Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: The Postman, by David Brin

A post-apocalyptic novel that came at the wrong time, and then got shafted by Kevin Costner.

The Postman

Spectra, 1985, 321 pages

This is the story of a lie that became the most powerful kind of truth. A timeless novel as urgently compelling as War Day or Alas, Babylon, David Brin's The Postman is the dramatically moving saga of a man who rekindled the spirit of America through the power of a dream, from a modern master of science fiction.

He was a survivor--a wanderer who traded tales for food and shelter in the dark and savage aftermath of a devastating war. Fate touches him one chill winter's day when he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker to protect himself from the cold. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, and with it he begins to weave his greatest tale, of a nation on the road to recovery

David Brin writes highly intelligent books, and The Postman is a post-apocalyptic novel that hits on a variety of themes and spins several subplots, none of which were seen in the big dumb movie that turned it into a joke.

TEOTWAWKI in The Postman was "The Doomwar," a conflict between East and West set off by fanatics on both sides — the author is vague on the specifics. Now, a generation later, Gordon Krantz is one of the survivors who still remembers the world before. Calling himself "the last surviving 20th century idealist," he wanders from town to town earning food and temporary lodging with bits of half-remembered Shakespeare. This was a clever little touch — it reminded me of how, contrary to our image of the pioneers of the American West being uncouth and uncultured and too busy surviving to care about the arts, many pioneer families carried the complete works of Shakespeare along with their Bibles, and traveling Shakespeare companies reportedly did very well in small frontier towns. Think about how starved they were for entertainment, and for a few hours of diversion transporting you to exotic foreign lands... but I digress.

When Krantz is ambushed by bandits, he's forced to flee with literally nothing, in a cold mountain night. He stumbles upon an old USPS truck, with the corpse of the driver still wearing his uniform. Krantz dons the uniform to avoid freezing to death, and when he shows up at the next town and finds them inhospitable, he takes his acting to the next level, claiming to be a Postal Inspector of the "Restored United States of America."

It's a con to get him a bed and a hot meal, but it quickly grows all out of proportion, until Gordon finds himself not only carrying the torch for a non-existent nation, but rallying troops in its name.

Rather than being all grimdark and blood and death all the time, The Postman takes a realistic, even optimistic, view of a post-apocalyptic society — yes, people are struggling to survive and there isn't a lot of charity to go around, but not everyone is a monster who wants to shoot strangers on sight, and most of the communities just want to live in peace, get some agriculture going again, and maybe someday rebuild civilization.

Of course there are always bad guys, in this case the "Survivalist" followers of a dead prophet who preached a might-makes-right philosophy of crushing the weak and driving your enemies before you and hearing the lamentations of their women. The "Holnists" are a threat to peace and stability, but it turns out they carry a few secrets from the old days of the U.S. as well.

The Postman (1997)

This movie is why we can't have nice things. (I would love, love, love to see Brin's Uplift series made into movies...)

The Postman

I had never seen the movie, so I Netflixed it after reading the book.

The Postman is regarded as one of the worst movies of all time. It won five Razzies.

I don't think it was that bad.

Oh, it wasn't very good. It's a big dumb post-apocalyse movie ala Mad Max, and it stripped out the few sci-fi elements and all of the philosophical subtlety of Brin's novel. However, the plot and the characters are not entirely unlike the book. Like the book, it tells what's meant to be an inspiring story about the power of symbolism and renewed hope.

Brin's ending was rather more dramatic than the one in the movie, but although the Hollywood ending was stupid and Hollywood, it did have going for it that unlike in the book, Gordon Krantz is not a passive observer watching other men fight.

Kevin Costner really did kind of suck, though.

Verdict: A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, The Postman is a superior TEOTWAKI novel that would probably have sold better if it were published today. And if it weren't wrecked by an awful Kevin Costner movie.

My complete list of book reviews.
Tags: books, movies, netflix, reviews, science fiction

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