Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler (Patternist #3)

Summary: A human starship has returned from its first visit to another star system, but it did not come back alone.

As I am writing this I have finished the fourth book of the series and finally understood why the books of this series are so different. I will leave that to the review of the fourth book. But yet again, this is a very different book in style and content from the first two books in the series.

This is a story of alien contact, almost horror, but not quite. The story is told in parallel, with the current time line and a historical timeline. Neither one is completely chronological so some of the jumping around slows down the suspsense and confuses the story.

The historical timeline tells the story of Asa Elias Doyle, an astronaut and the only member of a 14 person crew to make it back from visiting another star system. The spaceship crashlanded onto earth and he is presumed dead by everyone. The problem is that he was infected by an alien microbe that is slowly changing him. He is trying to protect humanity by staying away from other humans.

The current timeline is about a doctor and his two daughters that were kidnapped by this strange cult-like group. The world is a dystopian wasteland. The doctor and his daughter live in an enclave, protected from the harsher parts of the world. But they have to travel through a ‘sewer’ and when they do they are kidnapped by what they suspect is one of the car gangs.

I won’t give away too much of the story, but by this short description you can probably guess about some of the storyline.

What gives me a bit of pause about Butler as a writer is the way she uses sex (in pretty much all of her books.) It is not usually erotic, nor explicit. Most of the sex is off the page. But it is almost always controlling or manipulative or part of obligation or a breeding program or something that is not about love. In many ways this corrupted use of sex is some of the most difficult parts of reading her books for me.

The Patternist series is essentially a meditation on slavery. Wildseed is about literal slavery and how an immortal enslaves people for his uses and then breeds them. So sex is controlled and humans become little more than animals that are forced to mate in order to give rise to a particular breed of humans.

The second book is about a mental slavery where there are different classes of humans, but all are controlled to a greater or lesser extent. Again sex is used as a tool to entice or break people.

This third book is about alien control. And it is about a biological determinant that becomes overwhelming and again reduces sex to physical need and breaks down the social mores around sex. The fourth book again shows sex as a form of power and dominance.

Again, the sex in these books is rarely explicit. But the corruption of it seeps into the whole society created in the books. I am not a fan of ‘worldview’ language, but Butler has a corrupted worldview in regard to sexuality.

Christianity has maintained that sexuality is a good created by God with a purpose. It can be corrupted and perverted, but at root the purpose is to draw a couple together into an exclusive relationship that may be procreative. Everything I have read by Butler so far has been working to break this idea of sexuality as exclusive.

It seems she just can’t get away from some of the ideas of the right relationship around sexuality even as she tries to create new worlds where sex is exclusively biological or primarily about power. She still has a concept of love and jealousy (in right understanding this is the proper exclusivity of sex). She keep procreation a significant part of sex, but much of the time, in this series especially, it is about producing children not creating families.

And Butler is well aware of the improper power issues in sex. So she understands the idea of mutuality and submission, but apart from some type of commitment between a couple, there is no place for mutuality and submission to be properly understood and even the best of relationships in her view end up being reduced to power relationships.

More than anything, Butler’s writing has reminded me of the church’s responsibility of teaching about the positive purpose of sex and marriage. While there can be some purpose in fighting against negative sexuality, without an understanding of the positive purpose, there will never restoration of the right relationship that God intended.

This third book could be read independently of the others. It is really an addendum to the series and was written last.

Clay’s Ark (Patternist #3) Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook

Audiobook is discounted to $3.49 with purchase of Kindle Book, Kindle Edition (with free narration) is part of the Kindle Unlimited Collection Reviews of other Octavia Butler Books:

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