(Short Stories for Students)

Blood is Vic’s telepathic dog. Vic and Blood have been together for three years, each helping the other survive in post-apocalypse America. Blood is a ‘‘skirmisher,’’ which is a dog that is bred for intelligence, telepathic ability, and an acute sense of smell. He is descended from a German shepherd named Ginger, who detected drugs for the Los Angeles Police Department, and a puli named Ahbhu, who was the product of an experiment to develop telepathy in dogs. Crossbreeding such dogs resulted in skirmishers, who were used in the last world war for their telepathy and their ability to smell trace amounts of fuel, poison gas, and radiation. Although Blood can sense the presence of certain kinds of people (especially women and dangerous gang members), he is a typical skirmisher in that he has lost his ability to hunt. As a result, he must rely on Vic to find food for him.

Blood is highly intelligent and well-educated. He teaches Vic reading, history, math, and culture. He and Vic often tease each other, as old friends do. At the same time, he is a product of his harsh environment, and thus can be fierce and violent. His relationship with Vic is important, and he is threatened by and suspicious of outsiders like Quilla June.

Quilla June Holmes
Quilla June is the girl sent to the surface to lure a young man back to Topeka. She is a teenager who is described as having a pretty face, thin build, medium height, long reddish hair, blue eyes, and a soft voice. Her family originally came from Oklahoma before the war, but now they live underground in Topeka. She is brave because she agrees to go to the surface alone, knowing that ‘‘downunders’’ like herself are routinely raped and killed.

Quilla June seems timid and gentle at first, but her true nature soon becomes clear. Once she and Vic have sex, she is insatiable. Her capacity for violence is first revealed when she knocks Vic...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Harlan Ellison's personal beliefs about the ethical and moral behavior of humans in their various interactions have been made very clear in A Boy and His Dog, and time and again in the themes of his fiction, and overtly in his nonfiction writing. Ellison outlines the themes he writes about in this story, in a quote from The Harlan Ellison Hornbook: "My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration and ignoble deaths." Ellison goes on to say

that there is security in personal strength; that you CAN fight City Hall and WIN; that any action is better than no action, even if it's the wrong action; that you never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you're willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time; and that once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak BECOME strong.

The author has made his personal beliefs the themes of this short novel. Through the experiences of Vic, the reader is shown that meek people do suffer and die, that Vic does find some security in his personal strength and his struggles against attacks in the communities he enters, that Vic is willing to take great risks to stay close to Quilla June, and finally that Vic decides to help his weak friend Blood survive, though he has no such compassion for Quilla June.

Though Vic is barely eighteen years old, it is clear when the story begins that he has been on his own for years. It is also clear that he could not have survived this long without the dog Blood. Not only are they an effective team for finding food and water and other essentials of life, but they converse together and give each other their attention and loyalty.

The dog is a far more complex and interesting character than the boy. Blood is better educated, from his training and experience and telepathic links with other men in the past, though it is not hard to be better educated than Vic, who is in many respects a feral child. As a medium-sized dog, Blood is tough and strong, a good partner for a skinny young man. With Blood's guidance, Vic is capable and knowledgeable in the hunting and scavenging skills needed to survive in this dangerous environment.

The reader might ask why Blood needs a human companion at all . . . but the boy finds them food, tends their hurts, can fire a gun, and can fight to defend his partner in the dangerous world that post-apocalyptic Arizona has become. But even more than that, Vic is someone to talk with and teach. Blood needs that, and he needs a human for him to be loyal to...

(The entire section is 1094 words.)