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The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
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The Dog Stars

by Peter Heller

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I picked this up in a charity shop because it was shortlisted for the Clarke Award last year. And I’ll admit I’m somewhat puzzled it was shortlisted. A flu pandemic in the US kills off 99% of the population, and the remainder inevitably turn to survivalism, rape, murder and so on. As they do in post-apocalyptic fiction. The narrator, however, has it quite good – he lives at a small airfield, and has a small Cessna plane which he often flies, scouting out the area he shares with his gun-nut neighbour (they’re the only two people who live there). The narrator also suffered in the past from meningitis, and as a result the prose is written in a sort of lightly-fractured English, with many fragmentary declarative sentences. This serves no purpose in the story, it’s just an excuse for the prose style. And the gun-nut is basically a rip-off of Sobchak, John Goodman’s character, in The Big Lebowski. The first half of The Dog Stars comprises a series of incidents showing how nasty everyone is – and how few women remain. Then the narrator hears a radio message from some distance away, and decides to fly there to learn who broadcast it. En route, he stumbles across a blind box canyon, in which lives a man and his daughter. The narrator falls for the daughter. It takes something special to make a post-apocalypse novel notable and there’s nothing special in The Dog Stars. ( )
  iansales | Sep 17, 2014 |
The doomsday narrative is a tired one. Pick your poison on how the world ends: asteroids, killer viruses, alien invasion, zombies. All have their day in the world of fiction, not to mention in movies and television shows. I wasn't really sure what to expect from Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, except that it was different.

In The Dog Stars, it's an epidemic that decimates the world, killing off 99 percent or so of the human population. Nothing special there. But wait.

The book starts with our protagonist, Higs, barricaded in a compound with his dog, Jasper, and a humorously rancorous neighbor, Bangley, a loner who is good with guns and shows no mercy, a survivalist type. Higs and Bangley spend their days fortifying their compound, making sure they have enough provisions—gathered from a small vegetable garden tended by Higs and whatever they can hunt, deer and elk. The banter is sharp between these two men and their interaction is one of the touching aspects of the book. Bangley is largely a misanthrope but Higs still holds on to something—it's not hope per se, but a view of the world that is still quaintly earnest, poetic, given the horrors. He sees beauty even as the world has slipped into a barbaric state.

It's a luminous world Heller paints. It is the end of times and yet the end is rich and full of beauty and grace. Heller is a nature/environmental writer and his descriptions of the natural world are evocative. Example: "[The moss] is dry and light to the touch, almost crumbly, but in the trees it moves like sad pennants." It's almost as if a world purged of humans is actually a purer, more beautiful one. As Bangley says, "We are like kings. It took the end of the world."

But don't assume this book is just a collection of sensitive ruminations about loss and survival. There is plenty of combat and violence, too—the gun-toting and club-wielding kind from raiders and wandering gangs of pillaging, raping brutes that regularly assail Higs and Bangley. The latter half of the book has a few battles/showdowns that are breathtaking. Oh yeah, Higs is also a pilot. His trips in his Cessna produce some of the most devastatingly beautify commentary on the world. Bird's eye view, searching, ever searching. The book's narrative arc is really about Higs looking for and finding others—and the cost of that.

For all intents and purposes, the world has ended. It's a testament to Heller's writing that he can give us a post-apocalyptic story that is so beautifully rendered. If you don't like fragmented writing, this may be hard to get through, but I say let the rhythm wash over you. This odd style is used to mimic our narrator's thoughts and the fractured state of the world to great effect.

Poetry is mentioned a lot. These are the protagonist's favorites and mine, too:

When Will I Be Home
Li Shang-Yin, 9th century AD

When will I be home? I don't know.
In the mountains, in the rainy night,
The Autumn lake is flooded.
Someday we will be back together again.
We will sit in the candlelight by the West window.
And I will tell you how I remembered you
Tonight on the stormy mountain.

Li Po

I lift my head from the pillow
I see the frost the moon.
Lowering my head I think of home. ( )
  gendeg | Aug 27, 2014 |
I am pleased I read the Painter first as I would not have thought to read this book - not my genre but he writes beautiful about people, hope, and the world. What a great writer. My best new find ( )
  shazjhb | Jul 27, 2014 |
In a world depopulated by a virulent flu, Hig lives at a small airport with his dog and a savage misanthrope named Bangly. A well thought out post-apocalypse scenario weakened by some glaring plot and character issues, "The Dog Stars" is at it's best when describing the narrator's loss and redemption. ( )
1 vote HenryKrinkle | Jul 23, 2014 |
Love, love, loved it. On of the best "apocalypse" book I've read. Carrying the emotional and physical scars inflicted by a global virus, the narrator, Hig's, world has been reduced to calculated survival and competition for dwindling resources. Heller's writing is simplistic and stream of consciousness style, the language of a man alone for too long. While this could easily come off as choppy, I found it made the story seem more personal and intimate. I really felt what Hig was experiencing-the stark loneliness, the sorrow of profound loss, the longing to connect, the fear of the future (and present), and the kernel of hope amidst all of the despair. It was all so real. Poignant, beautiful, and haunting, this book tugged hard on my heartstrings and then lifted them back to the stars. Can't wait to get my hand on Heller's latest. ( )
  LaurenMae85 | Jul 7, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 96 (next | show all)
Heller's writing is stripped-down and minimalist, like a studio apartment in Sparta. It's an Armageddon book as written by Ernest Hemingway. The future is spare. If you see an adjective, kill it.
added by WeeklyAlibi | editWeekly Alibi, John Bear (Jul 26, 2012)
 

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Peter Hellerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Deakins, MarkNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I keep the Beast running, I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks.
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Book description
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307959945, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2012: Adventure writer Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars is a first novel set in Colorado after a superflu has culled most of humanity. A man named Hig lives in a former airport community—McMansions built along the edge of a runway—which he shares with his 1956 Cessna, his dog, and a slightly untrustworthy survivalist. He spends his days flying the perimeter, looking out for intruders and thinking about the things he’s lost—his deceased wife, the nearly extinct trout he loved to fish. When a distant beacon sparks in him the realization that something better might be out there, it’s only a matter of time before he goes searching. Poetic, thoughtful, transformative, this novel is a rare combination of the literary and highly readable. --Chris Schluep

Amazon Exclusive: Author Peter Heller on the Star of The Dog Stars

Jasper the Blue Heeler Mix
The inspiration for Jasper, a Blue Heeler mix, who is an integral part of this novel.

Our Hero, Hig, lives at a little country airstrip which he shares with his beloved blue heeler Jasper, and a mean gun nut named Bangley. It's nine years after a super-flu has killed 99.7% of the people on the planet. Hig sleeps out under the open sky at night with Jasper. He does it because he loves to see the stars, and because it's safer: if marauders come he won't be trapped in one of the nearby houses.

He used to have a book of the stars, but now he doesn't, so when he's lying out at night he makes up constellations. Mostly they are animals, and he makes one for his best friend Jasper. The Dog Stars. It's Hig's way of reinventing the lost world, and keeping in touch with the things he loves.

Jasper, to me, is the star of the book. He is fiercely loyal, and he gives Hig something to live for when there is not much else to hold on to.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:34 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Surviving a pandemic disease that has killed everyone he knows, a pilot establishes a shelter in an abandoned airport hangar before hearing a random radio transmission that compels him to risk his life to seek out other survivors.

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