Survival in postapocalyptic Las Vegas: Jarret Keene’s ‘Hammer of the Dogs’ explores a fierce new world

Set in the wasteland of post-apocalyptic Las Vegas, Hammer of the Dogs is a literary dystopian adventure filled with high-octane fun starring 21-year-old Lash. With her high-tech skill set and warrior mentality, Lash is a master of her own fate as she helps to shield the Las Vegas Valley’s survivors and protect her younger classmates at a paramilitary school holed up in Luxor on the Las Vegas Strip. After graduation, she’ll be alone in fending off the deadly intentions and desires of the school’s most powerful opponents. 

When she’s captured by the enemy warlord, she’s surprised by two revelations: He’s not the monster her headmaster wants her to believe, and the one thing she can’t safeguard is her own heart. Hammer of the Dogs celebrates the courageousness of a younger generation in the face of authority while exploring the difficult choices a conscionable young woman must make with her back against a blood-spattered wall. It’s a story of transformation and maturity, as Lash grapples with her own identity and redefines the glittering Las Vegas that Nevada is known for.

Peter Telep, author of Tom Clancy’s EndWar: The Missing, calls Hammer of the Dogs, “A thrilling adventure starring an unforgettable warrior.” Todd Pierce, who wrote The Australia Stories, says, “A dozen years after Hunger Games and Divergent were first published, Hammer of the Dogs lights Las Vegas aflame with a postapocalyptic fury, in which a new generation must reclaim the world from those who ruined it.”

Author Jarret Keene earned his PhD in creative writing at Florida State University and is now an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he teaches American literature and the graphic novel. He has written a travel guide, a rock-band biography, and poetry collections. He’s edited short fiction anthologies, including Las Vegas Noir and Dead Neon: Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas.

Jarrett Keene PHOTO/Courtesy of the author

Excerpt from Hammer of the Dogs, Chapter 1:

Lash used a rock to smash the window of a vacant tract home. Before climbing in, she looked to see if the microdrone had followed. It careened from the front of the house, the pilot overcorrecting, the machine glancing off the brick facade. It was a nasty homebrew with a thermal-imaging camera and what looked like an SRS A-2, the world’s smallest sniper rifle. The four brushless motors had no gears, making it a quiet, efficient, nearly inescapable killer. She knew the hushed rotor wash would be imperceptible, even inches from her face. But Lash didn’t hear drones; she intuited them. Drones changed the atmosphere around her. She was drawn to them, repulsed by them. For the briefest moment, her adversary had her mesmerized.

Then the bucket of bits and chips steadied itself to draw a deadly bead.

She jumped through the window. A shard of glass sliced her forearm. A bullet ripped through the window inches from her face. She yelped, fell backward onto a floor of broken dishes and garbage, then scampered out of the kitchen and got up to sprint for the door. In the tiled living room, she slipped on something greasy and landed on her tailbone. Shockwaves of pain racking her spine, she got up and ran again. Still, she felt her stalker ghosting the air, growing closer. She was outside now. The longer she avoided death, the sooner the drone would exhaust its power supply and have to return to base station or risk crashing. But she had no idea where that station might be. The pilot, Richter, could be anywhere, orchestrating her demise with a suitcase downlink powered by an old car battery. He could be across the street right now, ready to blow her brains out with an AK, SKS, or even an old Remington.

She took the chance. Lungs burning, legs throbbing, she made for the narrow space between two houses. She hoped to find a skateboard or kick scooter—anything to get her downhill fast and out of this suburban maze. She’d been searching for paint thinner. She was building a flamethrower and needed fuel that stayed liquid as it burned. She’d fantasized all year about incinerating Richter’s cruel and handsome face.

Gunfire cracked, shattering a garden gnome. She bounded a wooden backyard fence and spotted shears beside a drained swimming pool. She grabbed the landscaping tool just as the microdrone whirred up behind her. Swinging the shears, she pinched the machine by its landing skid, using its momentum to bounce it once, twice, off the sliding-glass door. The drone sputtered free, bobbing like a storm-tossed fishing cork, and fired.

A giant spiderweb fracture erupted behind Lash. With her black Bedford lace-up combat boots, she kicked her way in and headed for the garage. She whimpered a prayer to Saint Joseph of Cupertino, patron of pilots, for help against her assailant. But Richter was relentless. Nothing could save her now. If only she had a GPS jammer, something to spoof the drone into autopilot mode. All she had were fields of dead grass, dust, and abandoned homes.

The overhead garage door was locked. She ducked into the laundry room and, noticing a can of lighter fluid, smiled with pyromaniacal intent. She opened a refrigerator, got in, and closed the door, fumbling in her cargo shorts for the Zippo. She listened for the drone, sensed it nearby. It was searching for a heat signal.

She would give it one.

She swung open the fridge door. It clipped one of the drone’s rotors, which sent it spinning out into the hallway. As it thrashed, fighting to achieve liftoff, she drenched it with lighter fluid, then flicked her Zippo, tossed it, and squirted more fluid onto the flaming bot.

Desperate to kill, the drone fired. Melting carbon caused the bullet to miss and ricochet into a box of cat litter. Lash took the opportunity to whack the machine with a broom handle. Billowing smoke inside the cramped space made it hard to breathe. She slid open the lone window, leaped into the backyard again, and hauled, never looking back.

She ran down the hill until she reached the gated entrance, wrought iron warped, where her bike was waiting. Hanging from the handlebars was her backpack, which contained her command tablet.

She unzipped the backpack first and checked the tablet, hoping to snag a nearby Academy drone. But Richter’s pulse waves blocked her signal.

She hopped on the Trek, pedaling furiously along crumbling, pothole-pocked Valley View Boulevard. Richter loved using multiple drones to play with and prey upon his victims. Right now, the skies were bright, cloudless, empty of marauders. She let herself believe she’d escaped the crosshairs, a rare feat. Only one other Academy student, cut off from his classmates, had ever survived an ambush by Richter. And that kid had a GPS jammer.

Having relied on her wits, instinct, an animal-like desire to live, Lash would fight another day.

She wouldn’t admit it to her classmates. She would tell them God had saved her. Not because it was true, but being caught out in the open without tech was looked down on at the Academy. At the Academy, students were asked to bond with the machine.

Even at the risk of dying.

Lash boosted off the inclined edge of a storm drain, landing neatly at the mouth of a tunnel. A dangerous no-man’s land, but she’d stashed a couple of toaster-size, set-and-forget, autonomous, kamikaze bombots. They kept close and exploded shrapnel within ten feet of anything not wearing an Academy RFID chip. Before plunging in, she skidded to a stop and from her pocket fished night-vision goggles. They would improve her sight enough to spot a drone a split second before getting blown away. Better than nothing.

She kissed the modest RFID-tagged crucifix around her neck and pedaled into the drain.

It was hot. Night vision revealed vermin and spiders, too small to trigger a bombot. She passed the first wheeled drone as it zipped in the opposite direction, searching for something to rip apart. Minutes later, she noticed phosphorescent markings on the wall and braked. Straddling the bike frame, she pushed up her goggles and took in the wall’s unfamiliar graffiti: ONLY GODLESS MACHINES SURVIVE

Originally posted 2023-10-11 18:53:36.