Friday Firesmith – The Dog Stars

Because I’ve been writing a story about a post-apocalyptic America, someone recommended “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller. The first real post-civilization book that grabbed me was “Lucifer’s Hammer” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Their book was based on the idea that a comet would hit Earth and predictably, things went poorly for human beings, and pretty much all other life forms. They also set the stage for the aftermath, with humans either coming together to help one another, or not help one another, and the role that technology would play. This was back in 1977, mind you, and a lot of things have changed since then. Or not.

Heller’s post human world is a fairly grim place with the last few survivors really not doing much more than that. Nine years after the fall, there’s not a lot of hope felt in the narrator, and it’s a grim read, so far. I’m nearly finished.

Spoiler Alert: The dog dies. Most people don’t want to read a story where the dog dies, and this one is a good dog, really.

There’s a scene in the book where the narrator, a man named Hig, gets into a shootout with bad guys, kills one of them, but allows the others to live. One of them is wearing a necklace made of body parts, so Hig decides to kill him, too. It’s a grim world, and his dog dies.

A lot of things will have to go right if things keep going wrong, in the real world, in our reality. In fiction, there’s always something that happens, some place safe, some group of people who get it right, so there’s hope.

Invariably, even in fiction, there’s conflict between groups of humans, and people die. The good guys win, plant food, harvest enough to keep things going, and life begins anew at the end. Or not, I haven’t finished Heller’s book yet. I’m busy writing about it.

“The Dog Stars” was written in 2012, the year people told us the Mayans thought the world would end. Clearly, their ability to interpret ancient hieroglyphs, was lacking. But the idea of the world ending, clearly, isn’t a new idea. The Mayan people disappeared long before the white people came along and wiped out indigenous people like a plague, and there’s been many a civilization to be uncovered that went long before over the horizon sailing was invented.

Two questions: (1) How do you envision the world ending now, during our lifetime? (2) What’s your favorite post-apocalyptic book, and why?

Take Care,

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.
Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

31 thoughts on “Friday Firesmith – The Dog Stars”

  1. a) Nuclear war. Our control of the weapons is flimsy and subject to human error and misjudgement, and the Russians have the same problems we do. I could easily see the whole thing starting by accident. b) “Alas, Babylon”, by Pat Frank. There are many books of near quality, but none better than this one, written at the height of the Cold War. No zombies, no flu, no cel phones that scramble your mind, just an excellent accounting of what happened to a small town in Florida after the Cold War turned hot.

  2. The world ending?
    Our current “civilization” ending?
    Human habitation of the earth ending?
    Who cares after the dog dies?

    We came close to a major disruption a week ago when the meteor “2019 OK”, with just two days warning, came within 45,000 miles of the earth. What, 45,000 miles, that ain’t a close call.
    The Moon is 239,000 miles away, it was a close call.
    What if it hit the earth and somebody thinks it’s an attack justifying the launch of nukes? Or it hits the moon messing it’s orbit and changing the tides of our oceans?
    All in all we exist in a precarious balance, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  3. ‘On the Beach’ Neville Shute 1957. I read the book long after seeing the movie (1959) when my mother took me to the cinema as a 14 year old. She was a great Mum, but it was a mistake taking me to see it, I remember being traumatised thinking of the movie when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened…The movie revolves around family characters, the beach in Melmourne Australia, the Australian government hands out free suicide pills for when the end is near.
    I tend personally to believe Sir David Attenborough’s theory that over population is the biggest threat to our survival.

  4. I am not sure how or if the world will end–and I am not too worried. Why? Since I depend on the logistics of getting my medicine, if those logistics breakdown, I will be going shortly after that. Oh well.

    One of my favorite books of the subject is “Down to a Sunless Sea” by David Graham–published in 1979.

  5. I’m thinking that a nuclear-armed war will end us. If we make it through the next 2 (or 6) years with any remain degree of sanity, then I’m not sure, but think we will not be able to stop climate change before the ecosystem is permanently damaged.

    A great read, and my introduction to end-times is “And Earth Abides” which I first read in the mid-60’s. Then again several years later. I need to read it again.

  6. Ooooo. “Earth Abides”, by George Stewart. Excellent. I own a copy of that one. Some sort of flu kills almost everyone, but the protagonist is saved by a timely snakebite. Fortunately, there’s an Eve, so there is that.

  7. Nuclear war started? I live in Austin, about 4 miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, 8 miles from downtown Austin and the Capitol Complex and 15 miles from the Department of Public Safety (state police) complex, which sits atop the Emergency Operations Center for all of Texas. All three locations will be targeted. My home will be almost certainly be vaporized. I’m not going to run. I will not live as a refugee. Further, after such a nuclear exchange, the living will envy the dead. I want no part of such a thing. If we have warning, my wife and I will sit in our front yard and wait. We’ll hold hands and love each other with our eyes and talk about things we’ve done and places we’ve been and people we’ve known. And if we’re very lucky, we’ll see a flash of very bright white light. And then we won’t see anything else ever again.

    • Roadie, there was a book titled, “The Last Boat” which centered around a nuclear sub that had fired its missiles. Russia fired back, China did too, and the crew searched for somewhere to go that wasn’t ruined or radioactive. If that was only 10% accurate I do not want to live through that.

      • I read “The Last Boat” about five years ago. Very well done. Written back in the 80’s, and never got much play. I suppose you can tell that I enjoy post-apocalyptic fiction. I have a vivid imagination, and “Alas, Babylon” filled my dreams for years. Also read “On the Beach”. Also pretty good. The movie version is on my bucket list. And someone mentioned “The Stand” earlier. One of my all time favorites. King always allows his characters plenty of room to develop, with plenty of backstory. He does this to great effect in “The Stand”. All of them were completely human, with all the good and bad that humanity entails; none were drawn as caricatures. All were human, that is, except for The Walkin’ Dude, who was never fully explained. King allowed our own imagination to answer questions about Randall Flagg. Be sure and read the later expanded version of “The Stand”, as there are more characters and even more exposition.

    • Regarding targets, I live a few miles from the main CDC location, with its secure labs with all kinds of deadly viruses. Now that is a target.

    • Keith, they’ll never make it across the desert. Even in September. Twenty miles of open desert floor? Those that make it to the fence will beg to be arrested. You’re looking at a really large rescue not a storming of the gates.

  8. A comet or asteroid will do us in. 🙂

    As for books, read “One Second After”. An excellent book that will make you want to stock up on on some groceries if you haven’t already. Makes you realize how dependent on technology we are and how quickly we’d devolve into an “every man for himself” mindset. Here’s the description from Amazon:

    “New York Times best selling author William R. Forstchen now brings us a story which can be all too terrifyingly real…a story in which one man struggles to save his family and his small North Carolina town after America loses a war, in one second, a war that will send America back to the Dark Ages…A war based upon a weapon, an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP). A weapon that may already be in the hands of our enemies.

    Months before publication, One Second After has already been cited on the floor of Congress as a book all Americans should read, a book already being discussed in the corridors of the Pentagon as a truly realistic look at a weapon and its awesome power to destroy the entire United States, literally within one second. It is a weapon that the Wall Street Journal warns could shatter America. In the tradition of On the Beach, Fail Safe and Testament, this book, set in a typical American town, is a dire warning of what might be our future…and our end.”

    There are three books in the series, but the first stands on its own.

  9. 1) Western civilization, if it survives nuclear holocaust, will die from inability to adapt. “I can’t even!” millennials will die first. After which, half will die from lack of junk food (Mountain Dew, Cheetos, Doritos, Red Bull, fries, pizza, Taco Bell, Starbucks…). Other half dies from lack of Whole Foods, kale, and quinoa. When that phase ends. Of remaining, half will outlive other half by discovering easily-hunted healthy wholesomeness of eating grass-fed vegans who will be camped outside Bikram Yoga studios. When those run out, what remains will die of exhaustion from testing every phone they come across for Domino’s delivery. There will be hunger but not the hunger we think we fear.
    2) daily news cycle, because “‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange; Stranger than fiction; if it could be told…” (“Don Juan”, Lord Byron) and there’s really nothing more apocalyptic to humans, post or otherwise, than lack of beginning, middle, and end.

    • Blimey, you are dead wrong about today’s young people. The Internet’s perception of the up and coming generation is mainly due to this generation’s inability to solve the problems that have put us here to begin with, so we blame the next generation for not fixing what we broke. I f you are going to write at length at least put some real thought into it, please.

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