I like to write fiction in this way of constant discovery because I get to be thrilled, shocked, surprised


Peter Heller

Peter Heller

The Dog Stars

Peter Heller is an award-winning adventure writer and contributor to NPR, Outside Magazine and Men’s Journal. The Dog Stars is his first novel.

In the novel, Hig decides to fly a little bit further than his gas tank allows him to, because one day he heard a mysterious message on the radio. Isn’t it this ability to answer the call of anyone without any prior motive that represents the foundation of humanity?

Yes, of course. It’s a wonderful observation. Hig’s whole challenge is to stay connected to both the things he loves and to others. To stay human. In some ways, nurturing his love for nature, fishing, flying, Jasper, etc., is more difficult, because it necessarily involves staying connected to his past and to memory. So: how do you stay connected to the things that are most important, and to the memory of those we have lost, and answer the calls of the present. It is a balance we all negotiate.

When I read your novel, I couldn’t help but think of McCarthy, for the topic; Harrison, for nature, and Hemingway, for the stark writing. Who are your major literary influences?

Literature is one great conversation, isn’t it? All three of these writers have had great influences on me. When I taught at university I included Harrison’s novel Dalva in a course on American literature. His evocations of nature are some of the best. Hemingway, of course, for the same reason, but also for sheer economy and power. And McCarthy I love not only for his Biblical topics, but also for the music of his language. I adore Faulkner for the same reason, and some of the stories of Eudora Welty. The Southerners have an ear for the lyrical. I read Borges, Neruda, Mutis, Vila-Matas, for playfulness. I read a lot of poetry. The Eliot of The Four Quartets, again for music. The Tang Dynasty poets of Chinese antiquity such as Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Li Po, I have loved all my life, for the simplicity, the closeness to nature, the power of a few deft strokes.

Could you please tell us a few words about the paths you have taken during the writing of the novel?

I began the novel with a first line. I always start that way. I let the music of the language carry me until the words suggest a voice, a character, a place, a situation. Pretty soon there is a life, a story. I love to work like this. You know, I had to work as a journalist for many years, to make a living. I always knew what was going to happen next in all my stories. I like to write fiction in this way of constant discovery because I get to be thrilled, shocked, surprised. I can have as much thrill as the reader. It’s a wonderful way to work.

More than a fiction about the apocalypse, isn’t The Dog Stars an adventure novel with intense action scenes?

Yes. I love action stories. I grew up reading Westerns, spy novels, along with great literary novels where no one ever ever gets shot! The movie company that optioned the book made all the Sergio Leone Westerns, so they have perfect DNA for this story.

I just flew over the Colorado Plateau. It’s really dry and terrifying for someone living in Europe. How is it still possible to love humanity when we are responsible for this soon-to-be devastated thing of beauty?

We love because it is our greatest capacity, our biggest muscle, isn’t it? We are in the middle of the Sixth Great Mass Extinction, this one caused by us. It is a terrible responsibility and burden. We can do better. We must.

Editorial reviews (6 reviews)


The Dog Stars has left me with very mixed feelings. I was very much taken with the story and the ultimate message of hope Heller presents the reader with, but with all my issues with the structure and the writing I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly.

The whole book is rather poetic, despite this gritty realism, and ends with Hig’s favourite poem, which feels right overall for the tone of the book.

It’s science fiction, survivalist fiction, and most accurately, post-society blues.