the Little Red Reviewer

Immortal Clay, by Michael Warren Lucas

Posted on: April 2, 2018

Immortal Clay, by Michael Warren Lucas

published in 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the author (Thanks Michael!!)

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What if you woke up one day, and you remembered everything about your life, but you knew without a shadow of a doubt that you weren’t you anymore? That you were something else?

 

While you’re chewing on that, lemme give you some backstory, and then we’ll circle back to this whole “you’re you but you’re not” thing.

 

30-some years ago, a movie called The Thing bombed at the box office.  The cosmic horror movie that was ahead of its time was based on a 1930s novella by John W Campbell Jr. called “Who Goes There?”.  The plot of the novella and the movie adaptation follow American researchers at an Antarctic research base who come across an alien being who can perfectly imitate any lifeform it comes across. Any tiny part of the alien creature acts independently and can imitate anything. There is practically no way to know if your friend has been “assimilated”. The alien will do anything to survive.  We sure are lucky the alien’s ship crash landed in Antarctica, and not, say, the American midwest, right?

 

The movie became a cult classic, spawning sequels, discussions of the alien’s point of view, discussions of how mistrust can spread in a small community, discussions of cosmic horror and how defenseless humans would be of a creature who can so perfectly imitate us after it destroys us.  Is the alien evil? Why would an alien creature understand or care about a human’s definition of evil? Do we blame a cat for killing a mouse?

 

At the end of the movie The Thing, it is assumed that the humans win and that the alien is either dead or will starve to death, and that the rest of humanity has been saved.

 

Assumed.

 

Michael Warren Lucas’s novel Immortal Clay knows what happens when we assume. The concept behind this book is that the researchers in Antarctica failed, the alien survived, the alien grew, the alien found civilization. The alien’s goal is survival. And it won.  Every living thing that it touched, it devoured and then duplicated. Within a few years, every living thing on Earth, every person, every bird, dog, blade of grass, fish, everything, was a duplicate of the alien creature. Kevin Holtzmann knows he isn’t himself anymore. He remembers everything about his life – how he tried (and failed) to save his wife and daughter from being assimilated, where his house is, his old job as a police detective, everything.  But he know he isn’t himself anymore, that he’s just a duplicate created by an impossible-to-understand alien.

 

What happens after the world ends? Actually, mostly the same stuff as before – going to the bar, mowing the lawn, petty shoplifting,  making sure teenagers have adult supervision – just at a slower pace. We’ve already lost, so what’s the hurry?

Immortal Clay was an enjoyable novel to read, but not for the reasons I expected. And I love being surprised by why I enjoy certain books!  It’s like getting two (and sometimes three) presents instead of just one!

 

Surprise number one was Kevin’s thoughts about not being himself anymore. The novel is told in first person (my favorite),  and when Kevin is thinking about “old Kevin”, it jumps to third person, because “old Kevin” was a completely different person. But new Kevin is paralyzed by how much he misses his family, how did those emotions transfer to new Kevin, and what does it mean that they did?  I am explaining it poorly, but the tricks Lucas is pulling here are very subtle and very cool regarding characterization and the philosophy of self.

 

Some people in the story have figured out that since they’re not human anymore, there are new and different things they can do, even if they don’t understand how or why they can do them. The cover art of the guy with the Medusa eyeballs and chains on his chest? This is an actual character in the story, Paul, who changes his physical appearance as a coping mechanism for his mental health struggles.  It’s a quick, seemingly throwaway scene, but he’s the guy with the best explanation of the awesome things you can do to help yourself now that you’re just an alien duplicate.  I wish Paul had more page time.

 

But it isn’t all fun and games, changing your body around to suit your needs. Slowly taking over a shopping mall is a giant creature named Legacy whose goal is who knows what. There’s a growing church group called Acceptance, where when you’ve got nothing left to lose, you can go lose yourself (and gain. . what?). When you aren’t the old, human version of yourself, you can be anyone, do anything, leave your old life behind if you want to. Have a fresh start. A newly changed world, where we aren’t ourselves anymore, can be a really freaky place.

 

Happy surprise number two was the pace.  I expected this to be a fast paced action book. And yeah, there is some action. But really, this story takes place after all the action has finished. We’ve lost the war,  humanity as we know it is over, this is the aftermath of loss, in which some kind of new society is trying to figure out what it wants to be. So what’s the hurry? I was pleasantly surprised at how much I like the slower pace of this story. Kevin is a trained detective, he knows if he’s chatting with someone, and he is quiet, that other person will fill the silence. So he waits, and he listens, and he asks the right questions, and he is patient. A slower pace gave Kevin plenty of time to think, and it gave me plenty of time to think as well – time to think about how terrifying this new world is, time to think that maybe the alien didn’t harm us after all, time to really play with these ideas in my head.  I guess surprise number three is how thinky of a book this was!

 

Immortal Clay is a natural and fascinating next step in the legacy of John Campbell Jr.’s “Who Goes There?”,  but you don’t need to have any background in the world of The Thing to enjoy this novel. If you’ve seen John Carpenter’s movie, this book will make you want to watch it again.  And if this book review is the first you’ve ever heard of “Who Goes There”, and The Thing? Head over to wikipedia and dive down the rabbit hole!

 

 

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2 Responses to "Immortal Clay, by Michael Warren Lucas"

This sounds awesome! Thumbs and I love the original The Thing movie (although I didn’t know it started out as a short story), and this continuation sounds so cool. We’ve talked so many times about whether the alien is really dead/defeated at the end of the movie … I have to go buy this book NOW. 🙂

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right? This is the perfect sequel because we never found out if the alien wass dead, and we certainly had no idea how strong it might be. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Immortal Clay!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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