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'Dog Stars' Imagines Post-Apocalyptic Humanity


Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction tends to be rather bleak. The world as we know it has ended, chaos rules, and humans, or what’s left of them, tend to be reduced to their basest natures. Survival is paramount and all the niceties of so called civilization tend to go by the wayside.

But what happens a few years after the apocalyptic event, when a new normal has settled in? How do the survivors fare? What do their lives look like? How do they define, and re-imagine, their humanity?

The Dog Stars is Peter Heller’s exploration of a world laid waste by a super flu. To find story, he says he had to balance "listening" to his characters with his own writer's instincts.

"In some ways it was like (protagonist) Hig was just sitting across the campfire, one evening, in a windy fire by a creek, telling me this is what happened to me a few years ago," he says, "and so in that way it was really moving."

Heller is an award-winning adventure writer who has traveled the world as an expedition kayaker. He has written for numerous magazines and is a contributing editor at Outside Magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure. He's also published four books of non-fiction detailing some of those adventures.

But The Dog Stars is his first novel, and Heller says writing fiction felt a lot like "coming home."

"It was so thrilling and I felt like at last I could take the one hand that had been tied behind my back and go full bore with all cylinders and just write this thing I’ve always wanted to write," he says.

Peter Heller was in Milwaukee last month to read from his novel at Boswell Books.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.