1986 – “The Postman” by David Brin

The Postman by David Brin is regarded as a classic post-apocalyptic novel. It’s set in America some years after society has collapsed and disease has reduced population numbers. In the early days after things fell apart there were local militia and dangerous groups who tried to enslave others but now there are isolated villages who secure themselves against invaders. Those who travel face bandits and hostility. Gordon is a traveller because he can’t seem to settle down. He is one of the reduced number of people who remember the time before and who want a return to civilisation.

Gordon is attacked by bandits when travelling across rural Oregon and loses everything he owns. In desperation, before he freezes or starves, he loots an abandoned van which holds the remains of a postman and his sacks of mail. He wears the uniform and takes some of the mail with him. When he reaches a town he finds himself creating a story about the restoration of some American states and the reestablishment of a mail service. It’s all a bluff but the result is that he raises hope in those he meets and he begins to connect different towns and help them to communicate. Soon he has recruited others and the mail service has been restored in part. He meets others who want to restore civilisation and others who want to destroy any chance of it but he is trapped by his lies.

This is an interesting novel about a possible future. It is quite American in tone in that the mail service seems to be held in extremely high regard and treated as an arm of the government. This means that people hesitate to attack Gordon and see the mail as somehow sacred. I liked the way that the author built up the communication between towns and also how, because of his position, Gordon finds himself taking the lead when there are threats and having a status that he doesn’t deserve because he’s lied about it. Of course, he meets other people who are lying too and it does make the reader consider on what shallow foundations our own civilisation is based.

I like books that look at what might happen if our structures and culture were to collapse and this book’s conclusions are as likely as any I have seen. I sympathised with Gordon although I didn’t always like what he did – in the end, of course, he did rise to the occasion but the book is clear about the brutality and its consequences when there is the breakdown of civilisation as we know it. I listened to the audiobook aptly narrated by Kevin Kenerly. I understand there is a film of the book but I have never seen it.

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