The Dog Stars


Peter Heller




Date Reviewed:

September 2, 2020

he Dog Stars is a post-apocalyptic novel - at some point in the near future, about 99.9% of humanity has perished due a virulent flu and a subsequent plague of a mysterious blood disease. Also, global warming is increasing, and animals are vanishing - the water is too warm for trout, there are no migrating geese, etc. This is a story of one man's struggle for survival, all the anguish that he has suffered, and the dangers he continues to face. The one man is named Hig, who lives with his dog Jasper in Montana(?) and farms and hunts. The story is told in first person, the prose style seems to be a stream of consciousness style. Or maybe it meant to be poetry? The result is incomplete sentences, brief paragraphs, no quote marks. Here's an example:

I told him I used to build houses.

What kind of houses?

Timber frame. Adobe. Odd custom stuff. Wrote a book too.

A book on building houses.

No. A little book. Poetry. Nobody read it.

I think Peter Heller was trying to be poetic when he choose this writing style. I'm not a big fan of the style. Incomplete sentences. A mood. Setting a tone. The story is compelling, but the writing irked me, which is why The Dog Stars got a four star rating instead of five.

Hig flys a Cessna. He lives near a small airport. Periodically, he takes his plane up and flies around the perimeter of his home, looking for intruders. Almost never is there any sign of humanity, it has been nine years since the collapse of civilization. The landscape is reverting to wilderness, there aren't any farms, nor towns. The roads are crumbling, everything is falling to ruins. Once in a while, if Hig spots someone on the road, he will fly low and broadcast a "turn back" message.

Hig has a neighbor, Bangley, who is a gun nut. Bangley lives in a house near Hig's airport, where he has set up with a sniper tower. Bangley has all kinds of armaments - rifles, scopes, night vision goggles, and the machines to make more weapons. Bangley even has grenades and mortars. Whenever intruders threaten, Bangley's expert shooting skills can knock them off before they know what hit them.

Bangley's skills come in handy, because it seems marauders are still prowling the landscape - which, once I thought about it - seems pretty unlikely. The landscape is barren of other humans, if these bands of raiders live off of looting the remaining households, then there won't be much to live on. It is at least hundred miles between Hig's airport and any sign of other civilization. Think of how hard it would be to march 100 miles, without even knowing if there is anything remaining to attack? It has been nine years since the collapse, that is a long time to wander around looking for homesteads to attack. It also seemed strange to me that the remaining humans didn't band together to try and remake a mini-civilization - survival would be so much easier with a group, rather than doing everything yourself (what if you are sick?).

The invaders provide much of the drama in the novel, as they attack Hig and the airport. There are some brutal scenes in this novel. Survival of the fittest. It is an emotional novel, Hig recalls his family and their cruel fate when everything fell apart. All the characters have tragedy in their background, how could they not, when 99% of humans are dead?

A couple of points puzzled me: Why doesn't Cima walk with Pops out to the highway to lighten load of plane taking off from the short runway? Why don't Pops and Cima each carry a lamb? This seemed so obvious to me that is puzzled me that Cima and the lambs were on the plane at takeoff - adding an unnecessary 200 lbs.

Nor did I understand what the people at Grand Junction were doing. Really - that was their gig for nine years? When was the last time they had any payoff?

What was the point of mentioning the Arabs and jets at the end of the novel?? Was that a sign of hope? A setup for a sequel?

This was a pretty good novel. It is a quick read, I might read more of Heller. Perhaps his writing style is different in his other books. I see he has a best seller called The River, and another called The Painter. I might pick one of those up.