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Literature / A Boy and His Dog

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This 1969 Science Fiction Novella by Harlan Ellison is a look into the life of Vic and his telepathic dog Blood as they wander a post-apocalyptic United States after World War IV, scavenging for food and looking for sex. When Vic discovers Quilla, a beautiful young woman who appears to have come from one of the last refuges of civilization, he is instantly smitten with lust and assaults her at gunpoint. Before he can do the deed, they have to defend themselves from a band of rogues - they escape and a nascent romance develops.

After much testing of mattress springs, she persuades him to come back to her home and to leave Blood behind. There, he is told that their underground society has stagnated, and their fertility rate has dropped, so they need healthy sperm donors. Despite his initial enthusiasm, Vic takes exception to their methods and escapes with Quilla's help.

The original story was so successful, it won the 1970 Hugo Award, became a 1975 film starring Don Johnson, and was continued with short stories and a graphic novel; Vic and Blood: The Continuing Adventures of a Boy and His Dog. Just before the author's passing in 2018, he published the complete adventures of Vic and Blood in the Fix Up Novel Blood's a Rover.

The Trope Codifier for the Post-Apocalyptic Dog. No relation to the 1946 short film of the same name.

This story (including adaptations and sequels) contains examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End: The story is set in 2024, after two world wars. World War III was a conventional war, while IV was a massive nuclear exchange that lasted five days and more or less destroyed civilization, aside from isolated enclaves. Survivors, at least the ones we're shown, consist of the scavening roverpacks and solos on the surface, and the borderline cultish stepford smilers in the Down Under.
  • Asshole Victim: The ending would be much more tragic if Quilla June hadn't been, in the author's words, "meaner than a Drano milkshake". She throws her parents away without a second thought and mows down her neighbors in way that even disturbs Vic.
  • Black Comedy:
    • "In the 1980s, politicians finally discovered the solution to urban blight." Cue nuclear explosion.
    • "Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste."
  • A Boy and His X: Natch. This dog goes really above and beyond the norm, being sentient and telepathic, and helping his master find food and women.
  • Bros Before Hoes: When Blood is dying from thirst and starvation, Quilla tries to convince Vic to abandon him. Instead Vic kills and cooks Quilla for Blood's lunch; it doesn't get any more bros before hoes than that.
  • Crapsack World: The world above ground is a wasteland populated by sex-hungry barbarians, Vic included; "Down Under" is a Dystopian, creepy, oligarchical pastiche of The Deep South where everyone is in whiteface.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Blood loves to get his little digs in at Vic and his constant need for sex.
  • Death Seeker: Vic becomes one in further stories, implied to be out of guilt for killing Quilla.
  • Desert Punk: Burned Out Earth style.
  • Eat the Dog: The Twist Ending inverts this magnificently. As Vic and Quilla escape with nothing but the clothes on their back, they find Blood has been waiting outside the entrance to the bunker for Vic for days without food. Quilla wants them to keep running and leave Blood. Blood needs something to eat. What does Vic do to resolve the crisis? He kills Quilla and feeds her to Blood.
  • Embarrassing Nick Name: Blood often refers to Vic as "Albert", which Vic hates.
  • Femme Fatale: Quilla. Wants to be in charge and openly admits she was using Vic.
  • A Friend in Need: Blood can't hunt for himself (although he fights fine and can scent track like radar), a side effect of his gaining the ability to speak somehow.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Is a wasteland dweller, whose only thought at the start is getting to rape a woman before some other ones finish with her and shoot her, more or less sympathetic than an oppressive Eagleland society that offhandedly kills people for a bad attitude? You decide.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Down Under sees itself as this, but it's actually a subversion; according to Vic's monologue in the theater, the Down Under is already well known amongst the surface survivors, and none of them show any particular interest in finding it, aside from being a fresh source of women.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The underground society has shades of this, with the unspoken implication that "the farm" is both their disposal of dissidents and a source of food.
  • Intellectual Animal: Blood is far smarter and more educated than Vic, teaching him history, keeping him out of trouble and planning tactics in a classic Brains and Brawn pairing.
  • Mecha-Mooks: Implied. "Go and get another Michael from the warehouse."
  • New Wave Science Fiction: Based on a New Wave story by one of the most prominent New Wave writers, the story was a typical rejection/subversion of classic "golden age" SF tropes.
  • The Nose Knows: Like all dogs, Blood has an excellent sense of smell. Unlike our dogs, he can count foes, pinpoint their direction and distance to the nearest metre and point this out to his partner Vic.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: The underground society requires healthy sperm from surface dwellers to impregnate their women. Vic thinks he's found his dream job. It subverts this by forcibly extracting it.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: "Screamers", glow-in-the-dark, wailing zombies who only need to touch you to make you one of them.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: Blood, who's one of the main characters, but it's shown in the early part of the story that dogs are common companions for the survivors, especially the wandering Solos like Vic.
  • The Promised Land: The main characters are searching for a place called Over The Hill.
  • Scavenger World: Everyone who lives on the surface survives either by hunting mutated wildlife or by scavenging pre-war canned goods and equipment from the ruins.
  • Smart Animal, Average Human: In the film, as well as the original novella, Vic, a semi-literate teenage scavenger living After the End is aided by his super-intelligent dog, Blood, who is telepathic and well-read.
  • Stepford Smiler: An entire underground town of them, due to their use of clown makeup. Michael also has this effect, implied to be a malfunction of this particular Michael unit.
  • Take That!: The final version of Blood's a Rover positions Donald Trump's presidency as the last before the apocalypse.
  • Truce Zone: Movie theaters are neutral ground, and any fighting is harshly dealt with, as movies are too precious and rare to risk losing. Vic is even angry when he recalls how another theater was burned down due to a big fight breaking out, and several film reels were lost, since there's no way to replace them.
  • Undying Loyalty: To the degree that Vic chooses his dog over procreation with a cute girl.
  • Uplifted Animal: Blood is the descendant of a pair of dogs produced through two separate breeding experiments in the days prior to World War 3, one of which involved injecting the dogs with cerebral fluid taken from dolphins. The result was a breed of highly intelligent dogs with psychic abilities, Blood being the end result of that genetic line.

Alternative Title(s): A Boy And His Dog