Book Review: The Postman – by David Brin

Some years ago there was a movie titled “The Postman” with Kevin Costner that was loosely based on this novel by science fiction writer David Brin.

There is nothing science fiction about The Postman. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that plays in Oregon.

The book was first copyrighted in 1985 and Brin, being a science fiction writer, created an all-out nuclear war that took place in the early 1990-ies and that brought down civilization worldwide.

I like to read science fiction written about a time way in the future from the writer’s present perspective, which also happens to be the present time for me. To do that, you have to not read a new book for 25 or more years.

This story takes place in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, referencing the war that took place 16 years before the start of the story.

The immediate aftermath of the war caused a three-year-winter and lawlessness. Massive extinction took crops, animals and people. In the U.S., the government collapsed, and civilization was reduced to marauding bands of violent survivalists and homesteaders who sometimes banded together for mutual support and protection in small communities.

Gordon Krantz, the protagonist, is a lone survivor who wandered from St. Paul all the way to eastern Oregon over a period of 16 years, keeping a journal of his travels, surviving somehow off the scraps left by a looted civilization. When the story begins he is robbed of all his possessions by bandits that outnumbered and outgunned him. Faced with imminent death from freezing and starvation in winter in the mountains in eastern Oregon, he must get creative quickly.

When he stumbles upon a corpse of a former postman in a Post Office Jeep, he takes the uniform for warmth and the bag as a container – and then he has an idea that changes his life and that of all the people he encounters.

Like in most apocalypse stories, there must be some evil besides just the natural disasters that cause impossible situations for the people. In Stephen King’s The Stand, that’s Randall Flagg, the dark lord that takes over Las Vegas and builds an evil empire. In The Postman, the evil people are, ironically, the remaining militant survivalists who concentrated in the Pacific Northwest before the war, digging bunkers, hoarding supplies and ammunition, training in hunting and warfare, with the sole objective to survive in the case of a holocaust. As it turns out, the survivalists, due to competition with each other, pretty much kill each other off, but in the end, after things settle down, they have coalesced into an empire of abuse, slavery, and exploitation – feudalism in the American mainland. And they go to war against the villages and settlements who try to survive against all odds and build a new civilization.

Gordon, unwittingly and not really a hero, through the circumstances he creates for himself, becomes key to the solution of this conflict.

The Postman is a captivating read, stronger in the first two-thirds of the book which deals with his discoveries. Things get complicated in the end, and the climax is somewhat quick with a deus-ex-machina-flavored solution in the end.

Overall, The Postman is a good, credible and entertaining story of a post-apocalyptic America.

Rating: ** 1/2

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