Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Dog Stars

I do like a good post-apocalyptic story. I guess it comes from being an Australian - the landscape and weather lend themselves to thoughts of the absence of humanity, of the collapse of life as we know it. Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, like Cormac McCarthy's The Road, is set in a post-collapse USA. In the Dog Stars, it is a series of diseases - a flu, and some mysterious blood-borne disease - that have wiped out nearly all people, and the survivors have descended into barbarism. In many ways, The Road and The Dog Stars could both be set in the same world; the way the world ended might be different, but the behaviour of the survibors is the same; although the characters in The Dog Stars seem to have been much more successful in setting themselves up for life after the apocalypse.

At the start of the novel, Hig and and Bangley are the only two remaining people in a small town in inland USA. They defend themselves from other survivors, who seem to turn up in the town every few months, trying to attack and kill them. The novel is somewhat unclear about the morality of all this - Hig seems ambivalent about whether they should be killing these attackers, or trying to befriend them. His few attempts at befriending have failed, nearly getting them killed, so now their reaction to newcomers is now to shoot on sight.

It's a slow story, with only a little action, but it's an exploration of Hig's loss, his sadness, and his search for hope in a ruined world. It comes to its conclusion well, and you get to know the characters well enough that their reactions to things can sometimes come as a bit of a surprise. The Dog Stars is well written (the switching between Hig's stilted day to day voice and his waxing poetical is very nicely done), and well worth reading.

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