The Dog Stars Summary

Peter Heller

The Dog Stars

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The Dog Stars Summary

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The Dog Stars is a post-apocalyptic novel written by Peter Heller and published in 2012. It tells the story of two survivors of a mass epidemic, as they struggle to live in a wasteland while mankind and other species are posed on the edge of extinction.

A sample of flu being shipped from one lab to another is suddenly released when the plane carrying it crashes. Within days, people are infected and afterward an AIDS like virus spreads among the flu survivors. Most don’t survive this second disease.

In the wake of these epidemics, Hig still flies his airplane, though carefully, and has made his home in the hanger close to the house where his wife and child died. His only neighbor, Bruce Bangley, arrived after Hig retreated to the hanger. They struggle to survive as the world is taken over by bands of renegades and descends slowly into chaos.

The neighbors settle into a routine, with Hig taking his dog hunting, and Bangley staying behind to protect the hanger. Hig is forced to move further and further into the wilderness as the animals disappear, a fact that bothers Bangley, as he feels vulnerable left alone in the hanger. A group of Mennonites live about 10 miles to the South; they have erected a sign that states they are infected to help protect them from renegades. Hig flies there periodically to help them when they need it. His job is to patrol the borders to ensure everyone’s safety, but otherwise, he keeps his distance.

When his dog dies on a hunting trip one day, Hig is gone much longer than he should be. Bangley believes that he has died. When Bangley finally sees him return, he is being pursued. With Bangley’s help, telling him when to hide and when to shoot, Hig escapes, although narrowly.

Hig tells Bangley that he went to explore a radio signal he received three years earlier. The problem is that the signal is coming from beyond Hig’s point of no return. He thinks he can scavenge the fuel to make it out there. He leaves Bangley by himself again and sets out.

He discovers a man and his daughter along with, to his surprise, cattle and sheep. The man shoots at him, but Hig manages to convince him that he means them no harm. He stays with them for a long time, but before summer ends, the man tells him that they have to leave the farm. Their animals are dying, and soon there will be nothing left for them.

They manage to work out the logistics to get them all to Grand Junction. The airport is booby trapped though, and Hig has to maneuver carefully to avoid being killed. The couple who set the trap is dealt with, and they refuel to head back to Hig’s hanger. They find Bangley close to death after surviving an attack. It was a very close call, and it remains unclear what will happen to humanity in this ever changing landscape at the end of the world.

The novel is fundamentally concerned with humanity and what it means to be human. Hig and Bangley come together to ensure their survival, working together to protect the hanger and keep away renegades. Hig also patrols the borders to protect other communities close by. This behavior provides a stark contrast to the bands of renegades who pursue and attack others to survive. When Hig finds the man and his daughter, they are initially unwilling to believe that Hig isn’t trying to kill them. They could have set a trap themselves, but Hig believes in humanity and ultimately wins them over. On their journey to Hig’s hanger, they are attacked by a couple who, in their determination to bring the plane down and kill the passengers, provide another contrast to the central characters’ personalities.

For Heller, mankind is divided into two kinds of people, those who perpetuate chaos, and those who build communities. Hig is a good man surviving under challenging circumstances, but he is determined to retain his humanity in spite of them.

Another significant theme of the novel is that of pain. Hig feels the pain of his wife’s passing deeply; he loves the blues and feels that although the pain expressed in the music is nothing that anyone could survive, the blues make pain seem like pleasure.

This need for pain is evident in relation to his dog as well. We understand that his dog is deaf from the noise of the plane, and Hig refuses to count his dog years. When his dog dies, he is overcome with grief, but this pain spurs his further exploration of the radio signal.

The story offers a glimpse into a possible future for humanity. It touches on themes of climate change and our ability to destroy ourselves with science. After the cities collapse, hospitality goes out the window, with people more willing to kill to survive than to band together. As with all good apocalyptic stories, it is a terrifying, but hopeful look at the future of humanity.