CLAY'S ARK by Octavia E. Butler
Kirkus Star


From the "Patternist" series, volume 5
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Despite the basic triteness of its premise and its backdrop: another technically scintillating novel from the author of Kindred (1979) and the Patternmaster series. Clay's Ark, the first interstellar spaceship, returns carrying a deadly alien parasite and crashes in the desert; only pilot Eli survives. Transformed by the parasite, he is stronger and faster than before and nearly invulnerable. But the alien unmercifully drives him to infect others. (There's a powerful sexual compulsion too.) So Eli takes over an isolated desert community, hoping to confine the disease there while shanghai-ing occasional new recruits—such as thoughtful doctor Blake Maslin and his daughters, self-reliant Rane and leukemia-stricken Keira. Soon, then, all three are infected; aware of the alien nature of the parasite, they try to escape. But a vicious bandit gang intervenes...and violent complications ensue. The parasite's victims are sympathetic—with superior abilities, tenderness, and the will to fight against their alien-inspired compulsions. On the other hand, these characters look terrible; they eat raw meat, carry contagion, produce non-human offspring. And Butler maintains this ambivalence beautifully throughout—in a strong, supple narrative with tense action. Superior science fiction, then, even if many readers will be disappointed by the non-originality of the parasite notion—and by the sketchy, cliched near-future setting.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1984
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1984


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