Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World, by C.A. Fletcher

What better reason to set off across a post-apocalyptic world than to get your dog back?

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

Orbit, 2019, 365 pages

My name's Griz. My childhood wasn't like yours. I've never had friends, and in my whole life I've not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren't loyal to the things we love, what's the point?

Was this book inspired by Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog? I suspect the title and a few parallel themes are not coincidental; I'd be very surprised if the author, C.A. Fletcher, hasn't read and been influenced by Ellison's novella, and/or the 1975 movie.

For those who are not familiar with A Boy and His Dog, it's a post-apocalyptic story with very grimdark humor, of the sort that was popular in the 70s. The protagonist is a teenage boy who has no goals other than to survive and find women to rape, with the help of his telepathic dog. It was a typical Harlan Ellison story; thought-provoking, memorable, and skin-crawling.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is about a boy and his dog in a post-apocalyptic world, but other than that, it's a very different sort of story. The apocalypse was "the Gelding," an event that no one today knows the cause for, but it sterilized over 99.99% of the human race. With no children being born, civilization died with a whimper instead of a bang, and now the few people left descended from the tiny fraction who were still able to reproduce live in tiny, isolated communities in a mostly empty world.

“We're out here on the wrong side of a dying world trying to piece together the story of what's happened from torn fragments that we can only snatch at as they flutter past us in the wind.”

Griz lives with his family on the British coast. They have had some hardships, including Griz's sister falling off a cliff and his mother suffering a traumatic head injury that's left her an invalid, but they get by with a pastoral existence with a few scavenged bits of technology. Then a clever, red-bearded storyteller/trader named Brand comes by, on a sailing ship with red sails, wanting to trade goods and stories. And then he drugs the entire family and leaves in the night, stealing Griz's dog.

“Never trust someone who tells good stories, not until you know why they're doing it.”

Well, Griz isn't about to let that go, despite his father trying to keep him from going. Dogs are family.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

So he sets off after Brand, accompanied by his other goodest boy, Jip, in a chase across land and sea in which he will meet friends and foes and learn things about the world before and the world today, and eventually meet Brand again, and have a confrontation with a sinister tribe of post-apocalyptic fundie vikings obsessed with "breeding"... another little twist that makes me believe this whole book is at least partly a response to Ellison's story.

There is a bigger twist at the end. The author makes rather a point out of this twist, by explicitly telling readers in the foreword to please not spoil the secrets. (He doesn't use the term "spoiler" but that's what he means.) And, well, the twist, when it comes, really isn't that much of a twist. I mean, I can see why the author wants you to read the book a certain way until you get there, but this isn't The Sixth Sense; it doesn't fundamentally change the entire story, and if you go into it trying to figure out "the secrets" you will probably guess them and it won't change much. Just my saying this much will probably have planted certain ideas in your head, and your first guess is probably right, but don't spoil it for other readers.

Griz is a very likeable protagonist. He loves to read, and while the author never actually name-checks Harlan Ellison or A Boy and His Dog, he does mention lots of other post-apocalyptic books, because Griz likes to read books from the Before, and find out what we thought the apocalypse was going to look like. He reads all these books out of anthropological interest, but he rejects fantasy and aliens in the same way he rejects gods and the supernatural. He's not passive, but he's on the pacifistic side; he speculates about doing violence (to Brand, for example), but he clearly doesn't want to, and on the few occasions where he has a chance to do violence, he elects not to. I'd say this also makes this a very modern British book — maybe this is just my cultural bias, but I have a hard time imagining an American post-apocalyptic novel where the hero crosses the world and runs into a varied cast of characters, including some bad guys, and nobody ever gets shot or stabbed or eaten, and the hero moralizes about whether or not killing the guy who stole his dog is justified, but you already know he's not gonna do it.

From beginning to end, it's about Griz going on a journey of discovery to rescue his dog. It's a humanistic story in which the only villains are humans, but dogs can be heroes.

“Dogs were with us from the very beginning. And of all the animals that walked the long centuries beside us, they always walked the closest. And then they paid the price. Fuck us.”

If you're looking for a heroic adventure with mutants and roving bandit gangs and ancient technological artifacts in ruined cities, well, this is not that sort of story. Griz tells us in the beginning that this isn't that sort of story.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, reviews, science fiction

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