BOOK REVIEW: Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler

written by David Steffen

Clay’s Ark is a 1984 science fiction novel by Octavia Butler, in her Patternmaster series. It was the last of the four of the books to be published, but is the third in the chronological storyline. It is the next book chronologically after Mind of My Mind (reviewed here).

Chronologically it is the first to introduce the clayarks, a race of mutant humans created by an infection from outer space. Between the last book and this one, an exploration spaceship was sent out called Clay’s Ark. The expedition encountered an alien infection and one survivor brought it back.

It is a few decades in the future on Earth, and conditions in America have decline enough that most people either live in gated communities or as “car families”, militant nomadic bands that prey on anyone trying to travel. Physician Blake Maslin and his twin daughters Keira and Rane are kidnapped by Eli Doyle, the survivor from Clay’s Ark. Eli is not at all what they expect, just another car family henchman looking for theft or ransom. They’re taken back to an isolated compound with a bunch of others who are all acting very strangely. The infection is isolated for the time being, but how long until it breaks out?

If you have read Patternmaster, the final book chronologically, you already know where this ends up on a macro level, and so if you read them in the order of actual publication you would have already known, but in the collection I read them in they were ordered chronologically so I did not know. I think this added to the overall tension of my reading but I did also still care how the individual characters would survive in this tense setting caught between kidnappers and an alien disease. Tense, gripping, kept me interested until the end, worth the read (though Wild Seed is still my favorite in the series).

If you have read Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, which both focused on a group of earthlings who over generations of selective breeding have led to increasingly powerful psychic abilities, you might wonder why this book is in the same series as those, when this seems to have nothing to do with those. The storylines have some minor ties you can discern, but the major ties come within Patternmaster book.

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David Steffen

David Steffen is an editor, publisher, and writer. He is probably best known for being co-founder and administrator of The Submission Grinder, a donation-supported tool to help writers track their submissions and find publishers for their work . David also writes articles here and edits the fiction. He is also the editor and publisher of The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List series. David also (sometimes) writes fiction, and you can follow on Twitter for updates on cross-stitch projects and occasionally other things.

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