“Heller shows us the stunning beauty of the natural world. . . . This end-of-the-world novel [is] more like a rapturous beginning.” —Caroline Leavitt, San Francisco Chronicle
A riveting, powerful novel about a pilot living in a world filled with loss—and what he is willing to risk to rediscover, against all odds, connection, love, and grace.
Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and to pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life—something like his old life—exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return—not enough fuel to get him home—following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face—in the people he meets, and in himself—is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.
Narrated by a man who is part warrior and part dreamer, a hunter with a great shot and a heart that refuses to harden, The Dog Stars is both savagely funny and achingly sad, a breathtaking story about what it means to be human.
Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the author of several nonfiction books, including Kook, The Whale Warriors, and Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
From our Q&A with the author
Q: You’ve set out to master surfing in a year (as described in the book Kook), traveled with eco-pirates taking down Japanese whaling ships (Whale Warriors), and were part of what has been called one of the greatest river expeditions in history through Tibet’s notorious Tsangpo Gorge (Hell or High Water). And that’s not counting exploits recorded for Outside, National Geographic Adventure and Men’s Journal. The Dog Stars is your first work of fiction. Were you looking for a new adventure? What drew you to fiction now?
A: Fiction is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Great fiction and poetry are what I always most admired. When I got out of college I worked on them both—short stories and poems—while I did every other job under the sun. Cutting wood, lobster fishing, teaching kayaking, guiding river trips. Pizza delivery. When I started writing about expeditions and the outdoors for a living I thought I’d found the dream job. It was. So I was happily diverted into non-fiction, explored some of the wildest places on earth on assignment, and the non-fiction books grew out of these experiences. Two years ago I took a deep breath. I had money saved, I had some time, and I felt that I might come to, at last, what was for me the greatest adventure of all: writing a novel. The Dog Stars grew out of this sense of excitement.
Q: What were some of the challenges (and maybe the joys?) of writing your first novel after years as a successful non-fiction author? Were there any surprises?
A: It was like coming home. My spirit just sang. One thing I knew was that I never wanted to know what was going to happen next, what the ending would be. With all the non-fiction books, of course I always knew. There is this incredible sense of adventure when you kayak a river that has never been done. Or that was maybe run but never well described. You come around a tight bend in a walled canyon and you have no idea what you’ll see around the corner. It might be a waterfall. I wanted that experience again in writing. I wanted to be surprised, shocked, thrilled, awed. Maybe terrified. I called my old friend Carlton Cuse, who was the showrunner and producer of the TV show Lost. We’ve been best friends since we were fifteen. I said, “Carlton, do you know any novelists that just start with a first line and have no idea where it will lead?” He didn’t hesitate. “Oh, yeah, lots. I’ve worked with a bunch. Stephen King, for one; Elmore Leonard.” I was jazzed. It kind of gave me permission. I sat down and wrote a first line and it was Hig talking and he spoke The Dog Stars. Of everything I’ve ever done, that was the most thrilling.
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