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A Boy and His Dog

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Author  Harlan Ellison
Number of books  1
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A boy and his dog 1975

A Boy and His Dog is a cycle of narratives by author Harlan Ellison. The cycle tells the story of a boy (Vic) and his telepathic dog (Blood), who work together as a team to survive in the post-apocalyptic world after a nuclear war. The original 1969 novella was adapted into the 1975 film A Boy and His Dog directed by L.Q. Jones. Both the story and the film were well received by critics and science fiction fans, but the movie was not successful commercially. The original novella was followed by short stories and a graphic novel.


A boy and his dog trailer

Publication history

Ellison began the cycle with the 1969 short story of the same title, published in New Worlds, and expanded and revised the tale to novella length for his story collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World the same year. The cycle begins chronologically with "Eggsucker", which chronicles the early years of the association between the young loner Vic and his brilliant, telepathic dog, Blood.

Ellison bookended the original story with two others in the same world, in Vic and Blood: The Chronicles of a Boy and His Dog (St. Martin's Press, 1988), a three-story graphic novel collection illustrated by Richard Corben, who also illustrated for this collection two other short stories featuring Vic and Blood: "Eggsucker" (a prequel to A Boy and His Dog, first published in Thomas Durward, ed, The Ariel Book of Fantasy Volume Two, 1977) and "Run, Spot, Run" (which was originally published in "Amazing Stories", in 1980). Ellison's introduction to the collection explains that 1969′s A Boy and His Dog is part of a larger novel that he has been writing for over 30 years and that story is finished, but the last, longest part is written as a screenplay with no current plans for production.

Ellison considered as late as 2003 that he would combine the three stories (possibly with additional material) to create a novel with the proposed title of Blood's a Rover (not to be confused with the Chad Oliver story or the James Ellroy novel Blood's a Rover). While Blood's a Rover has not appeared, the graphic novel's Ellison/Corben edition has been reprinted as Vic and Blood: The Continuing Adventures of a Boy and His Dog.


The novella and the film adaptation have the same alternate timeline setting, diverging with the failed assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Instead of concentrating on the Space Race, technological advancements in robotics, animal intelligence, and telepathy take place. A more heated Cold War takes place, culminating in a conventional World War III. A truce is signed, lasting another 25 years, though mounting tensions lead to a second outbreak of hostilities in 2007, this time involving massive nuclear warfare. Civilization is almost entirely obliterated, leaving the surface of the Earth reduced to a desolate, irradiated wasteland.

Years later, in 2024, foragers who remain above ground must fight for the remaining resources. Most survivors in the former United States are male, as females were usually in the bombed cities, while many men were out, fighting in the war. In the novella, nuclear fallout had created horrific mutations, such as the feared burnpit screamers, known for their noise and deadliness (in the film, they appear in only one scene, though they are only heard).


Vic, aged 15, was born in and scavenges throughout the wasteland of the former southwestern United States. Vic is most concerned with food and sex; having lost both of his parents, he has no formal education and does not understand ethics or morality. He is accompanied by a well-read, misanthropic, telepathic dog named Blood, who helps him locate women, in return for food. Blood cannot forage for himself, due to the same genetic engineering that granted him telepathy. The two steal for a living, evading bands of solos and mutants. Blood and Vic have an occasionally antagonistic relationship, though they realize they need each other.

At a movie house, Blood claims to smell a woman, and the pair track her to an abandoned YMCA building. There, they meet Quilla June Holmes, a teenage girl from "Downunder," a society located in a large underground vault. Before Vic can rape her, Blood informs the pair that a "roverpak" (a gang) has tracked them to the building and they have to fight them off. After killing a number of them, the trio hides in a boiler and set the structure on fire. Vic finally has sex with Quilla, and though she protests at first, she begins to come on to him. Blood takes an instant disliking to her, but Vic ignores him. Vic and Quilla have sex repeatedly, but eventually, Quilla attacks him and takes off to return to her underground community. Vic, furious at her deception, follows her, despite Blood's warnings. Blood remains at the portal on the surface.

Downunder has an artificial biosphere, complete with forests and underground cities, one of which, named Topeka, after the ruins of the city it lies beneath, is fashioned in a surreal mockery of 1950s rural innocence. Vic is captured by the ruling council (the Better Business Bureau). They confess that Quilla was sent to the surface to lure a man downunder. The population of Topeka is becoming sterile, and the babies that are born are usually female. They feel that Vic, despite his crudeness and savage behavior, will be able to reinvigorate that male population. Vic is first elated to learn that he is to impregnate the female population, but this initial enthusiasm quickly turns to horror.

Quilla is reunited with Vic and they plan to escape. Vic uses the fact that Quilla's father secretly desires sex with her as a distraction, incapacitating him, so that they can escape.

On the surface, Vic and Quilla discover Blood is starving and near death, having been attacked by radioactive insects and other "things". Quilla June tries to get Vic to leave Blood, and take off with her. Knowing he will never survive without Blood's guidance, and, more importantly, knowing Blood will not survive without care and food, Vic faces a difficult situation. It is implied that he kills his new love and cooks her to save Blood. The novella ends with Vic remembering her question as Blood eats: "Do you know what love is?" and he concludes, "Sure I know. A boy loves his dog."


The novella won the Nebula Award for Best Novella upon its release in 1969 and was also nominated for the 1970 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

Film adaptation

The 1975 science fiction film directed by L. Q. Jones was controversial for alleged sexism; the script included lines which were not in Ellison's original stories and which authors such as Joanna Russ found to be objectionable. Ellison disavowed the film's final piece of dialogue as a "moronic, hateful chauvinist last line, which I despise." The film's final line is from Blood: "Well I'd say she certainly had marvelous judgement, Albert, if not particularly good taste."

Vic and Blood

Ellison later expanded the story cycle in the graphic novel collection Vic and Blood, illustrated by Richard Corben. Although Blood is now back on his feet, the pair's situation deteriorates as Vic begins having guilt-ridden hallucinations as a result of an awakening of conscience following the death of Quilla. Due to his preoccupation, Vic stumbles into a near-fatal encounter with a roving gang, resulting in his getting separated from Blood once again. After the two reunite, Blood finds Vic in a hopeless, almost catatonic state. Despite Blood's appeals and attempts to reawaken Vic's sanity, Vic allows himself to be captured by a giant, mutated spider. Cocooned, poisoned by venom, and beyond any hope of saving, Vic accepts his fate as Blood is left to fend for himself.

The reasons given by Ellison for this abrupt ending have differed over the years. One relates to his anger over the L.Q. Jones ending of the film, as detailed above. The other is, according to Ellison, essentially a desire to stop his fans from requesting more stories about the two characters. Ellison claimed at the time of the film's release that he had said all he wanted to say about Vic and Blood, and that there would be no more sequels. However, in the introduction to Vic and Blood, dated 25 March 2003, Ellison mentions: "And I've written the rest of the book, BLOOD'S A ROVER. The final, longest section is in screenplay form – and they're bidding here in Hollywood, once again, for the feature film and TV rights – and one of these days before I go through that final door, I'll translate it into elegant prose, and the full novel will appear."


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