Dog Soldiers

ISBN: 0330370960
ISBN 13:
By: Robert Stone

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Reader's Thoughts


Dog Soldiers by Robert StoneIf you search for Dog Soldiers on Google you get results with a 2002 movie, not based on the book.On Goodreads the search results in a book, but not by Robert Stone. I had to add a new entry for the book, with the associated pride that I am the first on Goodreads to have read it.An yet this book is included on the TIME 100 best books list…not only that, but the book is great, I loved it.It has everything: Love, war, deception, drug dealing, Humor-lots of it, enticing characters, wonderful dialogue, gay sex, Nirvana talk, weird going-ons…TIME’s description:Get This Book“A weird current pulses through this book. The tale of a heroin deal gone very bad, it’s also a merciless picture of America at the ragged end of the Vietnam era. John Converse is a journalist preparing to head home from Saigon when he’s persuaded to join a dope-smuggling scheme. Once back in California, he’s ambushed by a pair of ex-cons in the service of a corrupt federal drug agent who wants to pocket the drugs. The hapless goons, who also indulge in occasional sex with each other, drag Converse on a trek across the Southwest in search of the strung-out intriguers who are actually holding the stuff. Those would be Converse’s wife Marge, who’s blandly stupefied by prescription drugs, and his sad-sack confederate Hicks. Do we need to tell you it all ends badly? Or that the heroin is a stand-in for Vietnam? It’s the poison that came home, like the war, to pollute an already bleak and sawtoothed social landscape. Bleakness is all in Stone’s world, which is unrelenting and unforgettable.”


This is one of those books from the 70s where every conversation they have you know that they're really talking about something else, something much deeper and more profound than what they're saying on the surface, but you have no idea what it is. Or maybe that's just me. I want to like this book, I want to be hip to the cool, 60/70s druggie counterculture. I want to be in on the joke and get what the cool kids get. But I just don't seem to. It's the same for me with Naked Lunch or On the Road, although those books were much earlier, before the fall of said counterculture. I just don't totally get the appeal.Dog Soldiers tells the story of a heroin deal gone wrong. Converse, a journalist living in Vietnam, agrees to take part in a drug deal after deciding that the world is basically corrupted. He employs his friend Hicks to smuggle the Heroin into America and hand it off to his wife, Marge. Unfortunately someone is already on to them. When Hicks tries to hand the drugs off to Marge they are intercepted by two henchman, but escape. The rest of the novel follows them while they're on the run from these somewhat unexplained assailants. Meanwhile, these same men find Converse, who has returned to the US, and force him to try to make Hicks and Marge turn over the drugs by threat of death. All these characters are flawed, they all have problems and most are depressed and/or junkies. Their motives are unclear and hard to understand as is their message. It is barely explained until the end who these men that are chasing Hicks and Marge are until the end. This book was highly praised at the time of its release, but since then seems to have faded away. It was pretty hard to find, in the entire LA public library system there is only one available copy. After reading it, this doesn't surprise me that much. Even though I'm not a huge fan of the beat writers, I can still tell that this book is lacking the energy and spirit of Kesey, Kerouac, Wolfe and Ginsburg.


It took me a while to start enjoying this book about three people near the end of the Vietnam war who decide to smuggle 3 kilos of heroin into the states. It felt a little dated, and grounded in an ancient sense of cool, where a willingness to get high was supposed to be an indicator of your superiority as a human being. The characters were generally unlikable, and Marge, especially, grated on me. But the dialogue overall was very good, the antagonists were far more than just stereotypical cardboard cutouts, and by the time the group gets to Mexico, I was hooked, and had warmed up to the characters and their self-induced plight. Hicks' delirium on his trip down the mountain was the high point for me, written so as to get you as deep into the mind of a character as is possible. Also enjoyable are the many layers of meaning and symbolism, which allow you to chew over the book long after you've finished it.


This is Heart of Darkness put in the Vietnam War times and fueled by the addiction and money profits of smack. I liked the hard-nosed attitudes and trancy prose. Rather grim at times.

Warren Olson

Had this book/author recommended and as a fan of books based in South East Asia was looking forward to the read. While not denying it is well written and I imagine an accurate description of places/people/events of the time ; I found it just a little too disjointed and failed to finish it. I was left with the feeling that while no doubt talented, perhaps the author had sampled some of the merchandise his main character was dealing in while writing !


Set in the early '70's as the Vietnam War was winding down, Converse (a guy, not a shoe)is supposedly a journalist, but in reality has gone to Vietnam mostly as a tourist. As he gets ready to return home, he gets involved with a deal to smuggle a large quantity of almost pure heroin back into the states, and he has reason to think that the CIA is covertly sponsoring the plan.Converse recruits a former soldier, Hicks, to get the dope back into the States and hand it off to his wife, Marge. Marge is supposed to hand it off to others per arrangments Converse has made. However, once the drugs are in the states, things go wrong, and Hicks and Marge end up on the run from a couple of thugs and a government agent. Converse returns home to find the deal is blown and is soon in desperate trouble himself.Even though most of this book is set in the U.S., it's really about the effect that Vietnam had on America. Once your government has unleashed large scale death and destruction on another country for murky reasons, keeping your own moral compass seems naive. Get what you can, do what you want, and don't worry about the consequences. It explains most of the 1970s. But the book is a cautionary tale about this view. It says that if you go this route, beware. You've bought into the law of the jungle, and there are a lot of predators out there. Just because you think you're ready to live outside the law because you saw some bad shit and think you've jettisoned the conscience that comes with your place in society, that doesn't mean you're ready to deal with the people who never had one to begin with.


If all books were this fun to read, I don't think I'd get much done in life. For the first one hundred pages or so, Dog Soldiers fell into the "pretty fun to read, though not too much else going on for it" category. The plot seemed a bit overplayed, and the dialogue sounded as if it were taken out of something aged and hard-boiled, or intended for young adults. But the further I got into the book, the more I liked it. The characters emerged as fairly three-dimensional, well illustrated people. The last fifty pages or so consist of a freaked out, drug influenced shoot out that serves as a perfect climax. The most important accomplishment of Stone's work is his depiction of the American mindset during the violence-saturated Vietnam era. The plot opens in Vietnam and quickly moves to the States, but the characters bring the turbulence of the war right along with them. By the novels's ending, I understood why it received the National Book Award.

Philip Fracassi

I like wartime books and the stories of survivors - people who cut lives out of the wasteland that a foreign occupation can create. The best example of this, in my opinion, is King Rat by James Clavell. But unfortunately it can also be very tired. This book is an example of a wartime-themed drug-deal gone bad twister that just comes off as weak, annoying and poorly executed. You hate all the characters, you feel sickened by the violence and morality beat-down rather then entranced, and by the last 1/3 of the story you just want someone to rip the book from your hands and shred it so you don't feel bad about not going to the end, because as much as I hate not to finish a book, this one was a real chore and the thought did cross my mind a few times.I think Buffalo Soldiers might be a nice alternative if you're looking for something similarly themed.

Bernie Weisz

Title of Review: "A bizarre plot with a twist of twentieth century American history" Written by Bernie Weisz/historian:Vietnam War Pembroke Pines, Florida contact: BernWei1@aol.comBeing a historian specializing in America involvement in Vietnam, I tried to take a break in reading nonfiction by delving into Robert Stone's "Dog Soldiers". Seeing Denzil Washington in the recent movie hit "American Gangster" piqued my curiosity in this novel. Besides, I needed a break from constantly reading nonfiction. Reading a novel allows the reader to absorb without constant attention to detail and historical connection. It is also proven to bring up one's reading speed. Thinking topics such as the Vietnam War, the heroin trade that existed during the Vietnam Conflict and CIA complicity in the trade I was expecting an exciting yarn. Regrettably, I was disappointed. I found the characters, in particular "John Converse and his wife, Marge", to be burnt-out losers. You can read other reviews to get an idea of what the plot is about, so without being a "plot-spoiler", I felt that with all the drugged-out corruptness, the infidelity of the protagonist's wife, the illogical decisions made by people bent on profiting by the sale of heroin, this book was a waste of time to read. In trying to get any connection to reality, there was the part early in the story where "Converse", the protagonist, justifies smuggling a couple of kilos from Vietnam into the U.S. by what follows. Stone wrote:"The last moral objection (to smuggling heroin) 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 bevause the NVA used them to carry things, and there ensued a scene worthy of the Ramayana. Many-armed, hundred-headed MACV had sent forth steel-bodied flying insects (helicopter gunships) 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 exhileration 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. So there, Converse thought, that's the way it's done. He had confronted a moral objection and overridden it". Obvoiusly, this twisted analogy to justify selling heroin made as little sense to me as the end of the story (what happens to the heroin and the people smuggling it). I need a story that has a semblence of logic, reality and historical connectedness, an attribute I felt "Dog Soldiers" lacked.

Michael Burroughs

The story is set in the early seventies, as the Vietnam war is winding down. Converse, a journalist/tourist, gets involved in a plan to smuggle a large quantity of heroin into the United States. Converse enlists the help of a marine named Hicks, a sort of American Zen samurai, who smuggles the dope into the states aboard a military boat. Hicks is to meet Marge, the wife of Converse, and thhrough her the dope is to be sold to other parties involved with the deal.Things go horribly wrong. Why would'nt they? Amateurs attempting to pull off a huge drug deal like this are bound to find themselves swimming in deep, unfamiliar waters. Small fish in a rather large sea full of sharks.The heart of the story seems to speak about the times. The seventies, the decade of get as much as you can, do whatever you want, without concern for the consequences. Converse, Hicks and Marge all portray an attitude of "fuck it, might as well try and get what ever I can while I can". As the 60's hippie movement morphed into the 70's it became something else. Something more greedy. Optimism morphing into pessimism. The 60's held the illusion that we could all get high and fuck like rabbits and it would lead us to a better society. The 70's dropped the illusion and we all said lets just get high and fuck for the fun of it, because the world sucks.Every character in this book has little to no redeeming value. They are scared, broken, selfish. They are the 70's encapsulated in flesh.

Elizabeth Moeller

My boss saw this book sitting on the table in the lunch room and said "oh, that's about Vietnam, right?". I said sort of and the topic dropped. The long answer to my boss's question is that this book isn't really about the war in Vietnam, in the sense that it's not about what the soldiers experienced, but it is about Vietnam in the sense that at the beginning of the story one of the main characters is working as a reporter in Vietnam during the war and, while there, has the not so great idea to smuggle a giant bag of heroin back to the states, with the hope of making some money. The story that follows is less about Vietnam, and more about what was happening to people back at home during the war. Unlike other books that I have read which are about this era, but written at a remove from the time, this book really gave a sense that people thought that the abrupt changes happening in America were signs that the end of the world was coming. So many people had experienced terrible things while serving in Vietnam and then came home and were unable to unsee them. Furthermore, people at home were using drugs with a frequency and in volumes that seemed to be an effort to blot out the world. I enjoyed a lot of the scenes in this book for the detailed descriptions they gave of Vietnam era America. Ultimately, though, once the plot turned into a chase between two warring factions to get the bag of heroin it sort of lost my interest.


A brisk literary thriller (it won the National Book Award), the kind that isn't really written today. It confirms in my mind (though I didn't have much doubt) that the 1970s were a period of general malaise. It also helps me affirm my decision not to traffic heroin.


A puzzle and a mystery. A book about three kilos of heroin smuggled stateside from Vietnam. A drug deal gone bad. A chase. A second deal gone bad and then a third. The real bad guys win and the sorta bad guys sorta win by some of them outliving all these bad deals. I thought I hadn't read it, but the last third was sure awful familiar. I wonder what that means. In the reality of this book it means something. I'm mostly pleased with this read, but it does reference lot of Catholic practice that I'm ignorant of. See my comments for other remarks in transit.

Joey Gold

"Yes," Dieter said, "I can see that. But in real life, you can't pull it off.""Well then, fuck real life. Real life don't cut no ice with me."("Dog Soldiers", Robert Stone, p. 292).The most unique thing about this book is how its language runs in collision with its pace. It has the rhythm of a bloody-action heist thriller on ascending adrenalin, but the language which describes this action is filled with strange, darkly-comic wordplay and semi-psychedelic quirky imagery. Towards the last section of the novel (and no, this isn't a spoiler) a raging battle in a remote town on the Mexico border is followed by a chapter devoted completely to a surreal, rambling inner-monologue. This is a perfect example of the two-faced nature of this brilliant book.John Converse, a writer who has grown tired from working in a bizarre pirate newspaper, starts a career of freelance journalism in Vietnam. He roams around the lush yet deadly landscape, sometimes visits jungle battle-lines, and even makes it to frayed Cambodia. Torpid and sluggish to the bone, before he is shipped back to California he launches with his wife Margie and friend Ray Hicks a reckless smack deal. I won't elaborate on the plotline any further, but the colors darken, as you would imagine, into a dire canvas of chaotic violence. Amongst these three unforgettable main characters flows a sea of demented and corrupt caricatures. Psychotic FBI narcs, Samoan thugs, false Messiahs; loonies with names like K-Jell, Holy O and Smitty. So if your cup of tea is something like a chamber play, where the author focuses on three or four main and round figures, you might dismiss this book. If you are generally fond of two distinct genres – gloomy satire and strong suspense – than "Dog Soldiers" and most books by Robert Stone should leave you more than satisfied.Raskin, one of the corrupt feds' hooligans, is the roundest supporting player in the book. He is colder, more vigilant than the other stoned misfits. At one point he delivers a monologue explaining the roots of his rotten ways; an involuntary commitment to a Brooklyn psych ward, a facility for the criminally insane where he spent the entire 1960's. This book is full of these brief subplots. These detours from the immediate storyline, while seemingly distracting and insignificant, are written so well that they're worth the lingering.As I mentioned in the beginning, the sentences are peculiar. Every now and then you will run into a phrase so odd and pungent it will seem like it belongs in a Steely Dan B-Side; – "The sky was obscene in its brightness, the crimson rocks a bad joke." – – "Her head was filled with freakery – that she was turning into rubber, that her mind had been replaced with a cassette." – If Gravity's Rainbow wasn't published beforehand to such a notorious uproar I doubt "Dog Soldiers" would have even been nominated for a National Book Award, and that is a good thing.I am easily alienated by stream of consciousness murmurs; up until this book I thought that any writer, excluding revered novelists like Joyce, Nabokov or Faulkner, trying to be strange or surreal only achieves insincere dullness, or, if you will, bullshit. Stone proved me otherwise. What he lacks in lingual innovativeness compared to the icons previously mentioned (occasionally, and maybe deliberately, he'll succumb to vague second-rate hippie mantras like "the mind is a monkey") he compensates with gripping energy and a talent for describing extreme conditions in an accessible, thrilling and cliché-free manner."Dog Soldiers" is a strange bird, but it's a bit more down to earth than most of the famous postmodern works. It is hard not to care about the fate of his flawed main characters. And as Stone himself was a journalist in Saigon, authenticity is guaranteed. It is a chef d'oeuvre of unforgettable murk.Fine, I'll cut the crap; it's a great book.Joey Gold.

Brian Wade

This was a run through the muck. I can appreciate that 'Dog Soldiers' (DS) was considered an important work when first released in early 70s. DS depicts the backlash of the 60s counter culture. It's an unhappy, unsavory and violent wake-up call to the effects of Vietnam and the drug culture. The story is purposefully bleak. I suppose I knew that going in but this awareness didn't help soften the view imo. It was a run through the muck and not one I really wanted to experience right now. I marked DS as a to-read based on Esquire's 75. It moved very quickly, only took a couple days to finish. Interesting how a book I rate 2stars can be that quick & easy to read. Seems like a book I rate as 'ok' would have been more difficult. Perhaps I just wanted to get to the end and finish it. Maybe in the right mindset DS would have been more satisfying. It's not a bad book. I think the content/writing just reflects its age. This is a blast against the 60s counter culture, an end of an era. There may be some revelatory Vietnam scenes, but for Readers primarily interested in the Vietnam war slant I would encourage them to read O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried'.

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