By David Brin
Note: I spoil. That said, the novel is over 30 years old, so if you haven’t read it, where have you been for the last several decades?
Tropes abound in post-holocaust fiction. The struggle against the fall into chaos. A man (or woman, but let’s face it, usually it’s a man) maintains his humanity. Same man struggles against the minions of chaos. Battles ensue. Light returns to the world.
But before they were tropes, they were just stories. The Postman is one of those stories. It is a classic. I read it in the late 80’s, maybe it was early 90’s. As I was rereading it now, I was disappointed to find that my memory of the book was shaded by my memory of the movie. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t bother. It ignores the most important themes of the novel, which is what makes it so good.
The Postman starts with our hero running away, half naked, from a fight. He disappears into the cold mountains in slippers, while his attackers take his warm clothing, food, and– importantly– his journal. He does still have his pistol, so he decides to go after his attackers, trying to head them off at the pass. He gets lost in the woods, mistakenly finds an abandoned US Post Office truck with a long-dead mailman in a well-preserved uniform. About to die of exposure, he sleeps under the piles of mail for heat.
He wakes up the next day, miraculously alive, and dons the uniform. He uses it to get leverage in the next town, maybe they’d let him in and give him shelter if he’s a legitimate postal worker. From there, he gets ideas about actually bringing back civilization. That’s the hook.
What I really like about the story is this hook. It’s not a Braveheart story (like the movie was, don’t bother to watch it). It’s about a symbol of communication that brings people together. In the end, our hero doesn’t fight the big bad guy. He’s not capable. He’s a postman, not a superhero. The subtext (which is not really very “sub” texty, it’s pretty explicit) is about how we need more nurturers, and fewer warriors. Especially in post apocalypse.
I’m really glad I re-read The Postman. There are some elements that are a little dated, but that’s to be expected. It’s not only well written, but it also has a message, and a positive one.
I’m reading other post-apocalyptic fiction, some are re-reads, some new, some outside my regular author list. Alas Babylon, Childhood’s End, One Second After, The Road.