The Dog Stars
By Peter Heller

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Rating:  Excellent
3 Stars

First Published: 2012
Cover Design by Kelly Blair 
Pages: 320 

Review © 2013 by Stephen Roof
Genre:  Post-apocalyptic science fiction, literature    


The Dog Stars is a lyrical take on post-apocalyptic science fiction from Peter Heller.  It takes place in a future which has been devastated by a viral pandemic that has wiped out over 99% of the population.  An everyman named Hig survives while everyone he knew has died.  He forges a friendship of sorts with a cantankerous survivalist but the only real comfort he has left in the world comes from his dog, Jasper.  The novel follows Hig as he struggles to survive and find some meaning in a shattered world.

The Dog Stars begins after most of the population has died and civilization has completely collapsed.  Small bands of survivors fight for the remaining scraps of civilization.  The more noble aspects of humanity seem to be mostly missing now that the veneer of civilization has been removed.  As a gentle natured person, Hig has had the luck of making the acquaintance of a hard core survivalist named Bagley who has collected plenty of armaments and doesn’t hesitate to use them.  Bagley provides the muscle and the survivalist know how while Hig, being a trained pilot, offers to serve as a scout and an early warning system with the help of his dog.   Together, they control a small airport which they protect with their lives from wandering raiders and cut-throats.

The post-apocalyptic future Heller has created is extremely bleak.  Without civilization, humans have reverted to a shocking savagery.  Hig tries to hold out hope that things could get better but each time he encounters new visitors, his hopes are shattered.  However, one time while on a scouting mission, Hig detects a radio transmission that offers hope that there may still be an outpost of civilization.  He eventually decides that he must take the risk to follow this hope and give up the relative security of his current situation.  What he finds on this quest is a mixture of new hope and new disappointments.

The writing quality of The Dog Stars is top notch.  The descriptions of the landscape and ruins of civilization are beautiful and poetic.  The characters are well imagined with details and defects that make them come alive with realism.  The love between man and dog is palpable.  However, Hig’s lyrical ruminations on life are interrupted by sharps bouts of extreme violence.  The only negative aspect of the reading experience is the overwhelming bleak tone which hardly ever lets up.  While there are moments of human understanding and even comedy, most of the story is unrelenting in its depiction of the fall of humanity. 

For those who are looking for quality literature in the form of science fiction, The Dog Stars is a shining example.  I would give this my highest recommendation except that at times the reading experience veered towards depressing.  However, for anyone who enjoys post-apocalyptic science fiction, The Dog Stars, can’t be missed and it marks an impressive debut for a new author exhibiting extraordinary promise.