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The Dog Stars

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Fiction (2012)
Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.

But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published August 7, 2012

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About the author

Peter Heller

36 books2,659 followers
There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the author of several nonfiction books, including Kook, The Whale Warriors, and Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

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5 stars
19,707 (31%)
4 stars
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3 stars
12,711 (20%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 8,137 reviews
Profile Image for karen.
3,988 reviews170k followers
October 14, 2021
hey, amazon! you watchin' all these reviews now?? making sure they are all sunshiny five-star gushings that won't hurt the authors' feelings and cost you a sale?? making sure i don't drop any naughty words?

well, i can't five-star this book, so i guess i am writing this for nothing, and it might get deleted in the "every book is a winner" mentality of your book-worldview.

but i am gonna write it anyway, in the hopes that goodreads.com can still be the place it should be - where people can have opinions about books that are about books, and not as a means to move product.

this book is fine.

fine is not a bad thing, amazon.

for me, who has read a lot of post-apoc fiction, it just seems very familiar. disaster (superflu) causes mass death, people who are left face questionable moral decisions while still yearning for community. (but, amazon, you will appreciate all the PRODUCT PLACEMENT!!! COKE!! SPRITE!! DR PEPPER!!$$$)

our hero is a pilot named hig who has a dog named jasper. they have joined forces with a typical gun-loving bigot named bangley, and with hig's aeronautical abilities and bangley's killing-proficiency, they have forged a partnership, living on an airfield, where they can feel (relatively) safe from marauders and others who would try to encroach on their territory, with its functioning garden and water supply.

and, naturally, in these troubled times, everyone left is a potential threat, and sometimes bangley kills people that hig would prefer not be killed. women. children. people just looking for shelter.

it's survival of the fittest, but it's imperfect.

and it works for a while - years - until something happens that makes hig want a change of scenery. hig is still trying to be a good man in a world that doesn't really reward the good man, but he takes his plane and goes on a journey. and whether this is man's search for meaning or a suicide attempt is totally your call.

this is probably not a huge spoiler, but i am going to spoiler-tag it anyway, for courtesy. look amazon, we has spoiler tags over here - jealous?

no, no, amazon, i wasn't talking about you, don't worry.

so, yeah. i think if i hadn't read like a ton of other, more interesting-to-me aftermath novels, i probably would have rated this higher. it has some really beautiful moments in it, and every scene with hig and jasper is just tender and sweet and only occasionally cloying. i liked large swathes of it, particularly his memories of his wife in better days.

but after all is said and done, it remains "fine" to me.

no, amazon, i would not like to buy this book, i got it from the LIBRARY!

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
August 26, 2020
“Meager as it is. Nothing to lose as I have. Nothing is something somehow.”

 photo DogStars_zps2c65e583.jpg

Hig doesn’t have much, but what he has is precious to him. He has his books of poetry. He has rivers to fish in. He has fuel to fly his plane. He has a furry co-pilot named Jasper. He has a garden. He has Bangley.

He used to have a wife. He used to have friends. He used to have the possibility of a long life full of happiness achieving all those things we are supposed to achieve.

He wasn’t supposed to be old at forty.

They say it was a weapons grade flu that got loose from a lab in England. Of course, they blamed it on India. The same way we call stickers in Kansas Texas Sandburs. If it ain’t good it had to come from somewhere else.

Nobody wants to be responsible for an apocalypse especially one that kills 99.6% of the population.

Hig doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would survive the apocalypse, not because he doesn’t have skills or value, but because at his core he is a helluva nice guy. Too nice to do what needs to be done to stay alive.

Like kill people.

Bangley is a man who loves his guns and incendiary devices. The end of the world was a horror story for most people, but for Bangley it meant he could finally blossom into the man he always wanted to be. Don’t be fooled though, he has regrets as well.

They live up near the mountains. Hig lives in an old airplane hangar and Bangley lives in a house up on the hill with a good view of “the kill zone”. The house in front of the hanger is the bait. The place that people looking to score food, and weapons will attack first. They even leave an old dumpster out front to provide the attackers with a place to hide which actually just bunches them up so Bangley can pick them off like yellow ducks at a county fair.

Hig and Bangley disagree on tactics.

”Still we are divided, there are cracks in the union. Over principle. His: Guilty until--until nothing. Shoot first ask later. Guilty, then dead. Versus what? Mine: Let a visitor live a minute longer until they prove themselves to be human? Because they always do. What Bangley said in the beginning: Never ever negotiate. You are negotiating your own death.

What keeps them alive is their differences. It is one of those strange alliances that maybe doesn’t make sense when drawn out on a blueprint. Half the time they aren’t even sure they like each other, but the fact of the matter is Bangley is the relative you can’t hardly stand to break bread with, but you still... love... the stubborn SOB.

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Dogs are really something else. They are the only animal on the planet that absolutely loves humanity. They are loyal. They understand the hierarchy and consider their owner their King/Queen. They will kill and they will die for a human being.

I grew up with a pack of farmhouse mutts, but there is one dog that is a ghost in all my memories. He was part pointer and part who knows what. He was never trained as a bird dog, but he still would assume the stance of his ancestry whenever he would run across a quail or a pheasant. He was a lover, as many of our neighbors for miles around would remind us when they found themselves saddled with a bunch of black and white puppies. He had a groove along the top of his back where someone had shot him with a rifle. One time I found him on the edge of our property bloodied from a shotgun blast. I hauled him back in my red wagon to the house bawling my eyes out.

He recovered, scarred, but undeterred.

My best memory of Spot/Putz (He never was formally named, but should have had the name of a gladiator. Putz was short for puppy.) was one time when I was somewhere around ten. I was playing in the yard which was the size of a football field. Farm machinery surrounded the outer edges, but my dad had always kept the center open so he could hit my brother and I pop flies in the evening. Across the street lived this gigantic German Shepherd (I’m sure he was a normal sized shepherd, but when one is 10 years old a dog like that looks like ⅓ of Cererbus.) He was meaner than chicken shit (Not sure why we say that, but I will say that I have never fallen harder than the time I fell liberating eggs from a coop on a chicken shit slick floor.).

This German Shepherd saw me out in the yard and came racing across the street at me. I was caught in no man’s land. I was too far from any of the equipment to climb to safety or to get to the line of trees and lilac hedges that surrounded the house to hide.

I was about to become dog chow.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw this black and white blur. Putz was streaking from the line of hedges and he exploded through the Shepherd. I remember the meaty impact as he sent his chest through the legs of the Shepherd. The Shepherd cartwheeled into the air and landed on his side. Putz took off running for the hedge. I ran for a Combine (threshing machine for those not familiar with farm equipment terms).

A few days later Putz was chained in the yard for one of his many transgressions up in town. The Shepherd came to see him with a couple of Labs he liked to hang out with. He didn’t come by himself because he was a yellow bellied %*@^! The fight was a brawl, cage fighting at its worst. My Dad had to fire off a shotgun in the air to get the encroachers to leave, tails between their legs, limping.

So when Jasper dies, I understand how Hig felt. Jasper doesn’t get to go down fighting like a Valhalla inspired dream. He just passes in the night...from old age.

“You can't metabolize the loss. It is in the cells of your face, your chest, behind the eyes, in the twists of your gut. Muscle, sinew, bone. It is all of you. When you walk you propel it forward....Then it sits with you. The pain puts its arm over your shoulders. It is your closest friend, steadfast. And at night you can't bear to hear your own breath, unaccompanied by another. And underneath the big stillness like a score, is the roaring of the cataract of everything being and being torn away. Then, the pain is lying beside your side, close. Does not bother you with the sound even of breathing.”

We all have to have reasons for getting out of bed in the morning. Hig’s universe had shrunk down to the space that Jasper occupied. When he died the Dog Stars stopped orbiting. There was only one solution. Hig needed to expand out his universe beyond just the continued day to day survival with Bangley. If he had been in Australia he would have went on a walkabout, but since he was a pilot with a 1956 Cessna at his disposal he went on a flyabout.

The rest of the story can only be found between the pages of Peter Heller’s book. Although I would like to mention that the flutter a man feels at seeing a woman’s shape, those hips, the way they walk, even at a hundred yards brings out the pointer pup in all of us. :-)

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There is nothing that adds to my own enjoyment more than someone telling me how much they loved a book. Thank you Gloria! Your words expressing your joy for this book certainly enhanced my own. I also want to dedicate this review to a black and white mutt named Putz who gave me my first lessons in courage, boldness, and squeezing every drop out of life. I’ve been on a bit of an apocalyptic reading binge of late. For those that have followed me for a while you well know these binges do happen from time to time. I am not depressed as a worried friend recently asked me. I find well written apocalyptic novels strangely uplifting.

***4.25 stars out of 5***

The Menagerie of Apocalyptic Reviews.

On the Beach by Nevile Shute

No Blade of Grass by John Christopher

Earth Abides by George R. Stewart

The Reapers are the Angels by Alden Bell

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Penny.
1,026 reviews4 followers
July 20, 2016
One star for this, only because I couldn't finish it. The writing style of this book drove me bat-shit crazy. In addition to no quotation marks AT ALL, here are a few examples of sentence composition.

"For the dog he said. Angry. Because I didn't do my job. To him."


"The way the landscape falls into place around the drainages, the capillaries and arteries of falling water: mountain slopes bunched and wrinkled, wringing themselves into furrows or couloir and creek, draw and chasm, the low places defining the spurs and ridges and foothills the way creases define the planes of a face, lower down the canyon cuts, and then the swales and valleys of the lowest slops, the sinuous rivers and dry beds where water used to run seeming to hold the hills and the waves of the high planes all together and not the other way around."

I was interested to find out what happened to Hig and his dog, but not enough to wade my way through that mess.

Profile Image for David Putnam.
Author 18 books1,596 followers
March 31, 2020
Peter Heller is becoming one of my favorite authors. I loved The Dog Stars and can see why it received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. How The Dog Stars became a national best seller. This is a post apocalyptic story and this alone might (will) turn off a lot of readers. But in the hands of a skilled author the story and characters come alive on the page. A post apocalyptic story in many ways really shifts over into a fantasy genre. The author has to create an entirely different world and world building is difficult to do and make it real. Heller brings the story down to ground level as seen through the protagonist point of view. I just finished reading The River by Heller and that book is even better than this one. Heller is on my permanent, "to be read list."
I highly recommend this book.
David Putnam author of The Bruno Johnson series.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
506 reviews1,488 followers
January 24, 2022
My heart pounded out of my chest reading this. Holy anxiety.

An apocalypse. The result of a pandemic (how timely). If you survived, you likely have the blood disease. But a few have managed to live. Hig lives with his dog, Jasper, and his crusty neighbour, Bagley. Within the parameter of an airfield. Hig takes his Cessna out periodically and scans the area to keep the 3’of them safe.
Every now and then scavengers make it in and threaten them. It’s a game of survival. Outfit and outlast. Until Hig finally decides it’s all or nothing and needs to search out for civilization.

In typical Heller style, the descriptive writing is breath taking. The outdoors is his realm. And the Suspense at its finest. i do have to ask you, Heller, are you psychic? As this was written in 2012.
My only complaint is no quotations. It did make me go back a few times to figure out who was saying what to whom.
Still a stellar Heller.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,085 reviews68.4k followers
January 25, 2020
Apocalyptic Pointlessness

Reading The Dog Stars Is like riding in a car with someone who is learning to drive. Lots of jerky shifts, stops, starts, long pauses, and stalls. Meanwhile listening to a constant stream of reminiscence and emotional brain-dump that is intended to camouflage the lack of driving experience. And not going anywhere in particular, of course.

I’m sure this is a tale meant for a specialised redneck niche (they read but mouth their words) - backwoods pilot and handyman teams up with survivalist gunsmith to protect their little piece of heaven after a global flu epidemic wipes 99% of the population. But the truck don’t run, the dog dies, and they run out of Dr. Pepper. It’s Cormac McCarthy’s Road from the point of view of the bad guys. And these guys are pretty good at one thing - homicide.

Of course one of them has more scruples than his pal, which causes tension. So a mutual suspicion lingers. “Like an old married couple” the author repeats any number of times. More like long-term prison cell mates. They’ve heard all of each other’s stories (Like the one about automobile petrol having a shelf life of only 9 years but 100 octane aircraft fuel going for an extendable 10 with the right additive - at least four times for that one). Either one could snap first. Its not enough really to hold a story together though.

Unfortunately this thin male mateship is what it’s all about. Dirty jokes, NASCAR posters of girls in bikinis holding Uzi’s, joshing each other like at the bar in the old days, skills with machines (like the breasts of the girls in the posters: the bigger the better), confident machismo, and guns, lots of guns - as well as mortars, grenades and other ordnance. These are the things that bind guys together when the end of the world is nigh. ‘Got your back, mate,’ is all you need to know.

“Amazing how not having to kill someone frees up a relationship generally.” A line that sums up the ethos of The Dog Stars rather well (the title makes no sense by the way). This is Clint Eastwood - just the slightest hint of homicidal regret in his voice. And naturally it signals the entrance of the female of the piece who has the potential to blow mateship to hell. It’s a plot device straight out of the jungle films and Flash Gordon serials of the 30’s. Well it’s a break from the details of murder and airplane maintenance anyway... at least until the sex scenes, which make the aircraft stats sexy.

At one point the protagonist muses: “So I wonder what it is this need to tell.” I can only muse right along with him. This need to tell when there is not really much to tell is mysterious indeed. It may be the most important part of the story.
Profile Image for Ken.
Author 3 books969 followers
February 9, 2017

If you liked Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD, you're going to like Peter Heller's THE DOG STARS. If you did not like THE ROAD, you're still going to like THE DOG STARS.

Yes, Heller's book is reminiscent of McCarthy's, but you don't have to be a dystopia devotee to appreciate it. Why? Heller is a writer's writer with a talent for deft, descriptive strokes, for one, and his dystopian yin hasn't forgotten its utopian yang. Meaning: Hope hasn't escaped the box for good, in the case of this rewarding book.

There's something here for everyone. At times, it is one creepy and violent thriller. But at other times, like when protagonist Hig takes to the mountain streams with his faithful dog, Jasper (yes, there's a dog book hidden in here -- at least for 100 pp. or so!), it reads like Hemingway. It's almost as if a public service announcer says, "We interrupt this dystopian nightmare to treat you to a Big Two-Hearted River moment." And then: "Now back to our regularly-scheduled apocalyptic mess." Then there is the turn the novel takes in its second half -- the addition of a romantic element, like an echo from Hig's burnt past. All this, yet Heller keeps it together and makes it fit.

To start, we have Hig and his ruthless partner-in-survival, the appropriately-named Bruce Bangley. With his old Cessna, Hig is able to tour the perimeter of the extensive grounds he, Bangley, and Jasper protect from survivors of (what else?) a killer flu pandemic. And what a pair. Where Bangley seems to kill with joy, Hig appears to kill under duress and despite his aversion to it. Both killers, though. By necessity. Only one has a poet's conscience.

Stylistically, the book has its quirks, too. You won't find any quotation marks, for one. Victims of the pandemic, I guess. And fragments (sentences, I'm talking) are as common as the frayed leftovers of civilization featured in the book. Still, the fragmented delivery fits Hig's personality nicely and gives Heller a chance to show his talents in creating voice.

The greatest treat of all, though, is the writing. Some of Heller's descriptions give you pause, they're so poetic. More than once, I reread a passage and said, "Nice. Very nice." Here's an excerpt that might give you a flavor:

"We were on the edge of a small basin above treeline and in the bottom were patches of old snow and a small lake recently cleared of ice... A lake like a gem set in a bezel of tufted tundra and rough scree, the water green with the luminous unapologetic green of a semiprecious stone but textured with the wind. Then it wasn't. The surface stilled and glassed off, polishing itself in an instant, the water reflecting the dark clouds that massed and poured against the ridges like something molten and it was suddenly very cold and the snowflakes began to touch the surface. Ringless, silent, vanishing. I let go the sled's bridle. I was fifty yards from the water. The snow heavier. A white scrim that darkened the air, that hastened the dusk the way a fire deepens the night. I stood transfixed. Too cold for bare hands but my hands were bare. The flakes struck in my eyelashes. They fell on my sleeves. Huge. Flowers and stars. They fell onto each other, held their shapes, became small piles of perfect asterisks and blooms tumbled together in their discrete geometries like children's blocks."

I don't know about you, but with writing like that, I don't even CARE if all Hades is breaking loose around the characters. At least they stop and smell the snowflakes now and again....
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,977 reviews1,990 followers
February 26, 2019
Reluctant Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: 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.

My Review: I've tried and I've tried to think of a nice way to say that I don't like Iowa Writer's Workshop stuff because it's always Very Writerly. I was, as you see, unsuccessful. It's always full of good lines, it's always got charming or beautiful or moving imagery and characters with flaws and sometimes even dialogue with some zest.

But it's always Very Writerly. Thick and heavy and nutritious like spelt or brown rice. Sulphur molasses in gluten-free muffins. Serious and Good For You.

I hate that. Sorry, Mr. Heller, but that's you all over.

I like dystopias and post-apocalyptic stories, since I am the least chirpily optimistic person walking on Planet Earth. I want them to make sense, however, and not be rehashes of zombie munch-fests. This one makes sense. The pandemic that collapses the population? Totally buy that. The evil/vile behavior of the humans afterwards? Totally buy that. (Actually, from what I see, we haven't waited for an apocalypse to behave like scum to each other. But I digress.) The source of the dog Jasper's jerky treats? Brilliant, and also very frugal.

I like the story, too, up to the point where Hig, our pilot main character, flies off and Finds Himself. I know, I know, all characters must go through stuff and change as a result of it to make a novel really interesting. But the fact that Hig goes off'n gits him a woman is a little over the top. It's artificial feeling, like something inside Heller (or an editor outside Heller) said "there's no hope! give the poor bastard hope!"

It was, in my humble opinion, a wrong turn. The story up to then was an interesting, stream-of-consciousness exploration of an average joe who, inexplicably, survived the Apocalypse and kept on moving, breathing, numb from loss and scared, but real. And then, suddenly, he gets A Message and has to move move move to find the source! And he finds him a gal! Who knows, maybe that little impotence problem will clear up, they'll have a family....

That's not the same book I started reading, and I don't much like that book.

But in good conscience, I can't tell you it's a bad book. It's a pretty good book that could've been a really, really good book. It takes the subverbal vocalizations of its main character and puts them front-and-center, makes the style the point, makes the point the pleasure of reading. I just have this one little problem with the whole enterprise: It feels to me like it's been overthought, overwrought, and overworked. All down to that workshoppy aesthetic, and that happyendingitis that comes from thinking about the audience and not the story.

Well, so. Three and a half stars for the good, good phrases Mr. Heller has made and the promise of that first half. It will do.
Profile Image for Jana.
797 reviews90 followers
December 4, 2013
8/14/12: I heard the author read from this last night. I'm SO glad I made the effort to do so as he was fantastic. A little scary to begin a book with such high expectations, but I really feel good about this one. Here goes...

8/18/12: Best book of 2012? Very likely it will be for me.

The writing is very unique and takes a few pages to get used to, but it becomes so personal and powerful that I inhabited the world of Hig and his beloved dog, Jasper. I don't think I fully returned to reality during the 3 days of reading. And I know it will stay with me for a long time.

The author is a poet, a pilot, an outdoor adventure writer, and a cat owner. Now he is an outstanding fiction writer as well.

My hubby & son are both wanting to read it next. Husband will relate because he grew up flying in small planes with his dad; he also spent a year in the Colorado mountains before college. Son loves good writing, post-apocalyptic novels, and calls our dog Jasper (her name is Jazzie, he has called her Jasper for almost 12 years now). They will both probably shed a tear. I sobbed.

Glen Duncan says it well on the dust jacket: "Make time and space for this savage, tender, brilliant book."

Good advice.

Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews607 followers
January 8, 2017
"I knew Bangley well enough that he'd had enough killing in one night not to fuck
with my dog".
But......why kill anyone is what I kept thinking? Even in a post apocalyptic world?
......Yes, I had the conversation with Paul - he tried to explain to me why, but I still feel angry.
I HAVE A DIFFERENT MIND SET than automatically killing off people.
Lots of profanity...
Lots of stream-of-thoughts...
A man and his dog....
Dog dies.
Nut gun man.
Airplane, fishing, cooking, a love story. Colorado.
I have a LOVE/HATE relationship with this book -- but couldn't put it down!!!!!

Expect to feel off balance!

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,882 reviews16.6k followers
February 26, 2019
Global pandemic, lots of people dead, survivors surviving and unsuccessful survivors acting badly.

Got it.

I’m going to be brutally honest and maybe a little mean and say that I don’t know why this is popular and why it has received stellar reviews. It was nominated for several awards, and I just don’t see it.

The post-apocalyptic genre is swelled to bursting and yet writers and publishers keep shelling out offerings like a churro vendor on a sidewalk. You’ve got to have something really special to make a book in this genre stand out and this just … doesn’t.

A new reader who has never read a post-apocalyptic story may be impressed by the end of the world, but gentle readers, there are many, many better stories than this.

The Road

The Stand

Earth Abides

A Canticle for Leibowitz

I Am Legend

The Day of the Triffids

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

Station Eleven

Etc etc

This was saved by a few good scenes, a touching sub-plot about a dog and for the creation of the character Bangley. Truth be told, I did not even like the writing: some kind of first person narrative, staccato, truncated, incomplete sentence structure; the opposite of stream of consciousness.

It’s OK.

Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,223 followers
March 18, 2020
I opened the door today to a man in a mask. He apologised but stood at least six feet away. Every day now there's at least one moment that was completely unimaginable two months ago. And for the first time in my life I can't imagine what life will be like in two months time. All of a sudden, it's like nothing can be taken for granted. I suppose a wise monk would say this is how we should always live every moment but, as we all know, that's much easier said than done. I think the mental health problems all these restrictions will bring about will be a lot more devastating than the virus itself. I'm not sure you can ask people to live like this for long without it having a catastrophic effect on their mental wellbeing. Yesterday, in the supermarket, it was like watching panicked buffalo following each other over a cliff edge. I'm in England, not Italy, by the way. And the relentless scare-mongering media coverage here disgusts me. Not once on the media have I seen an interview with someone who is recovering from the virus, which would be immensely informative - there are infected footballers for example who could easily be skyped. It's like they only want to report the deaths - last night that of a 88 year old man who we were told "was full of life" but who, like 8,000 people every year in the UK, could have died from the flu which certainly wouldn't have made the news. But it's deaths, not recoveries which interest the media. It's no wonder everyone is overloaded with anxiety. No doubt the underlying agenda is, if we don't scare people they won't take preventive measures. In other words, we're being treated like children. I'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why we're shutting down the world, putting at risk the global economy to stop a virus that, like any other virus, is only deadly to those who already have grave health issues. What, for example, is different about this virus to Swine Flu or SARS which governments ignored? Is there something about this virus they're not telling us? No one addresses these questions on the media. It's as if these extreme measures taken are so rationally watertight they are beyond questioning. No wonder conspiracy theories are rife. Frankly, it's alarming how easy it's been to whip up the hysteria in which entire populations will accept martial law and draconian restrictions of personal liberty. I'm much more worried about all this stuff than catching the damn virus.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
March 19, 2015
The next stop in my end-of-the-world reading marathon was The Dog Stars, the 2012 debut novel by Peter Heller, an author based in Denver. Heller's previous books documented a kayaking expedition in Nepal (Hell or High Water) and environmentalists battling Japanese commercial whalers off the coast of Antarctica (The Whale Warriors); these seem to have built a strong base to explore how an American male with above-average outdoors skills might fare come doomsday.

The story is narrated by Hig, a forty year old who (without quotation marks or complete sentences) begins to fill in the blanks in his life, nine years after a strain of super flu has wiped out most of the U.S. Hig's base is a small country airport in Erie, Colorado, from where he takes flight twice daily in a 1956 Cessna to patrol the perimeter, eight miles of open prairie between the airport and wooded foothills. Hig was once a building contractor with aspirations to write, but his four-legged friend Jasper is the only remnant of that life.

Hig's human company at the airport is Bruce Bangley, a taciturn soldier who showed up one day with a cache of assault rifles, handguns, body armor, grenades, mortars and more. Bangley's rules are simple: Have a clear mission, with an exit strategy. Never negotiate. Hig is a fisherman and huntsman who can read terrain, track and take care of himself almost as well as Bangley, yet he violates the rules. Hig has begun to question whether there's more to existence than surviving. He hates killing anything larger than an insect, and shoots only as a last resort, something that's almost gotten him killed.

On the edge of the perimeter are a camp of Mennonites, who Bangley refers to as "Druids". The Mennonites are sickened by a mysterious blood disease that afflicted some of the super flu survivors. Much to Bangley's displeasure, Hig visits the Mennonites, sharing supplies and, if signaled by a red union suit flapping on a flagpole, performing repairs. The only other people Hig and Bangley make contact with are raiders, small groups drawn across the prairie by the porch light Hig leaves burning at night while he sleeps behind a dirt berm a hundred yards away with Jasper. The only talking that takes place after this is done with Bangley's AR-10 sniper rifle. No negotiations.

Hig is unable to let go of his wife Melissa, whom he lived with on a lake outside of Denver. He made a trip back home for one item: a book, Stories That Could Be True by William Stafford. The poet's "The Farm on the Great Plains" is about a man who each year phones the family farm, even though his parents are gone and all he hears on the line is a hum. Hig still flips on the emergency channel whenever he flies near an airport and radios the tower. One day, he got a garbled response from Grand Junction. Haunted by the voice on the radio, Hig decides to mount an investigation, much to Bangley's displeasure.

In an effort to document the end of the world as if a mariner were scribbling notes in a ship's log with a dull pencil, The Dog Stars is written in a haltering shorthand that if described to me, I probably would've dismissed as being too obscure, too pretentious for my taste. I would've been wrong. Heller's style took me away and dropped me into as close as a "last man on earth" scenario as I'd ever want to get, an exotic scenario. Tales of castaways marooned on desert isles or astronauts left behind on alien planets immediately came to mind:

Me versus him. Follow Bangley's belief to its end and you get a ringing solitude. Everybody out for themselves, even to dealing death, and you come to a complete aloneness. You and the universe. The cold stars. Like those that are fading, silent as we walk. Believe in the possibility of connectedness and you get something else. A tattered union suit flying on a flagpole. Help asked and given. A smile across a dirt yard, a wave. Now the dawn not so lonely.

Anyone who's ever had a roommate will recognize the qualities of Bruce Bangley. Hig needs him to pay the bills, but realizes how differently they see the world. Like most men, they don't communicate much and after nine years, have begun to wear on each others nerves like a married couple. Hig considers that in spite of all the room they have to share, ideology might drive Bangley to kill him one day, until, on page 121, something extraordinary happens to bring the men together and remind them why they made this arrangement to begin with.

Heller's research is laser sharp. I love detail in novels and the off-chance I might learn something, maybe even how to survive the end of the world. Heller spares no expense when it comes to detailing how aviation, fishing, camping, ballistics, gardening and even pet relationships would effect the day-to-day of one of the last men on earth. This isn't an epic length book, and Heller's brevity impressed me almost as much as the detail.

I have two minor complaints. First, Hig faces off against Due to the first person style, Hig stays ahead of his enemies, outmaneuvering them, and danger comes and goes too quickly for the suspense dig in. Second, while I have no issue with , Heller doesn't show great facility with his female characters. Maybe feminism dies out with civilization, but Cimarron is not like the country girls I know who never would've stayed with the plane to let the men do the fighting. I wanted a stronger character there.

The Dog Stars is a novel I'd recommend to everyone, but patricularly for men who hate fiction. That YouTube surfing, History Channel watching, drama hating he-man in your life will find something in this book to make him keep turning the pages. There's something alluring about the challenge of facing the wilderness with nothing but your wits, your rifle and your dog to rely on, no one nagging you, until all that's left are your own lonely thoughts to nag you.

I found Heller's themes of connectivity and the endurance of human contact to be extremely relevant to where we seem to be now as a society, all of it packaged in a thrilling tale at the end of the world.

The superlative book jacket design is by Brooklyn based illustrator Kelly Blair, whose delightful work is like fruit that's just turned ripe. Please judge this book by its cover.
Profile Image for Jonathan Ashleigh.
Author 1 book118 followers
February 6, 2017
I have, for whatever reason, ended up reading a lot of books that take place in Colorado lately. The Dog Stars was recommended to me for that very reason but the first thing I noticed when I picked it up was that the cover resembled one of my favorite books, The Sorrows of Young Mike (also by a Colorado author).

The writing style was tough at times but worked in some way to convey the harshness of life during this apocalyptic future. The flow became better as the story moved along or possibly I got used to it, or possibly actions in the narrative started to play out.

I was unmoved during certain parts involving death, but that might have been because of my apathetic nature or the fact that death was everywhere in this novel. My favorite part was when he describes a man who spent the last years of his life organizing the slides that tell the story of his life. It was an introspective description of how someone relives their life and I think there is some correlation to the reason people write.
Profile Image for Emily.
943 reviews41 followers
September 21, 2012
I'm having trouble thinking of how to talk about this book without talking about the ending, which I think is a good thing, so I'll do my best to be spoiler-free while still addressing my main points about it. First, Hig and his dog are egregious self-inserts of the author and his dog, but somehow, this is one of the least obnoxious examples I've ever seen. Hig is both deeply flawed and deeply damaged by the events of nine years prior. In case you have any question that this may be the case, there is Bangley, who has a wildly different philosophy, constantly pushing Hig's failings right in his face.

I have to admit that I sometimes empathized more with Bangley, in that there are times when Hig is terrifyingly checked out in the middle of life and death situations, and wow, do I wish he wept less. That said, his struggle for meaning, especially in the empty world left by the flu is so universally human it's hard not to understand why he is so lost. I like that not everything is exactly what it seems. I have to say that while this book is not covering fresh territory, it does what it sets out to do pretty well, and I enjoyed it and was rarely annoyed, which is always refreshing. (Thank goodness for a book that doesn't spend all it's time telling me how massively smart the main characters are while they continue to do progressively dumber things...I'm looking at you Insurgent). The more I think about it, what I really liked was how stripped down it is. There is so little left for Hig to hold on to, and I like how the text reflects his bare existence.

I did want to add that I saw a beautiful copy of the hardcover at a book store today, and I have to wonder if I read it instead of listening to the audiobook if I would have rated this a 5. How much does the physical book and the actual words on the page contribute to the experience? Maybe I'll try it sometime.

09/21/12 Upgrading it to a 5. It's a month later, and I'm still thinking about this book. I like when a book has the ability to haunt you long after you've finished it.
Profile Image for Charlie Quimby.
Author 2 books35 followers
February 11, 2013
I don't usually review books that have been reviewed to death. Better to find a worthy, unseen work and lift it up. But I'm making an exception for Peter Heller's The Dog Stars because I haven't seen a review yet that tapped into the thread it opened up for me.

Like Heller's main character Hig, flying over a flu-wasted Colorado looking for someone to connect with, I tried to find a review that spoke to this passage:

Still we are divided, there are cracks in the union. Over principle. His: Guilty until—until nothing. Shoot first ask later. Guilty, then dead. Versus what? Mine: Let a visitor live a minute longer until they prove themselves to be human? Because they always do. What Bangley said in the beginning: Never ever negotiate. You are negotiating with your own death.

The reviews I've read are enamored with the Mad Max/The Road comparisons with the novel's hopeful endcap to the apocalypse. Or distracted by syntax. Fragments. No punctuation. Sex wands exploding. (Well, Hig hadn't had sex for nine years, so perhaps its rediscovery might be like a Harlequin Romance, but I digress.)

Don't get me wrong. The Dog Stars is a read-it-in-one-or-two-sittings novel, but unlike Cormac McCarthy's The Road, this one never brought me to tears. Instead, it made me wonder: Why are so many readers responding to its "hopefulness" or its poetic treatment of a world in both decline and regeneration instead of to the assumption that, even for the sensitive and "weak" Hig, there were so many Others who could simply be blown away because... well, because they weren't Hig.

At another point, Hig says: "The ones who are left are mostly Not Nice."

Desperate souls whose survival was foiled by Hig and his pal Bangley might be forgiven for thinking the same of the sensitive aviator-poet. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, he ain't.

Most of the other humans portrayed in the story are ciphers or caricatures worthy of one of those shooting arcade games the NRA fears is eroding our values. They threaten, they die. A little or a lot. But prove themselves human? Not a chance.

This is a serious book by a serious writer, and Heller has clearly posed this divide between two world views that are severely tested by the apocalypse. But there isn't much follow through, and there's even less by the admirers of the book.

I'm wondering if Heller is trying to make a commentary on how we are living today—not about the future or some idealized humanity.

Hig's partner Bangley and another character he meets after he takes his fool's flight west are both ex-special forces, hardened men who do not make the fine distinctions that will get Hig killed. In fact, they are portrayed as the soldiers and Navy Seals protecting us today, projected into a dystopian future.

Although America has not been wiped out by a virus, we are protected by similar men and similar values today. We have the luxury of our poetry and hammock sex and contemplative fly fishing because the Bangleys of the world have our backs.

In the real world, that is certainly the view of the Bangleys. The Higs of us who "believe in the possibility of connectedness" would not survive without the ruthlessness and killing skills of hard men.

Because Hig finds love and there is new greenery sprouting in the killed forests, we are encouraged to believe there is hope. That the apocalypse isn't so bad. That the end isn't the end.

Arabs, of all people, appear to be patrolling American skies. Is that an ironic footnote or a reminder that we have so much capacity to be wrong about Others?

It's not Heller's job to spell it out for us. And thank goodness, in his restraint, he didn't. But what about us readers?

Are we doing our job?
Profile Image for Anne Bogel.
Author 6 books59.8k followers
December 16, 2019
I have had this on my list for a VERY long time. Then we talked to Peter Heller for a Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club author event, and that pushed me right over the edge. I think we were all swooning listening to him talk about his work and his process!

In this book, his debut, Hig is one of the few survivors of a flu pandemic, save for his dog and a gun-toting loner. Or so he thinks. When he receives a random transmission on the radio, he begins to dream of what might exist beyond life on the hangar.

Reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Emily St John Mandel's Station Eleven but you don’t have to have read these in order to appreciate the way Heller examines the landscape between hope and despair.
Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews258 followers
September 1, 2012
5 Stars

I had originally only scored this post-apocalyptic read at 4 stars bought after having finished it two days ago, my fond recollections have changed my mind. This is a wonderful story and tale about a post-apocalyptic time when the world has been decimated due to an out of control flu and blood disease. Sure this has been done many times before, and it is a favorite genre of mine, but in this book The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, we are treated to a very unique point of view. You see Big Hig is an alone fourty something year old farmer who has lost it all. The only thing that keeps him going every day is his love to fly his plane and his best old pal, his best friend, his companion, his dog Jasper. He has one additional acquaintance / partner / protector named Bangley that shares duties with to keep the two of them alive.

There is a great PA survival system between these three passengers. Higs flies the property looking for the bad guy’s, he cooks the dinners, and Bangley shoots the Bad Guys and strategizes out their lives. Jasper keeps Big Higs literally grounded. There is a great deal in the first part of this book that which has been done before, but Heller finds a way to add his own unique twist and color to make it work. The backstory is sufficient and the world building is just fine, but it is in the emotional impact of the words and the depth of these men that make this one special. I am not going to spoil anything as the plot twists make this book. The greatness is revealed in the twists and turns, and they will emotionally connect to these characters. The end of the first book pretty much ripped me apart, and without giving it away, I feel that I can relate well to it at this point in my life…I absolutely loved the end of this part....

Part two of the book is decent albeit a bit forgettable. Part three is just what this book needs to make it work as a complete tale. In part three I was blown away by the way that Heller pulled the pieces together and changed this book from what could have been a bit too perfect and too cute of a story line considering these peoples circumstances and made into something more.
Some are comparing this book to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and that is unfair on both of them. They are very different books. My favorite thing about this book is how out of nowhere it would become incredibly poetic and outright profound. These passages are amazing, unexpected, and damn it they just work!!!
One passage that I chose really reflects on what I am talking about, there are many more:

“When you walk you propel it forward. When you let go the sled and sit on a fallen log and. You imagine him curling beside you in the one patch of sun maybe lying over your feet. Not feeling so well. Then it sits with you, the Pain puts its arm over your shoulders. It is your closest friend. Steadfast. And at night you can’t bear to hear your own breath unaccompanied by another and underneath the big stillness like a score is the roaring of the cataract of everything being and being torn away. Then. The Pain is lying beside your side, close. Does not bother you with the sound even of breathing.”

A fantastic read that will sit well with you long after you finish it. A top 2012 read for me!!!

Profile Image for Kinga.
479 reviews2,255 followers
July 1, 2013
My sister and I are like twins born four years apart. She is my best friend and I would give her both of my kidneys. Yet, it hasn't always been this way. There was a time that even though we still felt obliged to love each other, we found we had little in common. Four years can be a serious obstacle when you're a teenager. We also belonged to an entirely different social groups. My sister was more of a cheap wine, flannel shirts, suicidal rock singers kind of girl while I tended to find my solace in weed, hoop earrings and rappers who'd been shot dead.

We didn't see eye to eye. Sometimes we wouldn't even acknowledge each other on the street.

Now, it's all different and literature is one of those things that keeps bringing us closer and closer. We read this book together on our respective Kindles and decided to review it in a recorded conversation, here translated from Polish for your benefit:

Kinga: I decided that 'The Dog Stars' is a post-apocalyptic novel about fishing. How did you like it?

Basia: I have mixed feelings. I did like the message and concept but I believe that the author didn't use their full potential, he focused too much on fishing and flying and old Cessna and at times it wasn't even so much a post-apocalyptic novel about fishing, but a self-help guide titled: "The World Ended - What To Do Now?"

Kinga: Personally, I do like books about fishing, roaming the forests and some general unhurried meditating, although you might be right that for the first 80 pages the narrator was ordered to wander about while the author was just starting to figure out the plot.

Basia: My feelings exactly. It was as if the author created this post-apocalyptic world (a very believable, it has to be said), and during writing he remembered a novel should also lead somewhere, that there should be a climax, so while the main character is flying his Cessna (playing for time), the author comes up with what happens next.
But let's start from the beginning: we are in the United States, the majority of population died of flu. The narrator who guides us around this post-apocalyptic world is Hig, who is somewhat forced to share his new life with Bangley. The creation of these two main characters was one the things I really liked about this book, although I think some people might find these two too stereotypical.

Kinga: I really liked these characters too. And I didn't find them particularly stereotypical. In the beginning I thought Hig was a really tough guy, because he can swear and shoot a deer, but then when see him through Bangley's eyes, we notice his weakness (or, if you like, his humanity) and we see that Bangley is taking care of Big Hig, at the same time revealing his own weakness. In reality, 'The Dog Stars' is a bit of a Western. Two guys sit in some God-forgotten hole, they talk little, shoot a lot, sometimes they would feed a corpse to the dog, but in all of it they grew to love each other. And as it is in all Westerns there comes a woman, traditionally devoid of personality, and her main feature are her violet eyes. That woman is a nurturer, care-taker and all-round chicken soup for the soul.

Basia: You thought of Westerns and I thought of two philosophers who spoke of anarchy and the creating of nation. And there is no better place and time to test such theories than right after an apocalypse, where everything that the humankind had built falls apart and it can finally be established whether the natural state for humans is to be happy and peaceful like Locke had it (here Hig) or whether it's a state of constant struggle brought forward by the innate selfishness of people like Hobbes maintained (starring Bangley).
So what I think Peter Heller is doing here is that he is proposing a thought experiment of a sort: imagine that all the humandkind expired and there are only two dudes left with completely opposite outlooks on the world. What will happen and will those outlooks even matter anymore?

Kinga: I also thought about this dichotomy. And that even in those almost lab-like environment such as that post-apocalyptic world it was very difficult to test these theories. Because on one hand we have Bangley, who preventively shoots everyone and on the other hand we have Hig who is free to test his theory of loving one's neighbour but he will only be able to be wrong once.

To be perfectly honest I thought that it would've looked different in Europe due to purely technical reasons - it would be next to impossible to gather such an arsenal like in the US, and it would be somewhat harder for people to kill each other, so they would be forced to talk to each other. And once they start talking, it might turn out it's better to be together than against each other. I think this was the final optimistic conclusion of this novel.

Basia: I believe that paradoxically this novel was supposed to be uplifting after all and it wanted to remind us something important. From the flashbacks we can gather that the characters' lives before the catastrophe were full of waiting for something, until they make enough money, can start a family, waiting for the courage to change their careers. Waiting for that real life to begin. And of course only with the hindsight and with the apocalypse in mind can they realise that that was the real life, those were the best moments.

Funny how you can live a whole life waiting and not know it. [...] Waiting for your real life to begin. Maybe the most real thing the end.

Maybe those quotes, away from the novel, might sound trite and gushing but amongst that jagged and austere narrative made quite of an impression on me.

Kinga: I agree. I think in general this is the appeal of post-apocalyptic novels. All those things, that we fret over, even though we realise they're not that important, get cancelled and life returns to the basics. In real life, only selected few have it in them to just reject all that nonsense, the rest console themselves with reading. As a matter of fact, most books about fishing are not really about fishing but also about what's important in life. And it turns out that what's important it's to find someone we can love and everything will somehow works itself out. Even if that someone is just a dog.

You mentioned the jagged, austere style. I liked it a lot. It was as if that whole trauma of the apocalypse deprived people of the ability to talk. Loneliness and sadness drive Hig to speak like a troglodyte, there are many things left unsaid and sentences end with prepositions that should be followed by a noun, but Hig can't bring himself to say it. There was a great scene of a conversation between Hig and Bangley, which I'll quote here:

I asked him if he ever thought there was anything more than this, than just surviving day to day. Recon, fixing the plane, growing the five vegetables, trapping a rabbit. Like what are we waiting for? His chair, crick crick, stopped. He got very still like a hunter that smelled an animal on the wind. Close. Like he woke up.
Say again.
More than this. Day to day.
He worked his jaw. His mineral eyes graying in the fading light. Like maybe I’d tipped over the edge. Gotta go he said. Stood up.

Basia: This is exactly how I felt about the style. I was enchanted by the language, especially after my trials and tribulations with Doris Lessing and her 'Memoirs of a Survivor', where, by contrast, the narrative is formed by long, fancy sentences always ending with an ellipsis. Actually the only thing I didn't quite like about this novel was that despite great world-building and a fantastic style, simply not enough happened. On the other hand, now I'm thinking... what can happen when the world ended?

Kinga: I feel the same way - we expect such novels to be action-packed but really it's all after the. After the.

PS. If you would like to see some of our childhood photos which accompany this review on my blog, click here http://kinga-thebooksnob.blogspot.co....
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,550 reviews603 followers
August 26, 2019
[4.5] The Dog Stars is about survival in the face of grief. About finding beauty in the midst of desolation. I was vacationing in Colorado while reading this novel and was awed by Heller’s way of writing about the landscape. I came to care for Hig and became invested in his relationships. (Oh and I loved Jasper!) The novel strikes a rare balance - between pulse pounding and mediative, disturbing and joyful. Stunning in every way!
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,538 followers
January 20, 2013
I loved this debut novel, a spare and bittersweet story of survival in rural Colorado after a disease induced apocalypse. The strength in this tale lies in Heller’s portrayal of grief stricken Hig, who is continually balancing his lyrical introspections on finding meaning in his narrowed life and his cherishing of the beauty that remains.

Hig has been living a lonely life for nine years after an epidemic flu killed off most of humanity. He has settled at a remote airport north of Denver where there is solar power and fuel for his Cessna plane, houses nearby for scavenging, a plot for gardening, and open ground for his survivalist partner Bangley to efficiently kill off periodic marauders with his stockpiled arsenal. But Bangley doesn’t talk much, so Hig spends a lot of time talking to his blue heeler dog Jasper. Together they find some solace on hunting and fishing excursions, where he communes with nature and grieves over the loss of his wife and the loss of species due to global warming. His true escape comes from the sense of freedom he gets from flying. He scouts the perimeter for threats and periodically visits a community of Mennonites, from which he must keep his distance due to a blood disease slowly killing them off. But everything changes when he spots from his plane a remote box canyon with signs of civilized life: a house with smoke from a chimney and a woman out gardening.

Heller’s experience as a non-fiction “adventure writer” shows with his lovely telegraphic prose about nature, as in this piece about fishing with his dog:
Sometimes back then, fishing with Jasper up the Sulphur, I hit my limit. I mean it felt my heart might just burst. Bursting is different from breaking. Like there is no way to contain how beautiful. Not it either, not just beauty. Something about how I fit. This little bend of smooth stones, the leaning cliffs. The smell of spruce. The small cutthroat making quiet rings in the black water of a pool. And no need to thank even. Just be. Just fish. Just walk up the creek, get dark, get cold, it is all a piece. Of me somehow.

The relief he gets from his bird’s eye view of the world from his plane is wonderfully captured in this passage:
And for a time while flying, seeing all this as a hawk would see it, I am myself somehow freed from the sticky details: I am not grief sick nor stiffer in the joints nor ever lonely, nor someone who lives with the nausea of having killed and seems destined to kill again. I am the one who is flying over all of it looking down. Nothing can touch me.

There is no one to tell this to and yet it seems very important to get this right. The reality and what it is like to escape it. That even now it is too beautiful to bear.

Also I wonder how Bangley is built inside and everyone like him. He is at home in his solitude as the note reverberating inside a bell. Prefers it. Will protect it to the death. Lives for protecting it the way a peregrine lives for killing other birds midflight. Does not want to communicate what the death and the beauty do to each other inside him.

The stars in the book are a perpetual reminder of how small humans are in the scheme of things, as in this example:
Now we walk fast in the dark. Me and Jasper, the sled scraping behind. Cold. Good and cold. High stars nettle the black, no moon, crossing under the Milky Way like crossing a deep river. Never will get to the other side. We never do.

Like survivors of war, the killing it takes to exist can be taken in stride, but the associated losses along the way undermine the victory:
The dead goats multiply. You can pull a goat off into the field, but a memory you can only haul into the sun and hope it dessicates. Dries to something crumbled and odorless.

Hig is fond of certain Chinese poets and takes solace in these lines (which appear to be Heller’s own emulation):
We have traveled.
Now you will be the path
I will walk I will walk
Over you.

Thus, the book stands out from the “genre” of post-apocalyptic tales in its artful dwelling on what in life is worth preserving. The vignettes about nature and the love story in the novel suffer from being a bit too “precious”, but they moved me a lot nonetheless. Some other quotable quotes are collected here.

Profile Image for Melki.
6,040 reviews2,390 followers
October 16, 2012
The flu killed almost everybody, then the blood disease killed more. The ones who are left are mostly Not Nice, why we live here on the plain, why I patrol every day.

I see that several reviewers are comparing this book to The Road, so I'll jump on that bandwagon for a bit. While Cormac McCarthy's book worried me, and gnawed at me, The Dog Stars kept me at arm's length. I would have had no trouble putting this book down and not returning to it for a month. Or ever. I was so removed from the plight of the character in this book - I have no real explanation for this disconnect. Perhaps it has to do with the main character's reason for living, and the fact that I couldn't really figure out what that was after (see spoiler). In The Road, the father must fight to save the child he loves, and love is a powerful and primal emotion. Hig, the protagonist of this book, loses everything he loves. His day to day existence is joyless and dismal. He seems to live to fly.

So, to recap...this book pales in comparison with, well, you know - BUT - two saving graces: I did enjoy the relationship between Hig and his neighbor, Bangley. Here are two men with NOTHING in common, yet they have come to rely on one another for survival, and a strange friendship has evolved. I was also touched by Hig's concern for some Mennonite settlements ravaged by the blood disease. The fact that he hasn't completely given up on humanity serves him well, and leads to an unexpected conclusion to the book.

Who knows? Judging from the number of five-star reviews, you may find plenty to love about this book. And, I certainly didn't hate it. I just wish I hadn't bought it in hardback.

Profile Image for Tim.
202 reviews92 followers
February 14, 2017
This is like a Walt Disney version of The Road.

First of all, I’m going to nominate this for the worst sex writing award - “All those pieces. She moved. Her moving over me called them called them. The way a thousand fish rock together with the swell. Back and forth. The way the stars in the leaves. I reached. In her, in the very center, somewhere the single only stillness where everything cohered. Nothing but reach.”

It’s taken me a month to get through this relatively short book. Mainly this was down to the often absurdly pretentious nature of the prose. The world is all broken into serrated untidy fragments so Heller does the same to his prose. “"For the dog he said. Angry. Because I didn't do my job. To him." That kind of thing. Which soon begins to grate and become nothing but a backfiring and rather adolescent gimmick. Shame because there are lots of good things in this novel. My other problem was with Hig himself. You know sometimes when you just know the author is fictionalising himself for the main character and as a result is constantly pushing you as the reader to like him? Hig is like a man advertising himself on a dating site. He’s straining so hard to make himself seem attractive that you begin to dislike him. He does this by offsetting himself with his companion Bangley, a brutish taciturn redneck, born killer who fights off all intruders. Hig has scruples about killing. He loves fishing and hunting except for the part where he has to end a life. Because Hig, we’re relentlessly reminded, is a sensitive guy. It began to feel like Heller was imagining Hig from the comfort of an armchair, not immersed in a world where every stranger is a deranged serial killer. Hig’s companion thinks of Hig as a bit of a pussy and unusually I found myself agreeing with a redneck.

The first part of this novel is all about survival. And I enjoyed this aspect more. The second part wanes into a cheesy love story. Hig finds Eden and Eve. And cue the hyper flowery prose. For me the parts that worked best were Hig's relationship with the natural world and his uncomfortable but life-preserving partnership with Bangley and his arsenal of weaponry.

December 22, 2019
3.5 stars
Hig has survived the flu pandemic, although he’s lost his wife and everyone he holds dear. He now lives in an airport hangar with his dog Jasper and has an odd relationship/friendship with Bangley, who has survival skills as well as a cache of weapons. Bangley protects their perimeter from marauders and doesn’t hesitate to use his guns. He and Hig are as different as night and day but they need each other.

Hig lives mostly inside his head, out of necessity. He recalls memories of happier days, and he deals with the harsh reality of his current circumstances.

The writing style is one of no quotation marks and sentence fragments. This would drive me crazy if reading the print book but on audio it worked perfectly.

A post-apocalyptic book that is grim but not without hope and beauty. I enjoyed this book but of the three Peter Heller books I recently read this was my least favorite. This says more about me than the book. And even thought it was my least favorite of the 3 I read I still enjoyed it very much.
Profile Image for Maciek.
567 reviews3,412 followers
January 19, 2013
The Dog Stars is Peter Heller's debut novel, which was promoted on Amazon as their book of the month in August of 2012, and it gathered rave reviews from the critics and readers alike. That's exactly what got me into reading Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - which I didn't think was all that good - but this one appealed to my tastes: I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction, and thought that it could be a new and interesting addition to the genre which is now mostly populated by novels for young adults. Since it was described as "Poetic, thoughtful, transformative" and "a rare combination of the literary and highly readable", I took the bait and dove right in.

The story takes place 9 years after an epidemic of super-flu wiped out 99,7% of the population. It's narrated by Hig, who lives in Colorado with his dog Jasper and a fellow survivor, Bangley. Mostly, Hig patrols the area in his old Cessna to look for possible hostile intruders (why there are always hostile intruders? can't people just cooperate to ensure their survival?); in his free time he makes up names of constellations (hence the title) and tries to appease Bangley, who is prone to violence and whom Hig doesn't completely trust.

The novel is narrated by Hig, and mostly written in stacatto sentences and parapgraphs, without quotation marks for dialogue. Such broken sentence structure serves to reflect Hig's thought process, as a sentence will often end in the middle without completion, and another will begin...or not; I found it neither original nor poetic, and felt that the writing tried to hide the lack of originality of the novel; there's little here that has not already been done elsewhere, and better. It's essentially dystopian fiction 101, with all the familiar tropes. I did not find the characters and their interactions interesting, and the events leading to the ending were organized a bit too neatly for my taste. The ending itself I thought was inconsequential and out of the left field; it certainly did not cement the novel in my memory.

The Dog Stars is the author's debut, and reads like a short story or a novella stretched into a novel; while there are parts of it which I enjoyed I doubt I'll think of it in a year or two, and doubt that it'll enter the dystopian canon. The first novel I've read this year was In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster. Despite being shorter, Auster's work packs a whole lot more detail and punch than Heller's debut; I would recommend it to all curious readers, and advise to skip this one.
Profile Image for Ginger.
789 reviews373 followers
August 10, 2023
The Dog Stars wasn’t what I expected it to be.

I knew going into this read that it was post-apocalyptic and on my TBR for years.
After a spontaneous buddy read happened, I finally got to it!

When I started the book, I was struggling because the writing is different.
Trying to be inside Hig’s mind along with the lack of punctuation was making this a chore to read.
(The lack of punctuation is intentional.)

The Dog Stars is told in first person by Hig. He rambles and is in his head a lot.

After a bit, I got it down and imagined it would be like speaking to someone that hasn’t been around people in while or had a conversation in 10 years.

The plot of the book looks at surviving in a harsh world. It also touches on Hig's introspection about the past and daily circumstances, and why this has happened in the first place, especially to him and other survivors.

The twists that pop up were more than I expected and I liked the action moments in this book.
In fact, if it wasn't for some of those action moments, I would have rated this a bit lower.

It was nice to get those sudden bursts of danger when Hig is fishing, taking a stroll in the woods, or flying in his plane.
It gives you a brief burst of adrenaline when he's trying to survive in this world and not get killed.

If you enjoy the dystopian genre and can finally read a pandemic book after Covid-19, give this one a chance.
I was pleasantly surprised by it and how different it was from other books written in this genre.
Profile Image for Stephanie *Eff your feelings*.
239 reviews1,234 followers
September 9, 2012
If this book didn't have a dog as one of the mian characters this would have been a three star for me.

Hig survives a super flu out break that kills off everyone he loves except for his dog Jasper and his airplane The Beast (which is also the name of an awesome roller coaster at Kings Island in Cincinnatti). He teams up with a man who is now a sociopath, but might not have always been before the shit hit the fan. They hold up at a small airport that they can protect with the help of a tower, a few guns, good aim, a dog that growls at the sign of trouble and the Beast that Hig flys to scope the area for intruders. Because, you see, everyone turns mean and murderous.

This is a problem I am beginning to have with books like this (I know it's distopian), the assumption when something really bad happens, like a super flu, everybody who had moral values prior to the event turn into killing machines automatically. I don't believe that is the way it would go down in reality. When 9/11 happened everyone pulled together and were kinder to one another than they were on 9/10, at least for a little while. So I believe if a pandemic were to sweep the globe and kill almost everyone, human nature would bring people together probably out of shear loneliness more than anything. "oh hi there! Good god it's been a long time since I've seen another face! Too bad we can't talk and get to know each other because I have to kill you.". Bang! "Now that's a shame."

But that would'nt make for a very good story, and this story was about a bleak future for the human race. As far as that's concerned I think the author did a good job. I did have an issue with the part where after Hig finds a couple of other people and after he convinces them not to kill him and then plans to fly them out .......so that was kind of rediculus.

But the best part of the book is the relationship between Hig and his dog Jasper. Jasper is all that is left of his old life, a reminder of how life used to be before. He did a good job with that.


Profile Image for Barbara**catching up!.
1,397 reviews806 followers
July 2, 2020
I loved this book. It is one of those "apocalyptic" stories, and it it has bad guys and good guys. He is inventive in his story telling, yet his plot has a realistic view of what could happen to basic humans when subjected to the unthinkable. He shows the bad and the good. Of course I like it because it's an affirmation to the goodness of people.....well, some people. His story shows that in the face of devastation and ill-will, he believes that some people can still maintain dignity and kindness. I'm a sucker for those sorts of stories. He is lyrical, and it can take a few pages to get used to his "cadence". Great story.
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