Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler

Title: Clay’s Ark
Author: Octavia Butler
Genre: Science fiction / dystopia

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

Clay’s Ark is considered the third installment in Octavia Butler’s Patternist series, but having read only the first two so far, I don’t see the connection, so I feel pretty confident saying it could easily be read and understood as a standalone novel.

I think it was better than Mind of My Mind, which I gave 4.5 stars to as well, but not quite as good as her books I’ve rated 5 stars. 4.75 stars? Either way I thought it was a great book. I didn’t read it one sitting, but I did start and finish it in the same day. I’m sure part of this is its short length—just over 200 pages—but also, it was fast paced and riveting. I really wanted to find out what would happen next. Like with the other books I’ve read of hers, the writing is not lyrical, but for how “utilitarian” it seems, it can sure evoke the scenes and meanings it wants to. Oh and with that in mind—there are some graphic scenes in here.

The characters are not super developed here, as this is a novel that is more about its premise, the idea Butler toys with here. I would have loved to see this novel expanded, but even so, it is fascinating and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, turning implications and alternatives over in my mind. That’s one of the things I really like about Butler’s work, the situations she creates up with and drops characters into. One of the big issues raised in this series, and I thought in this book especially (although it is definitely present in the previous two books) is responsibility and blame—how accountable are people in various positions with various constraints on them? What is ethical when certain things about you—things that are detrimental to others—are beyond your control? Butler writes great stories but they always make me think afterward, and even though I turn them over and over in my mind, I still think there’s a lot I’m missing, more to be realized, which is a credit to the depth of her writing and how much she puts into even short works of fiction.

At this point I’ve read about half of her books, and that makes me sad. It is a comfort knowing there’s a book out there you don’t know a thing about but can be almost entirely assured you will love when you pick it up. I love that there are books that are all but guaranteed to pull me out of a reading slump. Now that I’ve achieved peak Butler, the dwindling supply is somewhat distressing to me. Good thing I consider their reread value to be quite high.


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