“A novel about the end of the world which makes you glad to be alive.” That is what it says on the cover of my edition. They had my at “end of the world,” but “glad to be alive”? How was a novel about the end of the world going to make me feel glad to be alive? Now? With this earth-destroying, soul-sucking system in place? With corporations pushing through legislation to ban the labeling of GMO foods? With people being arrested because of the books they own? With pollution and more pollution and even more pollution? With factory farming and mountain-top removal and Mitt Romney? Oh wait, maybe a novel about the end of the world is just what would make me feel glad all over.
So I bought it. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller. Even though I hated the title. Even though I wasn’t entirely certain that this author wasn’t also the author of a lot of bad crime novels. (He wasn’t.) Buying a book on a whim is a calculated risk. I don’t like to keep books around that I won’t read again and again, and I don’t like spending money on things I don’t really need. But I had a gift certificate. I took the risk; I played the lotto. And I won, I won!
The Dog Stars is your classic post apocalypse (PA) story. It is nine years out, and a few survivors are doing their rather lonely thing. Some things are broken. (Note to future PA-book-writing self: Heller mentions automobile gas going “stale” i.e. unusable after a few years. True or false?) Some things are not. This book’s two star survivors, Hig and Bangley, happen to have a whole solar-powered airport as their batcave. Besides being attacked from time to time, they seem to have the whole survival thing down. Hig even has a working plane. I suppose it is all plausible enough.
While the book was a fun and quick read, with a sparse, easy-to-swallow style, the author is a real subject of interest. The Dog Stars is Heller’s first novel. Usually he spends his time doing totally fucking nutso white water rafting trips, doing “adventure writing,” and secretly filming assholes who are (were?) murdering a lot of dolphins in Japan (The Cove). He built an off-grid adobe house in the middle of nowhere. He certainly sounds like a man who is ready for whatever is coming, and it all felt like street cred that stood behind the book, making it stronger.
At the end of the story, some crazy shit happens and some nice shit happens. And did I feel good about being alive? I mean, I guess I don’t ever actually feel bad about being alive, but the thought that a book was going to create a deluge of posi-ness was going a bit far. Sounded a bit cheesey. Well, it was. Cheesey. It was. Impossible. But I really enjoyed the book, and the ending was fun and made me feel just fine. Particularly as it involved a world that no longer contained a lot of the bullshit that makes me ache with sorrow for ours. And maybe that is exactly what they meant.