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Tillabooks: Will's Book Blog

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Clay's Ark by Octavia E. Butler. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1984. IBSN: 0-312-14321-4

Octavia Butler is one of the science fiction authors I hold in high respect, even though I've never gotten around to reading all of her work, an omission I intend to remedy in time. Her Wild Seed (1980), which I HAVE read, is one of the more innovative examples exploring the concept of people with superhuman mental abilities, or psi powers, as they are often called.

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. web site devoted to Octavia Butler, Clay's Ark is the third in a series of novels, called the "Patternist" stories, of which Wild Seed was the first. I have to admit that having just read Clay's Ark, I don't see the connection.

Clay's Ark seems to be a fairly straightforward story utilizing another standard sci-fi theme, namely the first spaceship to another world returns, bringing back with it an alien disease which inevitably infects the entire planet, causing widespread havoc and a breakdown of society. The disease carries the potential to change humanity into something different genetically.

The story revolves around a family, a doctor and his two teenage daughters, one of whom is dying of leukemia, who are captured by the first cell of infected humans, living on an isolated farm compound in a desolate region of the southwestern United States. The spaceship that returned from Alpha Centauri crashed nearby, and although it appears that all of the crew were killed, in fact, one survived and made it to the compound, where he infected those living there, who are now recruiting additional members to their changed families.

It seems that the organism compels them to infect others, so that they have no choice but to do so. The compelling storyline revolves around the feelings and experiences of the people caught up in this deadly nightmare. While not as original a vision as some of Butler's other work, Clay's Ark is nevertheless a strong, even compelling well-told sci-fi story in the classic tradition. Recommended.

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