Read by Mark Deakins
Length: 10 Hrs 41 Min
Genre: Post Apocalyptic
Quick Thoughts: The Dog Stars is a melancholy look at social isolation brought about by a devastating plague and one man’s eventual search for human connection. Those searching for a fast paced, action filled Apocalyptic tale will probably be disappointed with The Dog Stars. It’s a slow moving character study of a man not quite dealing with his isolation and loss.
So often in Post Apocalyptic Fiction, the first step that the survivors take after their world is decimated is to join up with other survivors. Yet, this isn’t always the case. In worlds where the population is almost complete eradicated, yet the world remains grand in size, there is definitely a place for isolationism and loneliness whether by choice or not. Despite the nature tendency to flock together there have been plenty of novels exploring the solitary man in a Post Apocalyptic world. One of the first examples of this is MP Sheil’s The Purple Cloud, where one man travels the earth after a strange incident kills off the entire planet. Other tales, like Gordon Dickson Wolf and Iron, detail loners who choose to avoid population centers. Yet, the story that often sticks with me is George Stewart’s Earth Abide. Isherwood Williams wakes up from a snake bite in the California hills, to find the world practically emptied of human life by a plague. He spends much of the early part of the novel traveling the country, only accompanied by his small dog, rarely encountering any human life. There is an aching loneliness in this tale. Even when Isherwood eventually meets up with people and begins a family, there is still a social isolation that permeates the page between Ish, and the new generation of humanity growing up in the ashes of the old. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller will definitely draw plenty of comparisons to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. This is really the fate of the Literate Post Apocalyptic tale today, to be examined side by side with The Road. Yet, personally, I feel that The Dog Stars is the spiritual brother of Earth Abides. The Dog Stars is a melancholy look at social isolation brought about by a devastating plague and one man’s eventual search for human connection.
It’s been nine years since a Flu has wiped out over 99% of the population, and Hig has spent the majority of his days eating, sleeping and securing the perimeter of the airport he lives in in his 1956 Cessna he calls "The Beast." His only social interactions are with his dog Jasper and a surly gun toting neighbor Bangley. Yet, when the loss becomes too much, and he can no longer bear the weight of loneliness, Hig sets out to find a voice he heard on his radio three years earlier. The Dog Stars is a moody Post Apocalyptic tale, told with a lavish, poetic style that highlights the need for connection in our darkest moments. Heller spends a lot of time within Hig’s mind, examining each decision, each happening in an almost excruciating existential detail. Even when Hig is fighting off raiders, or flying his recon missions, each moment is punctuated by a constant internal dialogue. At first, it comes off heavy handed, but as you acclimate to Heller’s style, it becomes an almost mesmerizing cataloguing of one man’s soul. Heller’s prose is beautiful, full of dark, almost Biblical poetry. Yet, at times, his writing is almost too beautiful, When Hig eventually meet the connection he was looking for, the dialogue just doesn’t feel authentic. It almost seems as if the two characters aren’t truly communicating but attempting to out angst the other in a seeming “baring of the soul” duel. Yet, in some ways it fits the story. Hig has been so lonely, so isolated, that often he doesn’t even realize he is speaking his thoughts. Hig has forgotten how to communicate. While I would have preferred some real dialogue, these interactions are true to the essence of the tale. My favorite part of the novel is the surprise relationship that develops between Hig and his neighbor. While they had been together for nine years, only as the book progresses do they actually connect on any real level. It’s brilliantly done, and full of dark humor that lifts the mood of the tale on more that one occasion. Those searching for a fast paced, action filled Apocalyptic tale will probably be disappointed with The Dog Stars. It’s a slow moving character study of a man not quite dealing with his isolation and loss. While it can be heavy handed and stilted at times, The Dogs Stars has moments of stunning beauty that mingles with dream like prose and one man’s battle between sorrow and hope.
Mark Deakins reads The Dog Stars with a slow, dreamlike quality that perfectly suits the novel. Deakins does a good job giving Hig’s often meandering thought process an organic feel. Deakins has a strong professional sounding voice, yet also manages to put enough grit into Banger’s dialogue. His female voice, while not perfect, wasn’t distracting. There were moments in the story where I felt, particularly with one character, he could have given a tad more flavor to his voice, but for the most part, the choices he made worked. Where Deakins really excels is capturing the poetic slant of the prose. Deakins uses well timed pauses and tonal changes to emphasis the stylistic elements of the author. I think The Dog Stars, which lives very much inside Hig’s head, was particularly well suited for audio. Where Heller’s prose may have come off as forced, with the right narrator, it actually smoothed out and achieved the flow the author was hoping for, and luckily for us, Deakins was up to the challenge.
This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse series.
Also, Presenting Lenore is again hosting a celebration of Dystopian Fiction on her blog.