CLAY’S ARK by Octavia Butler from @headlinepg #BookReview #scifi

CLAY’S ARK by Octavia Butler

Headline, p/b, £9.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Often a novel will raise as many questions as it solves, and a writer may produce a prequel to answer some of them. Octavia Butler’s first novel, Pattern Master, introduced a future world in which there are two races that were once fully human. One, the Patternists, were linked into a mental network at the centre of which is the Pattern Master. Roving the countryside are tribes of people called Clayarks. These are carriers of a disease that causes the children of the infected to be deformed. Butler’s novel, Mind of My Mind, explains the origin of the Patternists, one of whom was Clay Dana.

            Clay’s Ark is the prequel that explains the origin of the Clayarks. Clay Dana developed a drive that enabled a spaceship to travel to Proxima Centauri and back in only a few years. Unfortunately, the crew members were infected with a virulent organism when they landed on one of the planets orbiting the star. The ship Clay’s Ark crashed on landing, and it was thought that all had perished. One survived. Eli Doyle staggers into an isolated small-holding and passes the infection onto those who live there. Not all the infected survive, but those that do are changed. It gives them an urge to reproduce. While they decide to contain the infection in their small community, they do need the occasional recruit.

            Blake Maslin and his daughters are caught in a sandstorm and are forced to pull over to the side of the road. They become a target for the infected community. Blake, however, is determined to escape with his daughters, despite all of them being infected. His plan is to get them to a facility when the disease can be studied and a cure found.

            The novel is told in alternate chapters of the past, describing Eli’s arrival at the community and its effects. These chapters are counterbalanced by Blake’s attempt to escape and how the infection is let loose of the world, leading to the Clayark tribes that roam the continent in The Pattern Master. Among the things that Butler does superbly is to handle the ethnic diversity of her characters. The prejudices in her societies within this series are present but do not revolve around skin colour.

            Clay’s Ark was originally published in 1984. At that time, there was a concern that oil supplies would run out. Butler has set this novel in 2021 and tried to foresee the developments that would be needed. Most of the vehicles run on ethanol, with some electrically powered. Paper books seem to be a rarity, with most reading done on a handheld device. Some predictions made by SF writers are more accurate than many think, even if the reasons for reaching them are different.