Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
The pitch: It's nine years after a superflu has wiped out most of North America. Higg, one of the few survivors, has holed up in an airport in Colorado, where he maintains an 80-year-old Cessna (the book seems to take place in the mid-2030s). His only companions are a dog named Jasper and a heavily-armed misanthrope called Bangley, who's very skilled at shooting armed visitors before they realize what's going on (problem is, nearly everyone still alive in this world is armed in some way). Higg spends his days fishing and hunting with Jasper, the more emotionally available of his two friends, and flying perimeter patrols, during which he tries to warn away less-hostile-seeming visitors and occasionally drops in on a colony of Mennonites, who are all infected with some flu-related wasting disease.
Not surprisingly, Higg feels a bit lonely and yearns for something more than just surviving, while Bangley seems content to be left alone and views all other people as threats, as he does Higg's social and humanitarian urges. And to be fair, many of those who come calling do seem to have predatory intentions. Yet, Higg is unable to forget a voice he heard on his radio while flying, and wonders who it was.
For its first half, except for several bursts of hair-rising violence, this is a slow, quiet book, focused on its protagonist's feelings, memories, and existential doubts. There's stuff that anyone who's been through a traumatic experience involving the death of loved ones can relate to, and thoughts on how we create meaning by inventing small challenges for ourselves. Around the midway point of the novel, something happens that increases Higg's desire for contact, and he sets off in search of it, risks be damned. It's not much of a reveal to say that he finds other people, but after nine years of near solitude, he's somewhat forgotten how to relate to others and must relearn.
The book's emotional tone is somewhat uneven and Heller can't seem to make up his mind whether people should act like the brutal gangs in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, or show an urge to cooperate and connect. While I'm sure that people like the former would exist after a devastating population collapse, I think there's a middle path between a policy of blowing the head off every stranger one sees and one of being victimized. I imagine that many others would have an inclination to reconnect, rebuild, and repopulate, especially after nine years. So, I wasn't convinced about some of the human drama here, especially not by some characters we meet near the end, whose motives seemed nonsensical. And a significant relationship that develops between Higg and another character felt like it was missing some weight.
Still, I enjoyed this book and its meditations on aloneness of various kinds (I listened to a few chapters while XC skiing by myself in the woods, and it completely fit my mood). All in all, it's not hard to see The Dog Stars becoming one of those movies where there are long, dialogue-free stretches of simple action and landscape shots, accompanied only by swells of ambient music, and the weight of human solitude becomes felt.
This might be one of those novels that works better in audiobook. Higgs often expresses himself in abbreviated sentences that I suspect might give some people trouble with the text, but they worked well in spoken form, not unlike listening to a somewhat rambling friend.
I think you'll enjoy this if for nothing else than nodding at the sense of freedom Peter Heller gets from flying. He discusses the Nearest button on the GPS he's got in his 1956 Cessna 182. I'm glad I listened to this book. The print version apparently has unconventional punctuation etc. One star off since I feel, some weeks after finsihing, that the bigger picture in the end is a little off the mark.
More than a survival story. Thought provoking themes of loss, love, and meaning and purpose in living. About friendships & trust. Glad there were not any zombies.
I started reading this book several years ago when it was released. I didn't finish it before starting a new job and have spent years wondering what happened to Hig and if he found what he was seeking.
I finally decided to stop wondering and download it here. I usually listen on my commute or while doing chores. This book is so enchanting I found myself sitting down in the middle of a project so I could focus on the story.
Hig is a fantastic character. He's manly, but not hard. You wouldn't exactly call him a wimp, but he and his dog, Jasper, are unlikely survivors of an apocalypse. At least Hig managed to keep himself alive long enough to team up with a fanatic that makes Clint Eastwood look like a sissy. Bangley is a GREAT character. He's mean, hard, insane, and by the time Hig left for his big adventure I completely loved him.
Hig survived the flu that wiped out most of the world, but he didn't get out unscathed. He lost his pregnant wife and the fever altered his brain function though his intelligence in intact. Hig's narration. of the story is broken and sometimes travels in weird patterns as a result. As the book progresses, this is less noticeable though. Does Hig change that much or does the reader become accustomed to the strange thought pattern? It's hard to say.
This is a fantastic story of humanity. I laughed, I cried, and I'll be thinking about the story for days.
The Dog Stars was the best book I have read in a long time. A story of loss, rebirth, and growth set in a post apocalyptic world. The author made me feel it all. The loss was painful, the rebirth was confusing and scary, and the growth was sweet and heart warming. I admired the hero who was vulnerable yet strong and innocent yet wise. I was sad to say goodbye to this character at the end of the story.
I lived inside this story for days, relishing every word, character and image. It was a shock when the voice went silent. And for once, I felt like saying: Yes, thank you, Audible - I did enjoy this program.
If you enjoy excellent writing and the post-apocalyptic genre, this is a must. I didn't have terribly high expectations, but if I did, this book would have exceeded them. The best book I've listened to since Cutting for Stone, and I listen to a LOT of books (I have to do the "buy 3 credits now" before my credits come in each month) . The prose, with absolutely excellent narration, felt to my ears like melted butter on homemade muffins feels to my mouth. I devoured it. I adore being read to sleep, but this book could cure narcolepsy. I listened though sleep, while driving and was completely distracted from work.
Told as a single narrative, The Dog Stars is an intriguing story which grabs and pulls you in. A great story, expertly told.
There is no Frigate like a Book To take us Lands away Nor any Coursers like a Page Of prancing Poetry – Emily Dickinson
I loved the writing in The Dog Stars! The author did such a great job of evoking the main character’s personality. Hig was a combination of an outdoorsman and “man’s man,” and then also a poet and philosopher. He was sensitive and often compassionate; I really loved his character.
The Dog Stars reminded me of “The Little Prince” in which the narrator flies around the world in his airplane, is stranded in the desert, and meets the little prince who expounds on the beauties and also the frailties of the world. Like The Little Prince, The Dog Stars presents a lesson about life. This famous line from The Little Prince is really the theme of that book: "One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye." In the Dog Stars, it seems like the apocalypse has made Hig’s past life “invisible, “ and somehow allowed him to live more in the present, appreciating every small beauty, like the little prince said! Hig is has a poetic nature anyway, and so his observations throughout the book are poignant and touching.
At the end of The Little Prince, the prince tells the narrator that when he leaves it will make the narrator sad, but it will be consoling to look at the stars and think of the prince's lovable laughter, and that it will seem as if all the stars are laughing. It seems like Hig uses the stars in this way, as a sort of consolation, and that the name of the book refers to the nostalgia and beauty in the memories of all the stars he has named that console him in his current, post apocalyptic life.
The Dog Stars is the type of sci-fi that I like. I think you could call this science fiction in that it takes one aspect of the world today and fictionalizes it, but still lets all the characters interact in totally realistic way, and the lessons learned apply to us today in the real world. All the ruminations that Hig dished out over the course of the book seemed to be useful not only in a post apocalyptic world, but also in our modern day world.
I loved Hig’s relationship with Bingley. They are forced together, and they both learn from each other. The evolution of Bingley’s character is interesting and heartwarming.
but still well worth a listen. What would the world be like after a pandemic? What would you miss? How would your values change? Even though this book is set in a depressing scenario, it is not necessarily depressing. It looks at how one man copes over the long haul. Worth the credit.