Dog Soldiers

ISBN: 0330370960
ISBN 13:
By: Robert Stone

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Crime Currently Reading Fiction Historical Fiction National Book Award Time 100 Time Top 100 To Read Vietnam War

Reader's Thoughts

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.

Eleanor Levine

This was an educational read about Vietnam, heroin and California and though it wasn't always brilliant, it had some brilliant moments, cause Robert Stone is brilliant, fyi. Plus I finished this book, which, as of late, is an accomplishment for me. Strange and insightful and satirical of rich lefties, which I always appreciate.

Patrick McCoy

Dog Soldiers is not what I expected. After seeing the paperback on my father’s bookshelf so many years ago, I thought it was a novel about being a soldier in the Vietnam war (ala the excellent The Things They Carried). Instead, it is a sort of counterculture noir thriller version of The Treasure of Sierra Nevada. It’s about a Vietnam journalist who decides to smuggle heroin into the country and sell it off. But it all goes awry as crooked federal agents become involved as his former Marine buddy Ray Wise goes on the lam with his wife and three kilos of uncut heroin. It’s got a lot of references to the era from which it was spawned: “turned on,” “right on”, “freaks,” etc… But it is a compelling character study of some very different types of people, as well as reflection of the times. I heard that it was made into a film called “Who’ll Stop The Rain,” which was one of Nick Nolte’s first starring roles-I would like to see it sometime to see how it translates to film. It was a very dark, fascinatingly

Chris

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.

Ed

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.

Jessica

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.

Quinn Slobodian

The moment of the book's writing, 1973, is an amazing one: when what Stone's characters call The Movement stalled on wool blankets in a stove-heated cabin, half the guests in a dilaudid nod. The book starts all black-comedic, a journalist in Vietnam talking about how Strategic Hamlet Reports make him hungry because the noodle vendors use it to wrap their meals in. Then there is a moment (later repeated) of 60s/70s-era existentialism that helps explain to me why the Hesse and Nietzsche books I started finding on friend's parents' shelves and in bookstores as a teenager had an old odor of cold sweat on them. Then, and for most of book, we're in a Coen Brothers movie: Big Lebowski + No Country for Old Men with all the campy drug- and petty-gangster-talk, strange bits of Californiana and the McGuffin of "the package" which drags the already bedraggled cast to a deadly showdown at a Keseyesque hermitage in the Santa Anas. I like how Stone can't decide how seriously he takes his own characters read: his own life. Like the main character says about the early 70s United States, it's "funny" there.

Kemper

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.

Kirk

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.

Chris Brimmer

All you have to do is read one quote, "but in a world where flying men hunt elephants people are just naturally going to want to get high." If you read this book and think its just a well crafted adventure crime story, then you just didn't get it and you need to read it again. I've read this novel 8-10 times over the years and get something new out of it everytime.

Roger

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.

Peter

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.

John

Robert Stone, let's all remember, joined his Stanford classmate Ken Kesey & the rest of the Merry Pranksters aboard the LSD-fueled bus "Further," back at the onset of the High Sixties. The experience brought in its richest harvest, however, not in any memoir (though Stone's recent PRIME GREEN makes an admirable effort) but in this piercing & scarifying *noir.* Though first published just as the '60s hallucinations were petering out, DOG SOLDIERS remains the essential depiction of how the dream soured & collapsed, in a swill of broken lives. Certainly Denis Johnson needed this novel to clear the way for the tragic yearning of JESUS' SON, but DOG SOLDIERS has the better imagination & the more full-bodied personalities. Its first episodes play out as a kind of Vietnam dinner-drama, in which the gunfire's offstage & the former Marines Converse & Hicks cast their lots w/ the fallen; they take up smuggling heroin. Converse presents perhaps the most destructive artist figure in a generation of American novels; he says of bringing the scag to San Francisco: "I feel like this is the first real thing I ever did in my life." Yet it's Hicks who's the greater creation, an American samurai saddled w/ a serious love of booze & an inborn commitment to the principles of Zen. Soon after coming ashore in the States, Hicks is spurred to running for his wife w/Converse's wife Marge, a woman w/ rich conflicts of her own, on the one hand a marvelously free & smart definition of marriage -- & motherhood -- on the other an abject determination to get as high as she can. The bad guys come across w/ a matching vividness, in particular the crooked SF detective Antheil (indeed, his Fuhrer is an insect), who w/ his two "pet rats" swiftly collar Converse & force him to help w/ tracking & catching Hicks, Marge, & the smack. The scenes of Converse's torture are the most directly presented violence in the book, but the latter half of DOG SOLDIERS puts us through a number of perfectly shocking outbursts, each one a blow between the eyes & yet each rendered the more intense by their moments of indirection, the things the characters can't see. Then too, the worst that happens here all seems necessary, & so they're touched w/ humor (some of the grim one-liners have stayed w/ me for decades now), & enlivened as well w/ an undeniable nobility. The blood & depravity incubate buds of fresh possibility. Stone may demonstrate a broader political vision in the later books, Conradian panoramas like the Central American FLAG FOR SUNRISE or the Jerusalem novel DAMASCUS GATE, but it's this more personal vision that risks most & matters most. After reading, you're never free of its chilling shadow of American overreach.

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'.

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.

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