I first took notice of Peter Heller's The Dog Stars when it was nominated for Best Science Fiction in the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2012. Heller takes on the time after the apocalypse, but for once, zombies aren't included in the equation, unlike many modern novels today. But even without zombies, Heller paints a world that is pretty grim, and there is still plenty of cause for the survivors to watch their back.
The Situation: Hig resides somewhere in Colorado, after a flu-like disease has taken out most of the population. He lives there with his dog, Jasper, and his trigger-happy neighbor, Bangley. To call what he and Bangley have a "friendship" would be way too generous, since on some level, they each fear the other, but realize the only reason they have stayed alive this long is because they have stuck together. Hig has a plane he can fly to check the perimeter and see if anyone is approaching, and Bangley has enough gun power and weaponry to protect them against almost anything. Hig likes to hunt, fish, and garden, while Bangley barely ever sleeps as he is keeping constant watch for dangerous intruders. It isn't the life they dreamed of, but it's what they have right now.
The Problem: Hig has a suspicion that their way of life is ending. What's more, one day while he's flying, he hears a voice come in from a long-abandoned airport - at least he thought it was abandoned. In order to make the trip, he would have to risk never being able to return, as the plane will only carry enough fuel to get him there. Also, he would have to leave Bangley behind. And what if the new survivors are just as protective of their space as Hig and Bangley have been of their own. Is Hig really willing to risk what little he has left to find out?
Genre, Themes, History: As I said before, this has been categorized as science fiction, but as far as I can tell, the only thing that would really put it in that category is the fact that the story takes place after some sort of apocalypse. A terrible flu came on quickly and wiped out almost everyone, and even of the few who survived, many of them have what is referred to as the blood sickness, which to me seems very close to HIV or AIDS. The main theme seems to be that of survival, and also the complete dissolution of society and love of fellow human beings in the face of a crisis. Hig doesn't really like to kill, even a deer for food when he is out hunting, but he will, because he wants to live. He's even willing to kill another person if it means his dog gets to eat. Anyone that approaches someone else's territory is immediately assumed to be hostile, and Bangley believes in shooting first and asking questions later. I would place the timeline of the book at around 10-25 or so years from now, as Hig mentions seeing the movie Avatar on a first date, and his wife was killed by the flu some time ago.
My Verdict: Honestly, while the premise is promising, I found this book to be pretty boring. There are some parts that are interesting, and the characters are relatable enough, but I just wasn't that interested in Hig's survival. Some of the descriptions of where they lived, and the plane, and all of Bangley's weaponry just seemed unnecessary. Most of the book seems to drag, with small spurts of excitement and action hidden in between.
Favorite Moment: When Hig insists on helping a group that has been quarantined since they have the blood sickness, despite Bangley's protests.
Favorite Character: Hig meets Pops after deciding (*spoiler alert!*) to fly off and see what else is out there. Pops' number one priority is protecting his daughter. He doesn't say much, but he is an excellent shot and no one messes with him and lives to tell about it.
Recommended Reading: If you want to read about the apocalypse, but don't want to deal with the blood and gore of zombies, then I recommend Cormac McCarthy's The Road. For me, The Dog Stars just didn't quite get at the incredible sense of desperation and despair that comes from losing everything you love and now having to watch your back for the rest of your life.