book reviews by Althea

The Dog Stars – Peter Heller ****

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A post-apocalyptic book club selection!
The author is a writer for magazines like National Geographic Adventure (so I know I’ve probably read some of his writing before). He concentrates on outdoor & adventure writing, so the whole post-apocalyptic survival thing seems to come naturally. I felt that may of the details of flying a small plane, traveling through the wilds, etc felt like personal experience, and lent a sense of reality to the book.

The writing style is a very stream-of-consciousness flow, which varies depending on the emotional state of the narrator. I felt it was done very well. There seems to be a big trend in the post-apocalyptic genre toward non-standard language usage, and it often annoys me (see: The Road; The Book of Dave),but I just fell into this, and went with it.

As far as the plot – well, there are a lot of familiar elements. The holed-up-in-a-safe place trope, the fighting off mad gangs, the survivalist trek, the dealing-with-plagues, all that good stuff.

Two men have teamed up to try to survive in a violent world.
One has a small plane, one has weapons expertise (and is almost psychotically, defensively violent). They’ve been doing well, or at least as well as can be expected: they’re alive. But when the pilot’s aging dog dies, he sets out on an almost-surely-doomed expedition to try to find the source of a mysterious radio broadcast he’d heard years before.

In addition to the expected, though, there are also some really original and interesting elements here. I really liked some of the characterizations. I saw the book as a musing on what people need to survive, and an exploration of the theory that compassion must balance aggression, but that both are needed and essential parts of humanity.


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