I never get tired of reading novels about life on Earth following a disaster that wipes out 99.9% of the human population. Earth Abides and I am Legend are two of my favorites in this sub-genre. I like these stories fro several reasons: I'm fascinated in seeing how people figure out how to survive after their modern conveniences have been taken away from them. It's also interesting to see why the remaining inhabitants struggle to go on with their lives, and to read about their encounters with people who might or might not want to eat them.
After reading The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller, I'm adding it to the top of my twilight-of-the-human-race-novels list. The story takes place about 30 years in the future, nine years after a deadly flu has killed almost everyone on Earth. Hig is one of the survivors. He lives near a small airport in Erie, Colorado (I know the place well, having grown up a stone's throw from the small town east of Boulder). He's teamed up with a no-nonsense, survivalist type named Bangley who is armed to the gills, but seems to be somewhat unhinged. Hig, who lives in fear that Bangley might consider Hig to be a liability rather than an asset, owns a small plane that he uses to patrol the flatlands for invading hordes of starving people armed with knives, broken bottles, and crossbows, who would happily kill Hig and Bangley to take their food stockpiles, garden produce, and ammunition. They have to constantly look over their shoulder to make sure no one is sneaking up on them. Fortunately for Hig, Bangley is a good shot. He and Hig have had to shoot quite a few people in their years together. Hig has learned how to make human thigh-meat jerky to feed his elderly, but useful, watchdog Jasper.
Hig and his dog sleep away from Hig's house, outside behind a berm, covered in quilts. Whenever invaders are lured to the house's LED porch lights (which run on solar-charged batteries) Jasper wakes up and alerts Hig with a low growl. Hig, in turn, gets on the walkie talkie with Bangley, who shoots the trespassers with a sniper rifle.
The scenes where Hig and Bangley encounter other people (who are almost always "Not Nice," as Hig says) raised the hairs on the back of my neck and sent my pulse racing. Hig freely admits he doesn't have the survival skills or the take-no-prisoners attitude that Bangley possesses, and when I read Hig's descriptions on these intense encounters I know I'd make the same potentially deadly mistakes that Hig makes.
It's a grim life, and that explains why Hig likes to get away from the airport to go fishing and hunting in the mountains west of Boulder. Bangely doesn't approve because it puts both of their lives at risk, but Hig can't help himself. He's sad that the trout have died off due to global warming, but there's carp. They don't put up a lively fight like the trout did, though.
Written in the first person from Hig's point of view, the text is fragmented, and almost poetic. I was a bit put off for the first 15 pages or so, but I got used to the writing style and grew to appreciate it.
There's no reason to describe what else happens. I'll just say that there's a plot, and it's a good one. There's also humor and hopefulness, which make the story, more, not less interesting.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.