The Dog Stars

Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars is a strange book in the sense that it has absolutely no right to be as good as it is. Not taking anything away from Peter Heller, the man is an accomplished non-fiction writer with countless best sellers. It’s just the fact that this is his first foray into the fiction realm is somewhat surprising. He crafts a well paced, interesting and fresh novel that exists in a genre that has been done to death.

9 years after the combination of a super-flu virus and a deadly blood disease wiped out a good chunk of humanity, we’re thrust into the lives of Hig and Bangley, two survivors. Spending their time living in an old abandoned airport, they’re constantly fortifying their territory with extensive security measures. When not wrapped up in that, Hig often takes to the sky in an old 50s airplane he has dubbed “The Beast”, visiting nearby communities and bringing aid to the sick.

Content to just stick to his new home and take out any intruders, Bangley lets Hig go off on these R & R trips with his dog, Jasper. Following an unexpected transmission received approximately 3 years prior, Hig often considers flying to its source.

Will Hig eventually seek out the voice on the other end and if so, will the journey be worth it?

Heller’s prose was a little difficult to adjust to at first. I’ve only read a few authors that have ditched the ever reliable quotation mark (Cormac McCarthy and James Frey) and it never really sits well with me when I’m first diving into a novel. It’s not that I have a hard time reading it, I just prefer when I can clearly separate dialogue in my head.

His protagonist, Hig, is quite the sympathetic character and Heller doesn’t really waste a whole lot of time in pulling at your heartstrings. When the outbreak happened, with the exception of his dog Jasper, Hig lost everything. While there are a few scenes of inner dialogue that really drive home just how lonely and depressed this man is, it never seems sappy or cliche, which is a plus.

His only friend, and Hig really wonders at times if they really are friends, is pretty much the exact opposite. While Hig shows empathy for families living outside their compound, Bangley would sooner kill them off. A tough, self-proclaimed gun nut, Bangley represents an alternative to Hig’s peaceful ways – a good reason why the duo is still alive after all this time.

It may have something to do with the fact that I’m currently making my way through Firefly but I kept envisioning Bangley as portrayed by Adam Baldwin and Hig as Nathan Fillion. Both seem to fit the bill nicely but it may have something to do with this scene.

I really enjoyed this novel. While it’s not perfect, Heller shows some promise for a first time novelist. I’m interested to see what he has planned next.

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