Tuesday, August 7, 2012

REVIEW: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller


A riveting, powerful debut novel from an award-winning adventure writer: the story of a pilot surviving in a world filled with loss—and of 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 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.

ebook, 336 pages
Published August 7th 2012 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
ISBN  0307960935 (ISBN13: 9780307960931)

About the Author
from the author's website

Peter Heller is a longtime contributor to NPR, and a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He is an award winning adventure writer and the author of four books of literary nonfiction.  He lives in Denver. Heller was born and raised in New York. He attended high school in Vermont and Dartmouth College in New Hampshire where he became an outdoorsman and whitewater kayaker. He traveled the world as an expedition kayaker, writing about challenging descents in the Pamirs, the Tien Shan mountains, the Caucuses, Central America and Peru.At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he received an MFA in fiction and poetry, he won a Michener fellowship for his epic poem “The Psalms of Malvine.”  He has worked as a dishwasher, construction worker, logger, offshore fisherman, kayak instructor, river guide, and world class pizza deliverer. Some of these stories can be found in Set Free in China, Sojourns on the Edge. In the winter of 2002 he joined, on the ground team, the most ambitious whitewater expedition in history as it made its way through the treacherous Tsangpo Gorge in Eastern Tibet. He chronicled what has been called The Last Great Adventure Prize for Outside, and in his book Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River.

The gorge — three times deeper than the Grand Canyon — is sacred to Buddhists, and is the inspiration for James Hilton’s Shangri La.  It is so deep there are tigers and leopards in the bottom and raging 25,000 foot peaks at the top, and so remote and difficult to traverse that a mythical waterfall, sought by explorers since Victorian times, was documented for the first time in 1998 by a team from National Geographic.

The book won a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, was number three on Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List” of all pop culture, and a Denver Post review ranked it “up there with any adventure writing ever written.”

In December, 2005, on assignment for National Geographic Adventure, he joined the crew of an eco-pirate ship belonging to the radical environmental group the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it sailed to Antarctica to hunt down and disrupt the Japanese whaling fleet.

The ship is all black, sails under a jolly Roger, and two days south of Tasmania the engineers came on deck and welded a big blade called the Can Opener to the bow—a weapon designed to gut the hulls of ships.  In The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals, Heller recounts fierce gales, forty foot seas, rammings, near-sinkings, and a committed crew’s clear-eyed willingness to die to save a whale.  The book was published by Simon and Schuster’s Free Press in September, 2007.

In the fall of 2007 Heller was invited by the team who made the acclaimed film The Cove to accompany them in a clandestine filming mission into the guarded dolphin-killing cove in Taiji, Japan. Heller paddled into the inlet with four other surfers while a pod of pilot whales was being slaughtered. He was outfitted with a helmet cam, and the terrible footage can be seen in the movie. The Cove went on to win an Academy Award. Heller wrote about the experience for Men’s Journal.

Heller’s most recent memoir, about surfing from California down the coast of Mexico, Kook: What Surfing Taught Me about Love, Life, and Catching the Perfect Wave, was published by The Free Press in 2010. Can a man drop everything in the middle of his life, pick up a surfboard and, apprenticing himself to local masters, learn to ride a big, fast wave in six months? Can he learn to finally love and commit to someone else? Can he care for the oceans, which are in crisis? The answers are in. The book won a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, which called it a “powerful memoir…about love: of a woman, of living, of the sea.” It also won the National Outdoor Book Award for Literature.

Heller’s debut novel, The Dog Stars, will be published by Knopf in August, 2012. It will also be published by Headline Review in Great Britain and Australia, and Actes Sud in France.

Check out his website
Contact the author via email

My Thoughts

Unfortunately this book was from Netgalley and it expired, and I unthinkingly lost all of my notes when that happened. I'll know next time to copy my notes out and to another location before the book expires! So this time I have to try and do a brief review without any notes to remind me. 

Hig is a survivor of an epidemic, living with his dog and a nearby neighbor on constant alert for danger by traveling scavengers. A pilot who still takes periodic scouting flights, he is plagued by the memory of a voice on his radio, calling to him from the Denver airport.

My memory is getting so bad as I get older that I can't even remember the name of Hig's dog, and am not 100% positive that it was the Denver airport that the voice came from. See? That's why I need my notes!

I loved this story. Part post-apocalyptic, part adventure story, this book goes beyond the average post-apocalyptic. Where usually a story of this genre would simply branch off into a good ol' horror yarn, this story explores human nature and is a more "real" look at life after the apocalypse rather than a fantastical look, albeit with a somewhat desperate and negative bent, assuming the worst of human nature. Not only a book about survival, but a story about the love between a man and his dog.

Hig comes off as a pretty honorable man-- a man with a conscience and uncomfortable with some of the things he must do. His ornery neighbor is not so conflicted. He has absolutely no problem with living in the world they now struggle to survive in. In fact, you get the impression that he may be more comfortable in this post-apocalyptic world than the cushy world of the past.

My final word: If you like the post-apocalyptic genre, and appreciate good writing, give this one a try. It is a fast read (Goodreads shows the e-book at 336 pages, but my e-book was just over 200 pages. Blame it on the font size!), well-written, with emotional moments. There is some brutality, but nothing explicit or excessive. Bound to be one of my favorites of the year. Very nice!

My Rating: 9 out of 10


I received this e-book through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

1 comment:

AR Parts and Accessories said...

I had no idea what this book was about until I read this review. It sounds so different, yet something I think I might enjoy.