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3.8 out of 5 stars
Clay's Ark
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on August 21, 2002
The last novel in her Patternist series to be published, it shares a lot more in common with her Xenogenesis trilogy in tone and subject material. Of the Patternist novels that I have read, that group seems more oriented towards questions of power and dominance--basically, who is stronger, and what are the responsibilities of that role. The series actually begins with Wild Seed, which explains the character of Doro, who then sees a success in his human breeding program in Mind of My Mind. Clay's Ark is next in the timeline, but it only refers obliquely to the existence of a psionic pattern (late in the novel, it explains the macguffin for the faster than light drive used by the spaceship that returns to Earth), but it mainly concerns the alien organism that creates the Clayarks. The next book, Patternmaster, shows these two groups--the Patternists and the Clayarks--millennia later, both almost unrecognizable as human.
It is this evolution away from humanity that becomes the main theme of Xenogenesis, but it is in the forefront of Clay's Ark. The difference, however, is that this evolution is almost entirely negative here, whereas in Xenogenesis there's an ambiguity to it that makes it much more complex than just a good/bad issue. Change happens (to quote Butler's more recent work). Why is it negative here in Clay's Ark? Because of the mindlessness of the extraterrestrial interaction. As humans, thinking and feeling humans, we see ourselves as ratiocentric--that is, we value the power of logic and rational thought and discount the so-called "animal" urges of instinct and biological compulsion. This dichotomy makes up the conflict between the two groups in Patternmaster: the Patternists are pure thought, ruled by the power of the mind, whereas the Clayarks are all biological urges, roaming free, living life in the here and now. The human race has bifurcated, and although a "mute" semblance remains, humans are portrayed as beings where both mind and body are weak and dull. In Xenogenesis, Butler changes this, and the organism that is entirely mutable is portrayed as the strongest.
Because it contains a lot of adventure--there's kidnapping and close escapes and gunfire and more violence than a Fox Saturday night-- Clay's Ark hides a lot of this underlying thought. Only the struggle that Eli continues to endure breaks this action-orientation; the rest of the characters are driven either by the disease or their human nature to respond to the events. While not as hopeful or thoughtful as her later work, I liked this one tremendously.
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on November 18, 2003
I was so enthralled by "Dawn" and the subsequent books in that trilogy that I set out to read everything I could by Butler. Overall I find her novels to be exceptional sci-fi with some very thought provoking anthropology and history thrown into the mix. I was disappointed in Clay's Ark, and I think it was primarily because, compared to Butler's other novels, it was the leanest. While she comments on the bleak direction the future of the U.S. is headed in, this tale did not stay with me or terrify me the way the "Parable" books did. I didn't feel as attached to these characters as I did to their parallel counterparts in the Patternmaster. It's an interesting story, but not Butler at her best. If you're as obsesseive as I am about my favorite authors, read it anyway! If you're new to Butler, start with Parable of the Sower or Dawn.
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on June 6, 2003
Compared to most other SF novels, Clay's Ark could be considered a great book. However, compared to other books by Butler, it falls short. Not because of craft. The book's pacing and plotting are near perfect; there are no wasted words. But while, it is extremely readable, the book suffers in it's characterisations. Here is where my initial remark comes into play. Compared to most SF, characters like Blake are extremely interesting, but compared to the characters Butler creates in her other Patternist novels 'Wild Seed' and 'Mind of my mind'.
The moral dilemmas facing the main characters are not as balanced as in Butler's other work. The survival instinct of the alien virus is so strong, that the characters are partially excused for their actions. In addition, the story builds magnificently, but wraps up abruptly.
Bottom line -- if you have never read an Octavia Butler novel start with 'Wild Seed' or 'Kindred', but if you are already a fan, there is enough in this book to make it enjoyable.
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on March 18, 2001
Being the Octavia Butler fan I am, I must say (without bias) that I found this book interesting. When I read any of her books, I don't do so with any preconceived notions or expectations. . . Just crack the cover and get going.
If you're used to her style you know it's about us on earth and a being or beings from another world. The most interesting thing here is that you can take any of the present-day medical situations and insert it here.
Since this was one of her first books I read, I was truly eager to reach the end. This is a must if you want to complete the Patternists series, as well as a creativity motivator. Enjoy.
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on April 17, 2001
Perhaps Butler must establish a concept before she really gets going with it in sequels. It is another mark of the great depth of her imaginative powers, which surpass any scifi writer that I know.
I did not get into the characters of the Clayarks as much as her other characters. This novel seemed more labored than her other efforts, thinner, much as Dawn inaugurated her mutagensis series.
It is only later that the true depth and elegance of her vision comes out.
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on January 31, 1997
If you've read her excellent _Mind of My Mind_ and _Patternmaster_, you might wonder about how the world changed so much between these two novels and what exactly these Clayarks are. Well, this book clarifies much of this. While it's probably a notch below the other two in the series, it's well worth reading and essential if you want a complete understanding of the Patternmaster series
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on May 17, 2000
This book of the Patternist series is a bit like watching a soap opera. Remove the alien and you'd pretty much have the same story for a variety of motivations -- disease, social outcasts, etc. Once more we are almost overwhelmed by the number of characters and not given quite enough background or insight into developing a strong sense of empathy with any character.
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on May 24, 2002
This is a real page-turner, and thought-provoking, but after finishing it I don't feel it left me with as much as I have come to expect from Octavia Butler. It is still a very good novel, which I recommend without reservation, but it is not as outstanding a book as the Parable novels, "Kindred," or "Lilith's Brood" (Xenogenesis).
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on February 10, 2001
I have read everything Octavia Butler has in print. I adore her depth of emotion and insight that goes into every story she writes.
CLAY'S ARK is the exception. This is easily her worst book. But remember, Octavia's worst is still better than most author's best.
Simply put, if an artist is going to take me to hell, they better teach me something important. This book contains gang rape scenes of a young leukemia-victim girl, bloody fights described in excruciating detail, an relentless stream of utterly mind-numbing scenes of violence.
And, unlike PARABLE OF THE SOWER, which also contains many difficult scenes and images, you get virtually nothing from the story. No lessons, no hope, nothing. Octavia has written that she was very depressed when writing this book, sharing chapters with a friend who was suffering from a terminal illness. I respect that this reflects where she was, but that doesn't mean I want to go there with her.
And those of you wanting to read everything in the Patternist series should know that CLAY'S ARK barely touches on threads from the other books. I was sucked into reading it to satisfy my completist strain as well, and suffered for it.
Skip it. Period. Read all her other works.
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on December 28, 2001
Having read several of Butler's books, I must say that I found this one far less readable than Dawn or the Patternist novels. Not only is it tedious and depressing, but it offers less food for thought than Wildseed or Dawn. Whereas those books describe the creation of unique and idealistic societies, the community described in Clay's Ark is a besieged group of pariahs staving off inevitable doom.
Furthermore, I read novels mostly for escape and enjoyment. Reading end-to-end accounts of bruality and human misery just isn't my idea of an escape.
Finally, the story abruptly ends, with no real sequel apparently in the works, right where an interesting sociological experiment could have been invisioned: the unleashing of the Clay's Ark virus upon humanity. A real bummer for an Octavia E. Butler novel...
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