Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars proves that even in the midst of an apocalypse love can conquer all. Oprah picked it as a book of the month for its literary quality. However, it does contain gratuitous gruesome violence. It’s a world in which women don’t do well, and yet the protagonist Hig finds love and consensual sex.
Civilization has crashed. Two diseases have wrecked society. The first killed off most of the people, and the second gave most of the remaining people a wasting disease. Add global warming to the mix, and the world’s been smacked with a disaster trifecta. Despite all the problems, some people recovered from the first disease and never caught the second.
It’s been nine years, and Hig wants something more out of life. He’s tired of the kill or be killed post-apocalyptic macho world. He feels there has to be more to life than simply surviving. He feels empty and unfulfilled.
Hig would have died early in the apocalypse if not for the efforts of Bruce Bangley. He is the epitome of tough guy that can pop a zit on a bug’s butt a mile away with a sniper rifle. Bangley is equivalent to survivalist extraordinaire Burt Gummer in Tremors. Here is an example of how Hig describes Bangley
“…he knew guns, knew how to modify them, improve them, and he could build one from the ground up, from pipe and old flatware.”
The two are opposite extremes. Bangley is capable of doing the unthinkable. He is the uncivilized one. He enjoys the challenge of survival. Hig does what he must to survive, but he is more philosophical. The two personalities balance each other throughout the story.
In between the hostile actions, Hig takes trips to provide provisions and hunt for meat. These side trips allow Heller to write poetically, and give the reader a chance to learn more about Hig’s soft side.
Hig likes to fish. Before the disaster, he was an experienced trout fisherman. However, global warming has killed off the trout, leaving only carp to stock the fry pan. Here is Heller describing a fishing scene.
“A lake like a gem set in a bezel of tufted tundra and rough scree, the water green with luminous unapologetic green of a semiprecious stone but textured with the wind. Then it wasn’t.”
Almost makes you want to be fishing with Hig except the trout are gone.
Hig’s life has become routine. Kill some people. Go fishing. Kill some people. Tend the garden. Kill some people. Go find some Pepsi, and kill some people. He’s bored. By the way he also has an airplane and an unlimited supply of fuel. He decides to go on a vacation to the west coast and leave Bruce behind. While flying over the Rockies he spots a ranch in a box canyon, and it has a beautiful woman, Cima. It’s been nine years; beautiful can be used loosely in this case.
He lands the airplane. He proves himself worthy to her father, who happens to be an Army Ranger. Cima and Hig have sex. They kill some more people and head back to live with Bruce. They live happily ever after until the Arabs come.
The story has many strange parts that don’t fit. The most bizarre aspect of the story is the Arabs. They fly in and out of the story in fighter jets. They don’t participate in the story; they are just there. We’re told they must have been immune to the disease in greater numbers, and eventually they will inherit the earth. It’s strange, very strange.
The Dog Stars tells an entertaining story, containing all the essentials for an apocalyptic thriller. It has society ending disasters, violence, sex, and romance. Heller creates tension in all the correct places, but his science has some issues. His prose exhibits a poetic flair. It is a national best seller, and Constantin Film has purchased the movie rights.
*Photo of Trout from California Department of Fish and Wildlife
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