Published in Harlan Ellison’s 1969 short-story collection, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, ‘‘A Boy and His Dog’’ is one of the author’s favorite works. Critics also appreciated the story, and it won the 1969 Nebula Award (awarded by Science Fiction Writers of America) for Best Novella. Six years later, it was adapted as a Hugo Award-winning film, with Don Johnson starring as Vic. ‘‘A Boy and His Dog’’ is considered one of Ellison’s most compelling stories, and the author expanded it into a novel in 1989.
The story takes place in post-apocalyptic America, where Vic and Blood (his telepathic dog) must fight to survive. The story’s violence, explicit sexuality, and coarse language shock many readers, although these elements support Ellison’s harsh presentation of the future world. Set in a bleak environment and carrying dark themes, it is often read as a cautionary tale about what the future may hold.
Vic and Blood, a boy and his dog, look out for each other in a hard, cruel world some years after a nuclear war. Through a telepathic link, they communicate at least as effectively as through speech. They work to meet each other's basic needs for survival: food, companionship, and the relief of despair or boredom.
Blood's efforts to educate Vic are not as successful as he would like; Vic would far rather that Blood used his keen sense of smell to find him a girl. During this search they enter a small, rough community of desperate people who prey on each other. Blood does locate a girl, and together Vic and Blood track her out of a jury-rigged cinema. The girl, Quilla June, is seemingly not afraid of Vic or his rough ideas of sex—though she ought to be. He tracked her down with the intent of raping her several times before either murdering her or abandoning her to die. His plan is interrupted by an attack, and Vic and Blood have to fight several desperate toughs for their lives.
After they escape, Quilla June reveals where she has come from: an underground community in a nuclear fallout bunker, as Blood and Vic had guessed. Quilla June insists that Vic come alone with her inside the bunkered community, leaving Blood outside. The people of the hidden community welcome Vic, but also enslave him as a sperm donor for their young women, as they have no healthy young men. This entrapment was their intent when Quilla June was sent out.
However, the leaders of the community did not expect Quilla June to revolt when she is not made part of the ruling committee. She kills her parents and others while helping Vic escape from bondage and leave the underground community.
At the hidden entrance, Vic finds that Blood is still waiting for him, though it has been days. Blood is weak from starvation.
Vic cannot keep alive both this girl, who is ignorant of the outside world, and the dog who has saved his life many times. He knows which of them will be a faithful companion for heart and mind as well as helping him survive. He has to choose which he must kill to feed the other.
"A boy loves his dog."
‘‘A Boy and His Dog’’ is narrated by Vic, a teenaged boy who has a telepathic dog named Blood. The story is set in 2024 post-apocalypse America. Rubble, craters, and molten metal mark the landscape. There are two civilizations of survivors—those above ground and those below. Those who live below are called ‘‘downunders,’’ and their cities resemble those of pre-World War I America. Vic lives in the wreckage above ground and is a ‘‘solo,’’ which is someone who is not a member of one of the gangs (called ‘‘roverpaks’’) that wander the streets.
As the story opens, Vic tells Blood to find him a woman, but Blood is unsuccessful because most women are downunders. Blood, like most dogs who stay with solos, was bred for intellect, telepathy, and an acute sense of smell. He relies on Vic for food because he lacks the ability to hunt, and Vic relies on Blood to help him find women and to warn him...
(The entire section is 1,228 words.)