Wednesday 1 August 2012

The Dog Stars

Even someone as obsessed as I am with the imminent collapse of civilisation and the death throes of human life is likely to be surprised at the literary comeback the apocalypse has been making in the last few years. The success of Cormac McCarthy's The Road and the ludicrously successful pop-culture revivification of zombies must be what's behind it all, and my own interest in the genre means that Amazon keeps bombarding me with "You should read this"-style emails about endless appallingly written and self-published zombie and survivalist books.

US edition, from Knopf: designer unknown
However, if this overload means we also get books of the quality of Peter Heller's The Dog Stars, out in a few days from Knopf, then it's churlish to complain. Variously promoted somewhat annoyingly as 'The Road, but with hope!' and 'an end of the world novel that makes you glad to be alive', it's genuinely excellent in an unfussy, low-key way. The set-up is straightforward: superflu, mass deaths, and a widower pilot living in remote Colorado cabin with his dog and a single usefully but disturbingly violent gun-nut neighbour to keep away the other survivors.

Reading this as a man with a pregnant wife and an ageing dog probably made me more than usually susceptible to its dangers and charms, but I really can't recommend it highly enough. Heller is especially good on the strange wonder of the human/dog connection, the loveliness of wilderness that is completely indifferent to whether you live or die, and what can seem like the extraordinary generosity of women in letting men even come near them.

UK edition, from Headline: designer unknown
As with another recent literary apocalypse, the similar cover designs of both US and UK editions are entirely appropriate to the contents, without even suggesting that said contents might be science-fiction. We're a long way from Baen Books here.

UPDATE: Eagle-eyed Tulkinghorn comments: "Proustian recall from my childhood reading and it MUST be the inspiration for the Knopf cover..."

UPDATE: The also eagle-eyed Lisa Barrow contacted me to point out the resemblance between the Dog Stars covers and the US first edition of Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This connection makes a lot of sense, with the danger and loneliness of the life of the pilots in both books.


Ian Koviak said...

nice covers. what a lame tagline on that UK cover... Cheeeeeeesssssyyyyy

Tororo said...

Agreed. The UK cover would be the best if not for this tagline.

JRSM said...

Exactly--like the tagline for a not great movie. The US version, with minimal text, is much more effective.

Tulkinghorn said...

Proustian recall from my childhood reading and it MUST be the inspiration for the Knopf cover:

JRSM said...

Nice one, Tulkinghorn: I'll add that to the post.