Post Apocalyptic Survival and “The Dog Stars” by Peter Heller

Since first being exposed to the the genre, post apocalyptic fiction has been an affinity of mine.  My mom’s copy of On the Beach by Nevil Shute, snuggled, worn and thin, between books collected over years of casual reading, was my initial glimpse into a world that had previously only existed in cheesy religious movies about the rapture. I hated those movies, A Thief in the Night was at least retro amusing. When they later came out with the book series in the early 2000s, my head and eyes ached. Give me Brave New World, 1984 and A Canticle for Lebowitz any, and every day. I even kinda enjoy the worlds created for games like Bioshock and Fallout 3. I never played, but when my ex did, I would sit behind him immersed in the guidebooks, directing missions through the wasteland.

So when waiting for a flight out of Orlando, with a choice between The Dog Stars or someromanticfluff, the choice was obvious. I don’t do fluff… or Victorian literature, but that’s neither here nor there.

From that moment on, The Dog Stars became my traveling book. After tagging along from Orlando, it began accompanying me back and forth to work daily, and then it broke my heart.

It’s the classic story of a man and his dog, only transported into a world in which the masses have been wiped from the earth by a flu adjacent virus, and of those who survived, many developed what is only described as a contagious “blood sickness.” It’s a sweet and harsh story centered in seeking personal contact in an inhumane world.

I don’t want to say much, but I can say it’s not for kids, or weak stomachs, or sensitive souls with no backbone to support them. There’s a good deal of swearing, a bit more blood, and a very realistic fear of imminent violence which are all encase in a ‘kill or be killed and fed to my dog,’ kind of world.

If you can handle it, read it. The characterization is great, as is the unique voice in the first person narrative, of a partially numb survivor that somehow maintains the ability to remind us of the beauty and hope in the smallest of moments. The comfort of your sleeping dog’s weight against your knee. We listen to Hig, our hero of sorts, push on daily with only a survival driven, gun modification enthusiast, and a dog named Jasper as protection and company. His prose is sparse and pointed, and although I usually lack those writing qualities, I admire them wholeheartedly.
Canis Major & Minor & Lepus
This is he first passage I noted,

“Grief is an element. It has its own cycle like the carbon cycle, the nitrogen. It never diminished not ever. It passes in and out of everything.”

and this is one of two that stays with me,

“I once had a book on the stars but now I don’t. My memory serves but not stellar, ha. So I made up constellations. I made a Bear and a Goat but maybe not where they are supposed to be, I made some for the animals that once were, the ones I know about.”

I’ll let you find the other for yourself.

Love and happy reading,

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City of Scoundrels, done and done.

City of ScoundrelsAfter reading, standing up holding on with one elbow as the train to and from the internship rattled and swayed, for a good while I finally finished my latest literary acquirement. City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago. Done and done.

It was fantastic in that I learned a lot about Chicago history. Things I knew became clearer. Gary Krist did some serious research when he crafted this completely non-fiction book by sifting through and unbelievable amount of information and seamlessly weaving a single narrative that is clear and interesting.

Lantern Slide of Burnham's concept for MIchigan Ave.

Lantern Slide of Burnham’s concept for MIchigan Ave.

I’m pretty much impressed. Was it Joyce? No. It was an easy read to be sure, but partially easy because of how to story is told. Chronologically, and with the unique perspective of looking back at something and accepting it as part of why we are who we are today. It’s dirty and corrupt, but who didn’t know that about this town anyway. Mayor Thompson, a man many consider to be one of, if not the worst mayor in Chicago history, is responsible for the lawlessness and corruption just as he is for much of the city’s beautiful Burnham vision coming to life.

I would recommend it if you are into real history told in a fiction format. The book includes the author’s notes, bibliography, and index, which I think is incredible in and of itself.

If all of our history was so easy to access, would we be a different people?

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency.” ― Daniel Burnham

“Chicago ain’t no Sunday School.” –“Bathhouse John” Coughlin

John-Choi_SK_Chicago-Skyline