Monday, June 08, 2015

The Dog Stars

Of a bleak future after a man-made apocalypse and survivors in Colorado- Peter Heller's 2012 debut novel 'The Dog Stars'. No zombies or vampires. Nothing supernatural, all terrors were man-made, which made this story even scarier. Of a super-flu bug and an infectious strain of blood disease. (Reviews here, here and here.)

In Denver, Colorado, nine years after the super-flu killed most humans, narrator and some-time poet Hig lived in an abandoned hangar with his old dog, Jasper. He had struck an uneasy truce with nearest neighbor, battle-hardened Bruce Bangley, and formed a safety perimeter for them both. They had a Cessna 182, guns, ammunition, oil, radio comms, water and sufficient food in this strange world. They would shoot and kill invading humans, no questions asked. There were a few surviving families nearby that Hig flew out to drop off supplies and help to fix things.

The story with its broken sentences to depict the humans' resigned thoughts, followed their day-to-day survival, Coke (Coca Cola) runs, and Hig's reminiscence of the past, his wife Melissa who had the flu and he had to smother her with a pillow when she pleaded for a quick death. Every chapter talked about the past, of a spirit that was deeply grieved. There wasn't much to think about, beyond survival and planting crops. Then one day, Jasper died, and Hig took off beyond the mountains on an impulse, not knowing what lay ahead. He met an old man, and his daughter Cima, and brought them home.

You got in your plane and flew past your point of no return. In a world maybe without any more good fuel. You left a safe haven, a partnership that worked. For a country that is not at all safe, where anyone you meet is most likely going to try to kill you. If not from outright predation then from disease. What the fuck were you thnking? 
My dog died, I said. 
I told him about the radio transmission I'd picked up three years ago. I told him about hunting and fishing and Jasper dying and killing the boy and others, and being at the end of all loss. 
I didn't have another idea, I said. 

Then Hig and Bangley's quiet existence in their homestead increased to four. There was a bizzare addition of perhaps another tribe of survivors since they did fly two 747s over Denver a few times. But the pilots never once communciated with Hig. However, it was a random happy ending Hig. As happy as it could be in times of uncertainty, after finding companionship with Cima, and she found meaning administering Vitamin D infusion to the children nearby. The future was still a blank, with the survivors taking each day as it dawned, never keeping their guard down, but with more hope than when it began. The ending then looped it back to the meaning of its title, of Jasper, of the constellations, of Sirius and Procyon.

The story ended with Hig's apparent favorite poem, which really exists. I laughed because it was so unexpected but kinda apt. I know this one too. Those 300 Tang poems we had to memorize in school. The protagonist already quoted that moon-bed-missing-home poem from Li Bai. The author must really like poems. This final one that wrapped up the story and the emotional state of Hig and perhaps his companions, was written by Tang poet Li Shang-Yin (李商隱), also known as Yi-shan, 義山. In the book, the author translated this poem into English. I'll quote it in its original Chinese,


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