Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Review: The Postman

Read 1/5/11 - 1/12/11
3 Stars - Recommended to readers familiar with genre

This was another one of those novels that eluded me for quite a few years. Originally made aware of it's existence when checking out top 10 post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction lists, The Postman was hailed as one of the better books within those genres.

After searching high and low at local book chains, indie shops, library and used book sales, I contacted it's author David Brin, who selflessly sent me a copy for review. (Many thanks David!)

My timing for this novel couldn't have been any more perfect. Originally published in 1985 and set in 2011/2012, Brin created a world that had been destroyed in an unspecified nuclear and biological war of massive proportions. A world that has been beaten back into the "dark ages", where groups of survivors are cut off from one another and people are forced to barter and trade, and money means nothing.

Sixteen years after the war, we meet Gordon - a lone traveler who used to trade stories and song for food and a place to rest as he passed through isolated pockets of survivors - who is currently being robbed of everything he owns. As he runs from his attackers, he stumbles across an old jeep, containing the long dead body of a United States Postal Worker. In desperate need of clothing and supplies, he strips the skeleton of it's uniform and carries the mail pouches to the nearest populated town. There, he constructs a story about a "Restored United States" and his long and arduous task of reestablishing postal routes throughout the country.

What orignated as a lie to help him survive in tough times begins to instill hope in the towns he visits. And as the tale of a new America travels through the countryside, Gordon actually begins to collect and deliver mail from one town to the next, appointing fellow citizens as postmen, and reconnected long lost family members and friends.

Brin's novel, though quite dated, tackles some timeless concepts - the struggle of one against many, the strong against the weak; the struggle to survive against all odds, and of creating something grand and wonderous out of the ashes of something that had once devestated and crippled the entire country.

Throughout the novel, Gordon questioned his ability to continue the lie, convinced someone somewhere would realize the truth - that there was no "Restored United States", no government to the East attempting to rebuild itself - and call him what he really was, a fraud and a liar, rather than the hero and leader they saw him as. And throughout the novel, I found myself reading along, hoping that in the end, America would actually come running to Gordon's rescue - that the lie he began would eventually work itself into a truth larger than even he could imagine.

What it really became, however, was less a novel about dystopian America attempting to rebuild itself and more a novel of territorial battles against a group of enemy rebels looking to take control of the individual groups of survivors, specifically their supplies, women, and land.

Though I have no previous exposure to Brin's work, which are all classified as sci-fi, I sensed a higher level of science fiction bubbling beneath the surface of this novel. At one point, where he introduces a city that is ruled by a super computer name Cyclops, I actually felt myself losing interest in the story. I mean, how does one go from a world that has been plunged back into the "dark ages" to a secluded city that takes orders from the country's only functioning computer, complete running electricity and Servants who are at it's every beck and call?

Overall, I think my expectations set me up for disappointment, so I do not blame Brin or his story for my reaction to it. When I compare it to other post-apocalyptic novels - like On the Beach by Nevil Shute, The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner, or the more recent The Road by Cormac McCarthy - The Postman fails to hold it own. If I view it on it's own, as a piece of literature sans genre, it fair better as a stand alone novel dipicting the survival of one man in a hostile and distrusting world. It's really a great novel that will have you rooting for the underdog. Attaching a genre to it does not do this book justice.


  1. Hm this one sounds pretty interesting but I'm thinking a little tooo on the sci-fi for me. I know what you mean about comparing books to others in the genre. It's hard NOT to do. This reminds me..I still need to read The Road.

  2. Oh my god, you MUST get started on THE ROAD right away! I think it is one of the BEST post-apocalyptical novels out there.