Pretty standard yarn as far as speculative science fiction of the post-apocalyptic genre go, but Brin's The Postman
counts as the popular predecessor for many, many others and therefore gets a pass on several of its sappier elements. I've always been a sucker for Cold War era science fiction. The specter of communism and the incipient fear of nuclear holocaust has a feel to it that just can't be replicated by post-Cold War novelists. It lends a realistic flavor to the tone of the book even while its scientific speculations remain quaintly golden age. ([b:Selected Stories|14180|Selected Stories|Philip K. Dick|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347569641s/14180.jpg|16258] of Philip K. Dick also comes readily to mind.) Something about that mix gives me a feeling of nostalgia and comfort that makes these types of stories gloriously fun to me while many of their modern scions irritate me into frothing derision. The Postman
takes place in war-ravaged 21st century America. In the wake of the "Doomwar" (-___-), America finds itself torn apart as ordinary citizens battle hardened "survivalists" who attempt to resurrect a society governed by natural selection under a neo-feudalism that is shockingly misogynistic and brutal. Enter Gordon Krantz, the everyman trying to escape the brutal conditions of the American plains in search of more civilized conditions in the west. After a really unlucky day upon first entering the Oregon territory, Gordon finds the remains of an old 20th century postman with his prewar cache of letters still intact. Having just been robbed of his only possessions, Gordon innocently dons the old US postal service uniform and takes the letters for their entertainment value and soon finds that these trappings of civilization open up a whole new life, with no responsibilities and new hopes that he couldn't have possibly imagined.
While the imagery and speculation is pretty routine for novels of this genre, Brin introduces some interestingly complicated ideas about symbols and civilization that resonate above the din of paltry environmentalist chiding and ridiculously fantastic geopolitical daydreaming that dominate these types of novels today. Here is a novel that is brutally realistic, even if its speculations of nuclear-fueled Cold War holocaust is a bit outdated, and his bit about survivalism eerily echoes modern infatuations with the practice highlighted in shows like Doomsday Preppers. Brin's speculation about the likely path of the deterioration of society is sensible and logical, well-reasoned and completely plausible. Beyond the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation that provides the genesis for the tale the only other thing I found pretty antiquated was the conception of gender and sex, which, while undoubtedly progressive or even radical for its era, may seem a bit pedantic and strikingly old-fashioned in its feminism. This becomes a bit of a problem as its message takes center-stage in the latter half of the book and plays a key role in the narrative. As a lynch pin, it seemed hokey, especially after the interesting gender-role examination of dark age society among the hypersurvivalists and the important and believable role women play directly in Gordon's life at that point.
All-in-all, The Postman
is a solid page-turner from a great year in science fiction. I still can't believe that this lost out to Ender's Game
for the Hugo in 1986. There's no question which novel is the more believable or better written.