Clay’s Ark Summary and Review

Clay's Ark Receives 4.5 Stars

Clay’s Ark, O.E. Butler

Photograph of the newest edition of Clay's Ark being held on top of Mind of My Mind. The Clay's Ark cover is dark green with a man holding his arms open to the world and a sphinx-like creature living inside of him.
Clay’s Ark and Mind of My Mind, 2 books in O.E. Butler’s Patternist Series

Clay’s Ark is the third book in the Patternist Series. It was published in 1984 by The Octavia Butler. More than any other book in this series, it is so important to read it in order. Clay’s Ark is not the best standalone novel. It can be confusing. All of that being said 4.5 stars.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Clay’s Ark Major Characters

  • Eli Doyle – Sole survivor of Clay’s Ark
  • Meda Boyd – Eli’s Lover
  • Jacob – Eli and Meda’s Clayark son
  • Gwyn and Lorene – Meda’s Sister-in-Laws
  • Clay Dana – Inventor of Clay’s Ark, brother of Seth Dana (who became part of the First Family of Patternists in previous book in the series, Mind of My Mind)
  • Blake Maslin – Doctor, Father to Keira and Rane
  • Keira Maslin – Battling leukemia
  • Rane Maslin – Keira’s twin sister
  • Ingraham and Lupe – Members of Eli’s Settlement
  • Stephen Kaneshiro – Newest Male Member of Eli’s Settlement
  • Wikipedia’s Character List is Dope!

“We’re the future, we’re the sporangia of the dominant life form of Proxi Two – the receptacles that produce the spores of that life form. If we survive, if our children survive, it will be because we fulfill our purpose – because we spread the organism… “


Who is Clay Dana?

At the beginning of Mind of My Mind, Clay Dana lived on an isolated ranch in Arizona with his active brother Seth. The combination of Seth’s protection and the isolation of the ranch prevented mental interference Clay couldn’t control. He was a latent prior to meeting Doro’s daughter and prodigy Mary. Latents were born with abilities but never transitioned. Therefore, they lived pretty miserable lives without control over their minds. But, when Mary becomes active and creates the pattern, in Mind of My Mind, Seth is dragged to California. He takes Clay with him. And Clay becomes one of the first adult latents Mary brings successfully through transition.

Clay wakes up free from mental interference, but also off of the pattern his brother shares with Mary and the other active telepaths. He is mightily rewarded with what Doro calls psychokinesis. (Who remembers Issac from Wild Seed?) Immediately after his transition, he picks Mary up into the air, and he is able to fly himself. Since he is no longer a part of Mary’s pattern, he is free to leave California.

The Dana Faction

Clay Dana left California and did not go back into isolation. Instead he went into science and leadership. The Dana Faction feared humanity would extinguish itself on Earth, the only planet that could support human life. This fear could be due to turn-of-the-century irrationality – religious overzealousness on one side, destructive hedonism on the other, with both heated by ideological intolerance and corporate greed (why did Octavia have to read us like that? LOL). But it was probably aided by Clay’s interaction with the telepaths, and his Congressional support may have also been aided by the telepaths he left behind in California.

Clay’s Ark, A Starship

Clay’s Ark became the solution. It is a starship with brand new faster-than-light technology that involved an exotic mix of physics and psionics. The Ark was powered by what Clay referred to as ‘parapsychological mumbo jumbo’ but he and many other scientists actually spent years testing and proving his theories correct. After winning Congressional support, the starship added pilots and a destination, Proxima Centauri Two (Proxi Two), a planet in another solar system that the Dana Faction hoped could support human life.

Meet Eli

Clay's Ark Fan Art By Alan Gutierrez Art that shows Eli walking away from a destroyed spaceship towards a desert landscape.
Clay’s Ark Fan Art By Alan Gutierrez Art, 2013, Commissioned and Published by Ace Books in 1984.

Eli (Asa Elias Doyle) and his wife were psionically-gifted and selected to pilot Clay’s Ark. Eli had been a geologist previously. Clay spent a lot of time with his pilots, teaching them to use their abilities to power the ship’s technology. Well, they made it to Proxi Two before things went awry. Once the crew landed and began gathering data, they discovered an organism in almost every plant and animal species they encountered.

Clayarks, Extraterrestrial Humans?

The organisms attached/attacked the humans. They were not intelligent. They did not tell their hosts how to stay alive or how to find new hosts. But, if the human possessed by these organisms did not find someone else to infect, they became intensely uncomfortable, causing their human host intense discomfort. People become increasingly separated from their humanity, until they are able to infect a new host. Then, they calm again. The pilots and scientists on the ship with Eli turned on each other, and likely set Clay’s Ark on a path back to Earth in an attempt to find more hosts for their organisms.

The ship died, and the people Eli loved the most died with it. He should have died too. But his enhanced survival drive saved him, even against his will. Eli became a prisoner in his skull, cut off from conscious control of his body. After the Ark crashed in the desert, Eli ran from rescuers, and fellow scientists, taking cover and nullifying the sacrifice his fellow pilots and shipmates had made. To his sorrow, to his ultimate shame, he brought the first extraterrestrial life to Earth.

Eli is the first of the Clayarks. He and his partners are the closest to human Clayarks are portrayed throughout the series. In Patternmaster, the fourth and final book in the series, the Clayarks will have evolved…

Review & Thoughts

Well, where you kill one Doro, two will pop up. We have Mary on the west coast, creating a colony of mind-reading slavers in Mind of My Mind and Clay on the east coast, bringing an alien invasion to a town near you via Clay’s Ark. The most interesting part is that Mary possesses supernatural mental agility/strength, and Eli is driven by an alien biological impulse that makes him and his people more coordinated, faster, and superior in every physical way. (Except that they look like zombies.)

When I consider the book in the context of the series, I give it 5 stars. By itself, it only gets 4, only because it is a little tough to pick up on who Clay Dana is and how important that is to the Dana Drive. We are essentially seeing the descendants of Issac, Anyanwu, and Doro from Wild Seed, go HAM.

Thinking Forward

What would you do if you found out you were infected with a diesease and bound to have alien babies? What if you wanted the sex that resulted in those children terribly bad? (Think about Meda with Eli before she was infected.)

The people that have been “othered” in society have faced rhetoric just like this. People have disowned their flesh and blood because it’s ‘tainted’ with ‘alienness’. I think it is important to remember that an alien is anything foreign to you. That does not mean the foreign thing cannot feel, think, and communicate in a way that you don’t understand. It is fascinating. The next book presents new questions that leave one asking, how would you treat an alien in your backyard?

From what I gather from those who have studied the history of genocide – its definition and application – there seems to be a pattern. Nation-states, governments seeking legitimacy and identity, seem able and determined to shape themselves by the destruction of a collective “other”.

Toni Morrison, The Source of Self REgard, 20.
Banner that says Patternist Series , A Positively Black Book Series, with the hashtag Rethinking Radicalism
Click the Astronaut to head to the Patternist Series Hub!

Clay’s Ark in the Book Community

Part of the Patternist Series review was in conjunction with This Browne Girl Reads, a semi-exclusive book club and community dedicated to reading the Black diaspora. Check out this talk about Clay’s Ark with Dee, Jaimey, and WD.

ONYX Pages is a bookish content creator in love with speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, magial realism, and horror. (We have a lot in common!) They are leading a slow read of Octavia Butler that is tantilizing. Check out the replay of Clay’s Ark:

Sistah SciFi is the first Black-owned bookstore focused on scifi & fantasy. Sis is focused on casting spells to uplift the work of Black and Native womxn. There is only one place for fan gear. Sistah SciFi is also the plug for virtual events.

Screenshot of Sistah SciFi's apparel store featuring t-shirts with Octavia Butler's novels on them, and other gear with the names "Octavia &, Nnedi &, Tomi &, Nalo &, NK."
+ BLK is accepting gift cards. LMAO. Click the image to go directly to the shop for litmerch.

Keep checking back for more Clay’s Ark in the Community!

Published by W.D. Herstun

Editor-in-Chief. Curator. Dreamer. I want to bring people together, one story at a time. Sometimes, we all just need a little perspective. The arts & humanities can help us regain humanity and change the world. Believe that. Achieve that. #LetsGrow

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