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Dog Soldiers (1997)

Dog Soldiers (1997)

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3.72 of 5 Votes: 2
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0395860253 (ISBN13: 9780395860250)
mariner books

About book Dog Soldiers (1997)

A few weeks ago I happened to catch the 1978 adaptation of this novel, Who'll Stop the Rain, starring Nick Nolte when he was only, like, 36 instead of 902. The movie made me nostalgic for Robert Stone's original novel, so I found a first edition online for amazingly cheap and re-devoured it in a day. It's a great glimpse into scuzzy America c. 1970---the death of the 60s' cultural revolution, when druggie enlightenment turned into junk dealing and free love degenerated into a trip to the titty bar. We tend to look back on that period now either with sentimental moralizing (American Pastoral) or wacky absurdism (Inherent Vice). But Dog Soliders captures what must have felt like the plunge into the abyss of amorality that the so-called counterculture degenerated into in those scary post-Manson days when some revolutionaries argued with a straight face that the original Chuckie doll was right to slaughter the bourgeoisie (excuse me, "the pigs") because---dig, baby---American corruption and hypocrisy was way past redemption. What's perhaps most terrifying about this book is the lack of a moral center. The two main characters, Converse and Hicks, are both corrupt in their own ways, the former a writer scrambling to recapture his gonads by running "scag" into the States after a terrifying breakdown on a Nam battlefield, and the latter a self-fashioned zen/samurai merchant marine who in trying moments reaches for his submachine gun to get to nirvana. When Converse asks Hicks to sneak the H to Converse's wife, Marge, all hell breaks loose, and we're introduced to a variety of frightening simulacra of American capitalism. First and foremost, there's Antheil---which on name alone gets Stone massive points for cool. (George Antheil being a 1920s composer). He's a (maybe) narc who deals, dig, and he has two viscious thugs who do his evil bidding. Then there's the phony Hollywood sorts who wanna ride the dragon because it's hip, the drug hustler with the last name "Peace" who gets off watching other people getting off (so he can rip em off), and the unfortunate roshi who gets a lead sandwich for believing in transcendence. Take that, zen motherfucker!In the hands of a thriller writer, these would be cartoon characters, but for Stone they become opportunities to plumb philosophical reactions to the problem of "engage" (the French noun, not the verb). First and foremost is nihilism, the state of the American soul post-1960s, but also Christian sacrifice and Buddhist poise. If you like your characters well-read and quote-dropping when they beat the shit out of each other (as I do), the dialogue works really well. Plus Hicks is a fairly obvious attempt to assess the legacy of that Holy Fool Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty of Kerouac fame), whom Stone knew from hanging with the Kesey crowd c. 63-64. If you know how Cassady met his unfortunate demise in 1968, Hick's final march out of the desert of American emptiness (wooshy with smack) will ring excitingly familiar. I would say this is definitely a 70s classic, and probably my fave attempt at a postmortem on the 60s.Which makes the movie all the more frustrating. For contemporary viewers it's probably most interesting for the familiar faces. There's Michael Moriarity, soon of the original Law and Order, as Converse. And the GREAT Anthony Zerbe, previously seen wearing a black hood while taunting Charlton Heston in The Omega Man, as Antheil. Ray Sharkey, a great actor now more famous for denying he had AIDS in the eary 90s, along with Richard Masur, who usually plays the judge or the wussy ex-husband. Unfortunately, the script guts the book, despite the use of a lot of the original dialogue. This is especially unfortuante for Moriarty, who usually goes full metal hambone when he acts (see the cult classic Q, or Quetzalcoatl!). Plus the movie is full of those irritating zooms that no director in the 70s could do without when they had to UNDERSCORE A DRAMATIC MOMENT. Then there's Nolte, who was a gorgeous hunk of raw beef in the day. Too bad he has to go proto-Rambo at the movie's end; he's more fun when he's bitch-sapping Charles Haid (shortly of Hill Street Blues!). So watch the movie only if you're into an endless soundtrack of Creedence Clearweater Revival, which no Vietnam flick can resist, just as no baseball movie can do without "Centerfield." Yea, Fogerty!But if you like tough, uncompromising books about fallen people you wouldn't step within ten feet of, these dogs do hunt.

The novel tells the story of an American journalist in Vietnam who schemes to smuggle heroin into the United States aided by his wife in California and an ex-Marine accomplice. As the plan goes askew, Stone creates a harrowing struggle for possession of the drug while investigating the psychological motivation and interrelationships of the major characters.Having experienced the American involvement in Vietnam firsthand, Stone is seemingly more concerned with analyzing the aftermath of the conflict rather than raising a moral objection to war itself. However, Stone is certainly communicating that there exists an inherent attraction or propensity in the American psyche toward violence and that the horrors of the war unfold as a logical extension of illogical fascination.Ironically, the heroin takes possession of the novel in much the same way as it does the lives of those who either possess or desire it. Heroin is used by Stone as a vehicle to explore the depth of man's indifference or baseness toward the destruction of self or others. However, the novel is also concerned with the prevailing environment capable of producing such disregard for human dignity and continuance. Source: the book: The last moral objection that Converse experienced in the traditional manner had been his reaction to the Great Elephant Zap of the previous year. That winter, the Military Advisory Command, Vietnam, had decided that elephants were enemy agents because the NVA used them to carry things, and there had ensued a scene worthy of the Ramayana. Many-armed, hundred -headed MACV had sent forth steel-bodied flying insects to destroy his enemies, the elephants. All over the country, whooping sweating gunners descended from the cloud cover to stampede the herds and mow them down with 7.62-millimeter machine guns. The Great Elephant Zap had been too much and had disgusted everyone. Even the chopper crews who remembered the day as one of insane exhilaration had been somewhat appalled. There was a feeling that there were limits. And as for dope, Converse thought, and addicts— if the world is going to contain elephants pursued by flying men, people are just naturally going to want to get high. About the author: Robert Stone (born August 21, 1937) is an American novelist. He won the National Book Award for Fiction in 1975 for his novel Dog Soldiers and was twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and once for the PEN/Faulkner Awards. Dog Soldiers was adapted as a film, Who'll Stop the Rain in 1978 starring Nick Nolte, and Time magazine included it in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005. Source: from the book: “This is a very strange war,” he told the marines. “Yeah, it’s weird, man. We’re not supposed to talk about it.” There are no battle scenes in this war story. Despite its initial scenes in Vietnam, however, Dog Soldiers concentrates not on combat but on the impact of the war on the moral certainties, loyalties, and conscience of the civilian United States, where, as Stone later said, “all sorts of little bills were coming up due for payment.” The novel argues that the Vietnam War most affected values back home, infecting the survivors with greed and corruption summed up in the heroin underworld. Stone calls the 1970’s “a creepy, evil time” and Dog Soldiers his reaction to it. Source: this book deep? You bet! I could not always manage to plumb the depths and am not sure if it is due to my philosophical limitations or that the book is ancient. The section at the end of the book when Hicks is walking to his (view spoiler)[death (hide spoiler)]

Do You like book Dog Soldiers (1997)?

I was born in 1968. My memories of the early 1970's are that of a child. My parents worked. They provided a nice safe house and I was never cold or hungry. What memories I have of the first part of that decade (outside of my family) are associated with television shows ( The Rookies, Adam-12, Emergency, The Mary Tyler Moore Show) and a few movies. So when I am curious about what was going on in America's soul during that time period I turn to works of fiction - books and movies. Everything from The Stand to Marathon Man to The Candidate and Taxi Driver . Dog Soldiers is one of those touchstones. A look into the drug culture in (almost) Post-Vietnam/Post-Counterculture America. The war was almost over and everyone knew that we had lost. Billions of dollars, 57,000 dead American soldiers, hundreds of thousands Vietnamese dead and injured and a startling realization that America could be kicked in the teeth. Pretty shattering stuff.Meanwhile the idealism of the Flower Era was withering. Drugs had taken over and hard nosed criminals had moved in. The Flower Children wanted their fix and to hell with the flowers. There's more, but that synopsis is enough. Almost everybody was cynical and many had decided that it was time to look out for Number One and maybe make a buck at the same time. The Me Generation was starting to take form. Robert Stone was one of the first writers to see what was going on and to use this dynamic as the background for his novel. It was potent stuff in 1974. A drug fueled, violent, paranoid, cynical story populated by addicts, burned out hippies, corrupt cops, world weary veterans and so on. Everybody was either bought and paid for or was for sell. Because it was the first of it's kind (or one of the first) it was a sensation. The counter-culture novel meets James M. Cain.In 2011 the story has lost some of it's bite. We've seen it done since on bigger stages with bigger budgets. Filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino have taken this genre and ran with it. Movies like Pulp Fiction , Thursday , Savages and even Smokin Aces are influenced by Stone's work - if not outright copies. So to a younger reader the story might feel dated and smaller than life. I don't see it that way. This is a strange and vivid novel. The off kilter feeling is correct. Drugs alter one's senses. The world of the criminal is a dysfunctional one at best. I like the mix of drug haze, violence and burned out cynical America. It might not seem that fresh and cutting edge nowadays, but it still gives you a strong feeling for what was going on in America in the first half of the 1970's.

"I am not now -- nor have I ever been -- God," the now toothless guru Dieter says from his mountain top fortress amidst a psychedelic forest. A firefight ensues, of course. And the hope and promise of the counter culture completes its descent into hard drugs, finger pointing and layers of vicious betrayal. That wasn't the Vietnam era story I intended to read, however. In a momentary lapse of recall, I reached for Michael Herr's war memoir Dispatches and came back w/ Robert Stone's terrifying novel Dog Soldiers, about the death knell of both the Vietnam War and the peace/love/dove counter culture, as aided & abetted by heroin. At its surface the story is simple enough. Freelance lost boy/war correspondent John Converse decides to smuggle heroin from decaying Saigon to his wife Marge, a hippie academic turned porno theater ticket taker in the Bay Area. Ex-Marine Ray Hicks is the courier, sort of a zen punk whose inner dialogue and conflict gives the novel its Heart of Darkness heft. Thugs, or are they bad boy cops, abound and pursue our protagonists in that methodical manner made notable by No Country for Old Men. No one gets out unscathed, as did few of those who lived the battles of southeast asian war or late counter culture escapade. But the gold in the novel is the author's unrelenting depiction of real feelings, physical and mental, and the lies we tell ourselves and the games we play to endure the pains of each. But you probably know all that, as the book won the National Book Award for fiction in 1975 & was made into the Nick Nolte movie, Who'll Stop the Rain in 1978. Suffice it to say that a read (or re-read) of the book is worth the time. The imagery is rich, the characters are colorful and delicious and the details of the era are pointed, humorous and deadly - and told by someone who had rich experiences in both battlefield and commune. And the one stretch of pages that bring to life the last thoughts of a dying soldier -- well, they are worth the read all by themselves.
—Earnest Thompson

*****NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER 1975*****“I’ve been waiting my whole life to fuck up like this.”The Summer of Love has withered away into the Autumn of Paranoia and the Spring of Delusions. John Converse, a journalist, whose claim to fame is his ability to produce compelling headlines (stories to go with the headlines, well that is where things go haywire), is in Vietnam, but he isn’t really sure why he is still there. His room has been tainted by some maniac American who chased lizards along the walls, crushed them, and left the stain of their residual fluids on the paint. ”There were moral objections to house lizards being senselessly butchered by madmen. Everyone felt these things. Everyone must, or the value of human life would decline. It was important that the value of human life not decline.”Heavy things are going down. He comes up with this rather insane idea to smuggle heroin into the states. With the counter culture dying, LSD and Marijuana are out and heroin is the new beast to chase. ”The pellet with the poison’s in the chalice from the palace, but the flagon with the dragon has the brew that is true.”Converse hires this guy named Ray Hicks, a merchant marine with a penchant for Nietzsche, martial arts, and Zen, to smuggle the heroin into Southern California. Once there Hicks is supposed to hook up with Converse’s wife Marge. Marge is then supposed to turn the heroin over to the distributors. Marge works in an Adult Theater. ”She flashed the mooches’ fingers laboring over their damp half-erections, burrowing in the moldy subsoil of their trousers like arachnids on a decomposing log.” **SHUDDER**She has developed a drug habit while John has been gone. It starts out as a monkey, but grows into an gorilla. ”Diluted. Deluded. Dilaudid.Ray is naturally paranoid and believes someone is following him. He is sure that Converse has doubled crossed him. After all he knows that Converse thinks he is...odd. Marge is gliding on the wings of befuddlement and between the two of them they hatch a plan to escape and sell the drugs through other sources. Bad, bad, bad idea. ”The serpent tempting Eve bore a set of carefully rendered rattles.”And everyone involved is having more and more trouble distinguishing reality especially after Marge and Ray start sampling the product. Dilaudid is out. Heroin is in. The gorilla starts doing pushups. Converse is trying to explain what has happened to his drug contacts. They are not very happy with him, but what keeps him alive is that they still don’t have the product. As John was leaving Vietnam he could tell that the situation there was about to explode in all new ways. It was becoming a different war, but when he gets back to the States he can tell that things have changed there as well. Crooked cops, crooked lawyers are all getting into the drug pipeline business. He exchanges one war for another war. The new American dream is being able to make one big drug deal. Converse meets the type of client that heroin is tailor made for. “He sat desiring the girl - a speed-hardened straw-colored junkie stewardess, a spoiled Augustana Lutheran, compounded of airport Muzak and beauty parlor school. Her eyes were fouled with smog and propane spray.”To follow the line of reason of any one of the characters will take corkscrew dexterity. It is a sordid novel. Readers don’t like these characters and they aren’t supposed to. What you recognize in them that is also in yourself are the very things you like least about yourself. They are weak, greedy, self-centered, and lacking in compassion. They continue to allow themselves to be swept along by events simply because that is easier than swimming for shore. This novel is a time capsule of a period when the last bits of naivety and innocence in America are being exchanged for cynicism and skepticism. It is the dawning of the age of HERE WE ARE NOW, ENTERTAIN US*.* It took until 1991 for Kurt Cobain to explain to us what was going on.
—Jeffrey Keeten

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