive This one went from Butler s usual dub con and sexual coersion straight into incestuous rape attempt and I think I ve had my share of that theme now Every conversation is about rape wondering about rape fearing rape asking about rape being empowered through rape being killed by rape all the sorts I ever didn t want to imagine I need a break okay Where Butler gets it right always gets it right is in the fascinating premises she builds her novels on Where she occasionally gets it wrong is in the developmentButler published Patternmaster in 1974 and then spent the next eightears filling in the history of the far future world she had created This produced Wild Seed which became one of her best novels but it also produced Survivor which she later disowned and Clay s ArkClay s Ark has the usual Butlerian sexual racial and xenophobic tensions and is fairly gripping as far as the pacing goes Unfortunately it never rises above its status as a preuel there is no clear reason why this story needed to be told out of all the stories Butler could have written except that the Clayarks of Patternmaster needed to be explained And as Hollywood has proved on multiple occasions an explanation does not a good story make At first I expected Clay s Ark to have human interest for me than Mind of My MindBoth novels concern a sort of new development for humanity Mind of My Mind has people with psychic abilities who are gaining power by working as a group and Clay s Ark has an isolated set of people infected by an alien disease which changes them completely All of the major characters in Mind of My Mind were part of the in group of psychics there was no real voice for the ordinary humans whom the psychics were able to use and prey on I think this had a purpose in the novel but one of the effects was to make it cold the psychic characters are difficult to sympathize withMore than half of Clay s Ark is told from the perspective of three people who are kidnapped by the disease carriers The disease like a souped up Selfish Gene changes its victims behavior and thoughts driving them to infect other people so that the disease can survive and spread The carriers remain in some control of themselves able to choose to stay in an isolated ranch instead of going into a city and infecting a vast population but most of their decisions do revolve around the propagation of the disease making them selfish in ways similar to the psychics of Mind of My Mind So the three kidnapped people not et changed by the disease are able to struggle against it and speak loudly about the problems it will cause for humanityI thought that these viewpoint characters would give the book a warmer easier feeling a heartier and obvious sense of moral indignation maybe But they don t Perhaps because it s so clear that they cannot avoid being infected and eventually becoming just like the other carriers of the disease since this is certain their goal of escaping is foolish because it will be almost impossible to do so without acting as vectors I can t really root for them it s too frustratingThere s a temptation to root for the disease It makes its carriers the ones who survive stronger faster perceptive immune to most other illnesses As with the psi powers of Doro s children it suggests The next stage in human evolution warning TV tropes link don t get sucked in a concept with all kinds of problematic baggage Clay s Ark offers much to feed curiosity about a humanity changed by the disease but even the confirmed carriers who are driven to spread it even when actually acknowledging We are the future do so with a sense of grim inevitability instead of hopeAnother unpleasant thing about Clay s Ark is that the disease can be spread sexually and it strengthens the heterosexual sex drive Carriers feel driven to have heterosexual intercourse with uninfected people I think the reasoning is that. In a violent near future Asa Elias Doyle and her companions encounter an alien life form so heinous and destructive they exile themselv.
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Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer one of the best known among the few African American women in the field She won both Hugo and Nebula awards In 1995 she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant