The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars

Book - 2012
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"Leave it to Peter Heller to imagine a postapocalyptic world that contains as much loveliness as it does devastation. His hero, Hig, flies a 1956 Cessna (his dog as copilot) around what was once Colorado, chasing all the same things we chase in these pre-annihilation days: love, friendship, the solace of the natural world, and the chance to perform some small kindness. The Dog Stars is a wholly compelling and deeply engaging debut." --Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss--and what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life--something like his old life--exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return--not enough fuel to get him home--following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face--in the people he meets, and in himself--is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, 2012.
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780307959942
Branch Call Number: FIC HELL
Characteristics: 319 pages ; 22 cm


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Oct 13, 2018

Other readers have a LOT to say. There is not too much that I can add to those wonderful appraisals. I have not enjoyed a book this much in a long time. It is very different than most apocalyptic books. This is the story of the human spirit, 9 years after the decimation of most of the world's population. When you lose the very last of those you love, what do you do?

Jan 27, 2018

Interesting that I saw others say they enjoyed the first 200 pages or so - that part of the book was, to me, a slow slog that could have easily been half its length. It boils down to a cycle of 1) something bad happens, 2) main character goes fishing, 3) hikes/hunts, and then 4) a little progress is made talking to half-friend half-protector Bangley. Rinse and repeat.
I can see why the author would chose to do this. It's in line with the theme of the book. When is life worth living? How can you move on from trauma - do you really? But I personally found this section stretched thin.
The last third of the book takes a much different pace. After reading about the main character's routine for so long, this change is more strongly felt.

May 10, 2017

The author fluidly assesses the intrinsic worth of a person's life and the accompanying notion of when is living worthwhile. The Dog Stars reads as an individual's (Hig's) daily profit and loss ledger statement, presented in the form of a forensically detailed, introspectively interlaced, play-by-play. Heller engenders a melancholy atmosphere, subtly pervaded by a continual sense of chance, possibility, and at times, inevitability. Post apocalypse scenarios are difficult situations for sustaining credibility vis-à-vis a typically normal, average existence. Heller succeeds by setting up and maintaining an austere, matter of fact, framework throughout.

IanH_KCMO Oct 04, 2016

A heartbreaking post-apocalyptic novel written by a poet. No seriously! Poet and adventurer! And it's easily the most beautiful prose I have read in a long, long time. The voice Heller installs in his protagonist Hig is one of a man with pretty much one thing keeping him together nearly 10 years after a pandemic wiped out almost everyone. He lives with his dog and a borderline sociopathic gun nut at a small Colorado airport near the mountains fending off marauders and waiting for the moment his "neighbor" realizes Hig is obsolete. Not pulling his weight despite his airborn reconnaissance missions. And then something happens that causes Hig's whole life to become unglued because of course it does. That's what makes this such an excellent human sort of experience. It's like Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" in re the lyricism of the prose and the no-man's-land the Earth's survivors create in the absence of a structured society. But where McCarthy's worldview was a bleak one of a father trying to get his son to safety via overcoming horror after horror in the future world, Heller's novel is full of hope and pinpoints the small pleasures that emerge after everything you love has been taken away. It's about a broken man attempting to fix himself. Then again, I'm just a total sucker for guy-and-his-dog stories.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 04, 2016

If Hemingway had written a post-apocalyptic novel, I think it would’ve looked very similar to The Dog Stars. Our protagonist, Hig, is built from the same mold as Nick Adams. He likes the outdoors, fishing, and life. That last one is important because, keep in mind, this is a very, very dark world. It bears great similarity to the world of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

Oct 13, 2015

This is another nail biter with no explanation of what the horror is...
Great characters and an ending which could well be continued in a sequel, to fill in the back story and extrapolate into the future. I like how the author goes back and forth in time, connecting threads at the end.

May 14, 2015

Oh boy, where do I begin?

The first 200 pages of this book were very interesting. Heller does a great job describing the places he imagines. I could really feel myself in this foggy and mountainous Coloradan forest with a redneck (which I inexplicably imagined as Trevor from GTA5 with a big bushy beard) and a dog (perhaps a Jack Russell? I know the breed is mentioned, but I don't usually really care about the specifics. I prefer using my imagination). It made me want to listen to some Bob Dylan for some reason. Anyways, everything is totally fine by me until I realized the early story has no plot. Higs embarks on a couple of adventures, but comes back after a while like nothing happened. Also, why does everything have to be so dark? Gosh, it's a miracle he never tried to deliberately crash his plane into a cliff. Nevertheless, if the book had been only 200 pages long, I would not have had a problem giving it 4-5 stars.

But these last 120 pages. Oh dear, these last 120 pages. Pure torture to read through these last 120 pages. The fact that I actually finished this book is unfathomable to me. Heller tries (and fails) to make us like Cima and Pops. How could he fail so drastically when Jasper and Bangley were such lovable characters? These last pages are confusing as hell (made worst by the fact that narrative text and dialogue are the same. No quotations mark, nothing!). I still have no idea who the antagonist is, though it is made pretty obvious (or is it?) that something came down in the end. The end is cheesy at the very best. You don't have to read them; since there is no plot in the 200 pages worth reading, why should you put yourself through all of this?

I loved reading the beginning of the Dog Stars, but I swear to God I'm never picking it up again.

May 10, 2015

Pretend I repeated all the other laurels cast on this tome by other commenters. And this: it's refreshing to encounter a book in which the character who's supposed to be a pilot actually knows about piloting an aircraft, about flying, about the specific airplane he's supposed to fly. The book was a good read, only a little distracting by the unconventional dialogue handling. No preoccupation with blood and guts, no dripping romance nor sentimentality. A worthy read.

Sep 30, 2014

The doomsday narrative is a tired one. Pick your poison on how the world ends: asteroids, killer viruses, alien invasion, zombies. All have their day in the world of fiction, not to mention in movies and television shows. I wasn't really sure what to expect from Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, except that it was different. In The Dog Stars, it's an epidemic that decimates the world, killing off 99 percent or so of the human population. Nothing special there. But wait.

It's a luminous world Heller paints. It is the end of times and yet the end is rich and full of beauty and grace. Heller is a nature/environmental writer and his descriptions of the natural world are evocative. Example: "[The moss] is dry and light to the touch, almost crumbly, but in the trees it moves like sad pennants." It's almost as if a world purged of humans is actually a purer, more beautiful one. As Bangley says, "We are like kings. It took the end of the world."

But don't assume this book is just a collection of sensitive ruminations about loss and survival. There is plenty of combat and violence, too—the gun-toting and club-wielding kind from raiders and wandering gangs of pillaging, raping brutes that regularly assail Higs and Bangley. The latter half of the book has a few battles/showdowns that are breathtaking. Oh yeah, Higs is also a pilot. His trips in his Cessna produce some of the most devastatingly beautify commentary on the world. Bird's eye view, searching, ever searching. The book's narrative arc is really about Higs looking for and finding others—and the cost of that.

For all intents and purposes, the world has ended. It's a testament to Heller's writing that he can give us a post-apocalyptic story that is so beautifully rendered. If you don't like fragmented writing, this may be hard to get through, but I say let the rhythm wash over you. This odd style is used to mimic our narrator's thoughts and the fractured state of the world to great effect.

Jul 25, 2014

If you are in to those 'end of days' kind of novels (think The Road) then you'll probably enjoy this book. My full review can be found here:

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