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Publisher's Summary

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.

©2012 Peter Heller (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Richly evocative yet streamlined journal entries propel the high-stakes plot while simultaneously illuminating Hig's nuanced states of mind as isolation and constant vigilance exact their toll, along with his sorrow for the dying world.... Heller's surprising and irresistible blend of suspense, romance, social insight, and humor creates a cunning form of cognitive dissonance neatly pegged by Hig as an apocalyptic parody of Norman Rockwell...a novel, that is, of spiky pleasure and signal resonance." ( Booklist)
"In the tradition of postapocalyptic literary fiction such as Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Jim Crace's The Pesthouse, this hypervisceral first novel by adventure writer Heller ( Kook) takes place nine years after a superflu has killed off much of mankind.... With its evocative descriptions of hunting, fishing, and flying, this novel, perhaps the world's most poetic survival guide, reads as if Billy Collins had novelized one of George Romero's zombie flicks. From start to finish, Heller carries the reader aloft on graceful prose, intense action, and deeply felt emotion." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Leave it to Peter Heller to imagine a post-apocalyptic world that contains as much loveliness as it does devastation. His likable hero, Hig, flies around what was once Colorado in his 1956 Cessna, chasing all the same things we chase in these pre-annihilation days: love, friendship, the solace of the natural world, the chance to perform some small kindness, and a good dog for a co-pilot. The Dog Stars is a wholly compelling and deeply engaging debut." (Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted)

What members say

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  • Doug
  • Elizabethtown, IN, United States
  • 08-17-12

Stars Shine Bright

My reading list includes very few stories with post-apocalyptic settings. I have high regard for "On the Beach" and "Alas Babylon" but those were of another era. I wasn't sure I would enjoy "The Dog Stars." It was almost an impulse purchase.
I was very pleased with my purchase. Peter Heller has written a very well rounded novel. The overall melancholy and the episodes of violent encounters were there, as I expected, but it was the description of introspective thoughts and emotions which made the novel stand out for me.
Heller does an excellent job of introducing story threads into the novel and then following and expanding them with great attention to details and overall pacing of the tale. Nothing gets shoved into a corner or suddenly dropped in the next chapter.
Heller's writing of Hig's relationship with his dog Jasper touched me most of all, and a man's love for his dog is something that's as timeless as the constellations in the sky.

24 of 27 people found this review helpful

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beautifully written and narrated!

What other book might you compare The Dog Stars to and why?

call me crazy, but i'd compare the beauty of the story to hemingway's the sun also rises.

What about Mark Deakins’s performance did you like?

the narration is spectacular! the narrator has a warm voice and is easy to listen to. his voice and reading add a haunting beauty to the story. his voices for higg and bangley are unique and match each character's disposition.

Any additional comments?

don't let the weird name of the book throw you off! the dog's stars is a beautifully written and narrated story! if you're a fan of dystopian stories, then this is a must listen!

the story is told in the first person by higg. he lives at an old country airport a few miles from the mountains. his only neighbor is bangley, a gruff survivalist. they are like an old married couple. there are very tense moments and some very funny moments. they are constantly sparring. higg is a free spirit while bangley is a stickler about following rules and protocols. together, they monitor the 8 square miles surrounding the airport.

higg flies his cessna around the property, looking for threats as bangley monitors the grounds from his sniper position. higg is the eyes, and bangley is the muscle.

i love dogs, and i love a good story about a dog. higg has a dog named jasper, who is a character in his own right. the author did an excellent job weaving the companionship and loyalty a dog can provide and display into this story.

i give this audio book my highest recommendation! there is only one caveat to this story- how and when you listen to it. you will probably want to listen to this when you have the time to devote your full attention to it. trust me, it is well worth it!

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Craig
  • Seattle, WA, United States
  • 08-14-12

The End is Merely a Beginning

This first person apocalyptic narrative is sometimes hard for listeners/readers to stomach. I understand that. However, The Dog Stars overcomes all the pitfalls of broody end-of-days pessimism by engaging the listener in a myriad of believable and realistic scenarios that might occur should North America be devastated by a biological holocaust.

I found the main character compelling and believable due to his self-doubt, empathy, and a touch of true-to-life skills that make his survival and subsequent experiences plausible.

It is my contention that this book is worth of your credit, if for nothing else than the truly human uncertainties expressed by the protagonist. I usually found myself sympathetic with the main character, often asking the question, "Is that what I would have done?" The answer was more often than not, "Yes!"

This writer has much to offer all of us in terms of insight into our own fears and angst about a future uncertain. We all could learn much from his narrative.

32 of 38 people found this review helpful

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  • Lynn
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 09-10-12

Betting this is a better listen than a read

What made the experience of listening to The Dog Stars the most enjoyable?

I really enjoyed this audiobook. I am a fan of apocalyptic literature, and this did not disappoint. However, I think the apocalyptic scenario was more the background, against which played out themes of trust and faith in oneself and others. It delves into the basic dependence we must have on others to survive, and is very thoughtful. I think if I had read this, I would have skimmed over much of the internal dialogue the main character has with himself. I tend to do that when trying to get to the action. I am glad I listened to this book instead - I would have missed so much had I skimmed over some of those parts. Thought provoking and it stays with you. The reader was great.

13 of 15 people found this review helpful

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Absolutely Stellar!

What a debut! Heller proves, WOW, he can write; and the fact that he creates a beautiful story of regeneration and hope against the background of such a bleak dystopian world makes this debut novel altogether stunning.

Nine years have passed since a virulent flu-like pandemic annihilated 99% of the population, or *The End.* Hig is in the 1%...a gnawing fact that keeps him searching for answers. All he knows about this new world--is what is in *the perimeter*, the area he can fly over in his primo '56 Cessna he calls *Beast,* the area before the point of no return (*PNR*) or when the fuel is emptied. He lives in an abandon subdivision, choosing to sleep under the stars (to avoid being attacked and trapped in a shelter) with his aging, much loved, cannine companion, Jasper, and his memories--memories he'd like to forget. Also in the perimeter is co-survivor, Bangley, an ornry old gun-packing survivalist/misanthrope, and a neighboring colony of friendly, but blood-sick, Mennonites. Together, Hig, Jasper, and Bangley have survived a day-to-day existence of loneliness and *necessary violence,* more like *an old married couple* than friends.They know that together is their only chance of survival, and that outside of the perimeter is certain death. The marauders are fellow survivors--what you would expect to crawl out if you threw humankind into a fighting pit--not rabid infected changelings or zombies, but brutal savage men -- this is a more believable apocalyptic world. Daily, Hig flys recon with Jasper perched in the co-pilot's seat on a stack of heirloom quilts..."The whole time I fly I talk to him, and it amuses me to no end that the whole time he pretends not to listen." Then one day he hears a voice over the radio transmitter that ignites in him another question...what is beyond the perimeter. The Dog Stars is the story of Hig's journey, both concretely and existentially.

Though Dog Stars is his debut, Heller is a gifted writer and story-teller. His style is choppy and blunt, but absolutely precise, and adds to the sense of an abbreviated world. Throughout, the book is powerfully emotional, you'll laugh and you'll cry (maybe even blubber like a baby...just saying) and I doubt you'll ever forget. Heller just intuitively knows how to connect with all the facets of the human spirit. Dog Stars is rich with prose that are at once beautifully intimate and simple, and as profound and gut wrenching as the post-apocalyptic setting. It speaks straight to your soul. Heller's descriptions of nature are breathtakingly beautiful. Narrator Mark Deakins does a remarkable job bringing this text to life with such profundity that I found myself often in awe of simple sentences, or consummed with the loneliness, or sometimes even on the edge of a stream looking for trout, surrounded by the scent of fir trees and sounds of the forest.

"Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occurred to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains. And life was inside death, virulent and insistent as a strain of flu. How it should be."

"Is it possible to love so desperately that life is unbearable? I don't mean unrequited love, I mean being in the love. In the midst of it and desperate. Because knowing it will end, because everything does. End."

This is more a story of a sensitive man's search for meaning (apologies to Frankl) than a post-apocalyptic tale--more Alas Babylon, Earth Abides, than McCarthy's depressing gem The Road. Though Hig mostly contemplates what drives a man to live when they have lost everything but their life, he still finds humor and beauty in this world, he still appreciates the wonder of nature, the desire for human connection, the glowing light of hope. I'm not sure if the ending was abrupt or whether I just regretted any ending--possibly both. The Dog Stars is everything I hope a book will be, highly entertaining, creative, evocative, the kind of book I'd gift or pass along. I think it will appeal to almost everyone, and may even linger on to become a classic. (There is some harsh language and violence that might cross this one off some people's list, but considering the subject--relatively little.) Best book I've read in a long while, and I can't wait to see what Peter Heller does next. Just stunning.

72 of 87 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 12-05-15

Dog is my copilot

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.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Dennis
  • Fenton, Mo, United States
  • 11-07-13

Memorizing /Hypnotic

Where does The Dog Stars rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

On a very rare occasion a book and the perfect reader connect. This is one of those books.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A Lyrical Post Apocalyptic View

I am on a roll that started with The Girl With All the Gifts. This is the fourth post apocalyptic book I have read in the last 12 months. Which is 4 more than I've read in the last 20 years.

The Dog Stars covers much the same ground as Station Eleven, or I guess I should say that the other way around since The Dog Stars came out first. It was perhaps better written. Heller's MFA from the Iowa Writer's Workshop shows. He writes almost lyrically. His magazine background shows as well. The writing is tight and he doesn't use any extra words. So much so that many of his sentences are just a single word. That can be annoying when reading, but I listened to this so I did not have that problem. And the narration was wonderful.

The plot revolves around a guy's guy - a carpenter, outdoorsy Colorado guy who loves to hunt, fly his Cessna and most of all fish. His best friend is a dog and his companion is someone even more macho than Hig is. The author soften's Hig up a bit by confessing that he writes poetry and he clearly loved his wife. But Hig's response and reaction to the events occurring around him are definitely from a guy's perspective, so it was sometimes difficult for me to relate or wonder at his response.

But Heller does a wonderful job of capturing the loneliness Hig deals with constantly. It is so thick you can physically feel it. He portrays Hig's lonely existence so well, that this is the first book of this type I have read where I found myself thinking that the 99.9% of the population that died got the better end of the deal. There seemed very little in his world that encouraged him to live. Especially after he loses his best friend. The chapter retelling that loss is one of the best pieces of writing I have seen in a very long time.

There really wasn't a climactic end to the book, no resolution, no closure. I know that books in this genre can't have "happy" endings, but I always feel like I must have missed a couple of pages at the end, because the words just stop. And that is the only way you know the story is finished.

I recommend this book. Especially in audio format. It is well worth reading.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Dialogue? What's That?

My review is titled as such - instead of a hyperbolic "Ten Dog Stars out of Five" or "Brilliant Post-Apocalyptic VIsion" or some other extravagant moniker - because I love the fact that there is very little dialogue and a complex vision of the ruination of a world as we know it is accomplished with almost no conversation.

I am not a fan of dialogue. It's only in the hands of a master that such a device advances a plot or defines character. Many writers fail at it, and there are very notable exceptions, but usually it leaves me frustrated, annoyed and ultimately bored. I want description of the inner landscape, thought, meditation, confession, deep ruminations. If I want conversation I can listen to a morning talk show on my way to work, or host a dinner party. One of the main reasons I read is to find a quiet interior space that is without conversation.

So, having said that, it's evident why I love this book. The story proceeds for the most part in the thoughts and recollections of the narrator, the "I" in the story, semi stream-of-consciousness style. What dialogue does arise is well-considered, brief, economical and spare.

I have now read a few books in this genre, if you can call it that, describing the "after", when all our alleged greed and selfishness afforded by extreme prosperity destroys life on the planet as we know it.This is more of an interior meditation on that state of affairs, rather than the dark, "noir", yet humorous, vision portrayed in "Super Sad True Love Story", for example. The two main characters survive by managing and defending their limited resources in mutual co-operation, although one wonders if in any other context these two would be likely comrades or even know each other.

The only downsides to this book that I noticed are the semi-predictability of the plot resolution and the slow pace with which the first half of HIg's story proceeds. I almost put the book down several times during Part 1, and wanted to move on to another book - perhaps return to "The Dog Stars" later, or as a filler in between reads. But I am glad I stayed with this.

I also wanted to know more about the pandemic to which 99% of the world's population succumbed. How did it start? How was it passed on? Is it viral, bacterial, or something else? These questions are only partially answered but that's all okay, and I'll give the book an all-star rating anyway, "downsides" accepted as the price of admission.

Narration was perfect.

41 of 53 people found this review helpful

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Alas Babylon, On The Road, Earth Abides, The Stand

On The Beach, Deathlands, Several Twilight Zone stories, The Gunslinger, and or One Second After.
Read any of the above listed instead of this. Every writer seems to think they can write the definitive Apocalyptic few people left novel. Many of them are excellent and many are just repeats, that bring nothing new to the table. This is the same old, same old. This is probably closer to Earth Abides then any of the others. This is slow and boring. Do not think this is a Zombie book, it is not. Alas Babylon and On The Road are the best of the group.

Do not listen to all these others and waste your credit, I think they were hypnotized.

The last man on Earth was sitting in a room and there was a knock at the door.

Narrator is good.

15 of 19 people found this review helpful