Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Dog Stars

by Peter Heller

For Hig, a Cessna pilot living nine years after a devastating flu outbreak, full sentences haven't survived the end of the world. He is a survivor, but a broken one. Global warming and plague have killed off many things, including the trout he loved to fish and his wife and family. So Hig flies his Cessna to search for food with his dog Jasper, whilst a trigger-happy misanthropist called Bangley keeps watch for invading outlaws to keep them all safe.

Bangley is the only other person for eight miles, and although they often save each other's lives Hig has a hard time thinking of Bangley as his friend. Bangley is all too ready to shoot first and skip asking questions, whilst Hig prefers to give people the benefit of the doubt. In this brutal post-apocalyptic world Hig's reluctance to kill comes close to being a fatal flaw a few times.

The stream of consciousness narration skips from past to present, sometimes confusingly. Hig has a great deal of time to consider his situation, including his lost love, and to wonder whether Bangley thinks of Hig as needed, expendable, or even likeable. The broken narrative can be annoying. Bangley's bleak, practical outlook is depressing, and to begin with there are no signs that the story will be in the least bit life-affirming. Hig's narration is poetic, stilted, and heavy, and his lethargic manner matches his words as the effect of grief shows in the way he tells his story as well as through his actions.

However, the Cessna is running out of fuel, and one day Hig picks up a voice on the radio. He has a chance to change his fate, so he sets off on a risky journey into the unknown in the hope of finding someone else alive. He desperately wants to make a connection, and he's willing to take a risk to do so.

This story is very introspective and literary. Hig's unique narration gets less disjointed as it progresses, but it's still odd. There are no speech marks at all, and therefore it can sometimes be hard to figure out who is talking or if the narration is of the past or present. Yet Hig is sympathetic. He's a dreamer and a poet, and his story is both warm and interesting.

The pessimism and literary style of The Dog Stars are two qualities that would normally have me reaching for the next book on my pile. However, it always has enough going on that the pace isn't sluggish, and the characters have enough contrast, realism, and gentle humour that I wanted to keep reading about them, even the apparently cold-hearted Bangley. This is an emotional novel exploring grief, love, and hope, and it does so with depth and perception.

28th May 2017

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

  Science fiction
  Male Protagonist  

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Source: review copy