Reviews of The Postman (1985) and related work

The Postman (1985Text)

David Brin (writer).

Read in 2021.

16 years after its Pyrrhic victory in WW3, the USA is still on its knees. The economy has not recovered, remaining on a medieval level following three years of famine in nuclear winter, the destruction of nearly all electronics by EMP, a series of crippling epidemics, and roaming bands of Nietzschean looters.

A harried and guilty survivor stumbles on a USPS uniform. It’s just the right thing to rekindle some hope. So he becomes an impostor.

A relatively successful treatment of a lot of interesting themes. All the big-picture events of WW3 make sense, resembling Threads (1984); in fact The Postman picks up in the time frame where Threads ended. There is some more whimsical SF stuff mixed into it—AGI and military supermen, both present in Stand on Zanzibar—but this is kept to a level where it serves the themes more than its harms credibility. The themes are strong: The power of literature, myth, hope and feminism, under convincingly detailed and suboptimal material circumstances.

I love the little book-within-the-book about Aaron Burr cast as a hero by the authoritarians. Its author, Nathan Holn, is like a pre-emptive caricature of Jordan Peterson, and suitably absent. I also appreciate that the hero, while he is something of a goody two-shoes, is ultimately not a Hercules; his effort is important enough to stand at the centre of the novel, but is not the linchpin of national recovery. Dena provides more hope in her martyrdom and Powhatan, inspired by Dena, does the fighting.

The feminism is somewhat marred by wishful thinking, as in The Forever War (1974), but is ultimately more successful. The aspect of “worlds behind you” is charming, evident not only in the AGI and the supermen but also in the symbolic power of a mail carrier, something that would hardly work in a novel written 20 years later. It may be the ultimate 1980s apocalypse novel.

References here: The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).

fiction text

The Postman (1997Moving picture, 177 minutes)

adaptation fiction moving picture