Monday, 3 October 2016

Clay's Ark

Octavia Butler Clay's Ark (1984)
Having established that Octavia Butler could certainly write, I had her on my mental list of authors whose books I would buy on the strength of name alone; but she sort of fell off the list after I read Dawn which was beautifully written but surprisingly dull. Then I came across this and decided that Dawn had probably been an anomaly.

Apparently not.

There's a lot to like about Clay's Ark, and as usual the sheer quality of Butler's narrative makes most of her contemporaries read like hacks. It's the story of an isolated community trying to get by after the apocalyptic breakdown of society - the sort of tale at which Butler was adept. They've contracted some kind of transformative virus brought back from a distant planet on the ship from which the novel takes its title. The virus either kills our people or bestows upon them seemingly superhuman qualities in terms of strength, enhanced senses, and accelerated healing powers. In fact the virus turns those it doesn't kill into randier versions of Wolverine out of the X-Men, and by the point at which we join the story, they've started having kids, and the kids aren't quite human.

Other than this, not a whole lot happens. Mostly it's characters wrestling with transformation into something other than human, striving to contain the virus whilst getting by in an increasingly hostile world. The chapters alternate between present and annoying flashbacks which don't really tell us anything we couldn't have worked out and serve only to interrupt the flow of the story, which eventually culminates with a couple of chapters of gratuitous torture and child-rape at the hands of a rival outlaw community. I couldn't see the point. Clay's Ark is probably something or other to do with how we deal with our own animal urges, but I'm not convinced it actually says anything.

It was okay. I've read worse. It wasn't terrible.

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