Clay’s Ark

by Octavia Butler

She was terrified of Ingraham, certain that he was crazy, that he would kill her if she were not careful. If she committed herself to a poorly planned escape attempt and he caught her, he would certainly kill her.

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Clay's Ark (Patternmaster, #3)Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This seemed a abrupt sideways twist of this series that had spanned a millennia following primarily one of the most interesting villains contrived in my thousands of reads. Since it is a series, including one book Octavia insisted never be published again (Survivor #4) and this being #3 in the series, I wouldn’t normally have anything to say except, “Yep, this series is still good.”

Here’s the deal with this one. If the next book Octavia wants you to read, “Patternmaster” (which I’ve read) wasn’t the book it is, this book could easily be a “Steven King” independent book, noting that King so frequently fails to “conclude” his stories.

In Wild Seed, first book in this series, Anyanwu, the protagonist, encounters the villain “Doro” and the story is typical Octavia Butler fare, which means, “Wow” usually. Her mind has conceived stories that have effected me for decades every time I’ve thought of them (“Dawn” in particular).

As with all fiction, the Ecclesiastical, “there is nothing new under the sun,” is fatefully always true, but Octavia has developed unique characters that are sometimes so bizarre it is difficult to relate to them on a “human” basis, but her expert writing talents have you loving the characters despite your likely revulsion.

In this outing, however, it is pretty straight up science fiction with nothing to terribly bizarre. Distributing, of course, but Octavia is a master at taking you out of your daily life into worlds of wonder.

The key to catching on immediately to this story is that it is written from alternating time periods. The past, and the present. A sole survivor of an attempt to establish humanity around another star is our first and vital look into the past. The star being the relatively nearby red star, you can not see unaided, in the Alpha Centari system. “Eli”, one of the astronauts on that journey, returns to Earth, as intended, but unnoticed by Earth authorities, intentionally.

If you were old enough – when we had an active human space program – putting humans on other heavenly bodies, you remember the scenes where Armstrong and his brother astronauts were in isolation for some considerable period after returning from the moon. “Eli” was not isolated in a controlled manner.

The next chapter jumps to the present where Blake, a primary character of protagonist characteristics, and his two daughters, are traveling through the Mohave desert area in a dystopian future. They are about as safe in this ‘troubled’ future as anyone could be. Then weather and villains happen in events even Blake’s caution and safety precautions can not deter.

Octavia, establishes one mystery from the past, then a suspenseful encounter that changes our “protagonists” lives in the present. Then she sets about to acquaint you with the world your mind is encountering for the next several chapters. There is no mention of the Patternmaster, or of when the “Mind of My Mind” book ends and this one begins. You’ll have to wait until the next book to sincerely get a feel for that question to be answered.

This is a modified crucible type of plot: a crucible is a vessel made of material that does not melt easily; used for high temperature chemical reaction. A crucible plot (The Crucible, Das Boot) puts folks in an inescapable situation. Think locked box, perhaps a space ship, or submarine. It is a writer’s tool that makes increasing tension very simple as the solutions to the protagonist’s problems are limited by the environment. The characters are in a vessel not easily melted (hard or impossible to escape) and the situation’s tension or conflict heats up unbearably. This plot rarely fails, even with bad writing (or directing).

SPOILER:

In this case Blake is determined to escape his captivity, yet if he does, he is likely to severely harm the entire world. Since this is in the Patternmaster series, somewhere in the back of your mind you have “Wild Seed” and “Mind of My Mind” fresh in thought and escaping into “that world” elicits multiple compound ideas just considering it. Staying “prisoner”, and what it means, is unbearable to most of the Blake family. “Most” adds another twist as Blake, like a good soldier, will not abide imprisonment, yet it is questionable if all of his family is willing to escape. Blake also does not want to leave any of his family in captivity.

Octavia is courageous as a writer. Most amateurs will not “go there”… “Kill the babies” is a term I learned studying writing. Dean Koontz is famous for his courage in this way. Octavia creates situations where no outcome is likely to be acceptable to the reader. In the writer-reader (unspoken) contract the writer is supposed to satisfy the reader. Many writers intentionally violate this contract for a multitude of exciting fiction-fun reasons. King, who I deplore, is famous for “not finishing” his horror stories, leaving the reader to wonder… often… will there be another book? With King, the answer is usually no. Koontz alternatively, to my knowledge, always concludes is novels — And/or there is definitely another book.

END SPOILER
Octavia is courageous as a writer. Most amateurs will not “go there”… “Kill the babies” is a term I learned studying writing. Dean Koontz is famous for his courage in this way. Octavia creates situations where no outcome is likely to be acceptable to the reader. In the writer-reader (unspoken) contract the writer is supposed to satisfy the reader. Many writers intentionally violate this contract for a multitude of exciting fiction-fun reasons. King, who I deplore, is famous for “not finishing” his horror stories, leaving the reader to wonder… often… will there be another book? With King, the answer is usually no. Koontz alternatively, to my knowledge, always concludes is novels — And/or there is definitely another book.

I recommend this series. I’ll give it four of five stars but ratings are often irrelevant. I loved “Wild Seed” and “Mind of My Mind”. This book seemed like an interruption of the series rather than a part of it. One great thing about this book is it can probably be read alone without reading any of the other books in the series. Patternmaster would be slightly confusing without reading this book, but not fatally so.

While it is entirely different in every possible way, it reminds me of Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. I honestly do not know why. Maybe someone who reads this book and has read Earth Abides could give me a clue why I might relate the two.

[This is (almost) an exact copy of the Goodread’s review, with the HTML directly copied and some slight modifications to make the code compatible with WordPress presets.]
View all my Goodreads’ reviews

Author: aegiswiz

Lifetime scholar of technology, sciences, building trades, management, writing, self help, religion, politics and much more. An avid reader and researcher with insatiable curiosity. Ardent US patriot who's served, body and soul, has never wavered from oaths to God, Constitution, country, freedom, and is avowed to defend this way of life from all enemies foreign and domestic.

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