A cover that reminded me of Alaska, comparisons to The Road, and constant displays in the bookstore were enough for me to pick up The Dog Stars (2013) by Peter Heller. Before delving in, I knew only that the story was post apocalyptic and involved a plane. When I began, I was surprised to find out that the main character, Hig, lived in my hometown of Denver.
Suddenly I was reading about my neighborhood and my favorite bookstore. And it wasn’t until I read the descriptions of Hig flying his small plane over the area, that I e-mailed my friend–my friend who loves flying and took me up in his small plane one afternoon. I thought he’d enjoy a book that involved flying around the Denver-Metro area in small planes. His response to me was: “I’ve read Peter’s book because he’s a good friend of mine.” Now, this really shouldn’t make much of a difference to me, it’s not like I know the guy. But I’ve never been only one degree of separation from a bestselling author. I peppered my friend with questions about how much was made up and how much was based on the author’s life–which he didn’t bother answering. In fact, I kind of wish I hadn’t learned about this connection until I’d finished reading the book because I found it kind of distracting.
Anyway, about the book: Hig is probably in his 40’s and lives with his dog at a small airport in Eerie, Colorado. One older man, a survivalist gun expert, stays with him. Although they have drastically different philosophies and styles, the two have formed a symbiotic relationship that helps them to survive. A combination of disease and ecological disasters have devastated the world. The few people not wasting away by sickness are scavanging murderously about the country. The trout are gone and hotter weather continues unabated. The story revolves around Hig, focusing primarily on his thoughts, his emotions, and his observations of the world around him. On the whole, it’s a quiet story, requiring patience and careful reading, punctuated by small periods of sheer terror when danger approaches.
Read the rest here.
The Dog Stars is one of those books that seems ubiquitous. I spent the better part of last year passing it on bookstore tables, seeing it pop up on recommendation lists and idly ruminating on its contents. What could this slim novel possibly be about. Astronomy? Air travel? Flying puppies?
Well last week I got my answer. After a series of emphatic text messages from a friend—”dog stars is really good. really really good”—I decided to take a breather from my delightfully compelling (but extremely dense) NSA-related nonfiction and dive into TDS. As it turns out, the novel is about—natch—the apocalypse.
Well here we are. One Cannonball down, one to go. I really wanted to love the book that got me to this milestone. But, well, let’s just say I didn’t.
I’ve always enjoyed a good post-apocalyptic novel, be it zombie, alien, or, as in The Dog Stars, a super flu that has wiped out 99% of the population. What stands out in the debut novel by Peter Heller, is a world filled with both the ugliness of human behavior almost in contrast with immense beauty of the landscape, as seen from the main character’s old Cessna. And in the end, this is a novel filled with a cautious hope and optimism, that just maybe love and compassion can survive.
Hig lost his wife to the flu, some 9 years prior to the events that start the novel. He lives in a small airport hangar, defending his little slice of life along with a cantankerous, often scary partner named Bagley, as well as his best friend and dog. A deep sadness permeates Hig’s inner thoughts, but he also finds some contentment while scouting the countryside from the sky, as well as fishing and hunting the land, with his faithful canine companion.
A chance transmission received from a city past the point of no-return (the point at which there would not be enough fuel to fly home) sticks with Hig. And after thinking and waiting (and killing, in defense) for 3 years, events bring Hig to set out and explore. What results is…well, read it for yourself. The prose has a unique beat of its own, poetic even, with a hint of Hemingway thrown in. There are so many post-apocalyptic stories and novels out there, it’s hard to find an original way to tell the story of humanity’s continued survival anymore. But Heller brings an optimism to a theme that is often quite the opposite.