The Postman by David Brin is a post-apocalyptic story about Gordon, a survivor who stumbles upon the most unlikely situation when he puts on the uniform of a deceased postman and unintentionally becomes a symbol of hope in a world that has none. Despite having all the attributes of a hero, Gordon never seeks this role. In fact, garbed in the mantel of a postal worker, he demonstrates a very unhero-like ability to con others. As he visits one settlement after another, purporting to represent the newly reconstituted United States, he hands out letters he found along with the uniform, delighting those who receive these messages from a bygone era. Miraculously, the ruse works, and soon Gordon finds himself traveling from town to town, delivering newly written letters this time, while taking full advantage of each location’s hospitality as he is welcomed as a sort of honored guest. That he is preying on people’s hope isn’t lost on him, but it’s too good of a situation to pass up.
During this early period in the novel Gordon almost reminded me of Cugel, who similarly takes advantage of situations for his own personal gain in Jack Vance’s four book, far-future Dying Earth series. But the similarities end fairly quickly as Gordon, who really is an honorable guy, finds himself facing off against an adversary who threatens not only Gordon’s lifestyle, but the people he’s come to know and even care about. Where Cugel would have run away, Gordon decides to make a stand.
The Postman has all the stereotypes of a dystopian novel, but it never really approaches anything close to the true grimness one might expect in a world ruled by chaos. There is senseless killing, torture, and rape, but it’s never gone into with much detail. This is fine; I’m not holding this against the author or the novel. But this superficial treatment lessens the suspense and ultimately the attachment I had with the people who had survived the apocalypse and who were now trying to rebuild civilization with Gordon as their moral compass.
As for Gordon, he’s a likable enough character despite the way he initially takes advantage of his situation by fabricating lies about who and what he represents. As a reader, we know this is only a transitionary phase and that he’ll come around eventually.
Brin’s writing is adequate. It gets the job done but isn’t going to knock you off your feet. I’d say the same for the storytelling. There’s nothing overwhelmingly great about the story or the characters, for that matter. Again, it’s adequate.
I’m giving The Postman three rockets because it’s still good, apocalyptic fun, even if it might seem a bit tired given how many dystopian novels we’ve been inundated with over the past so many years. I think if I’d read The Postman closer to the its release date then I might have a different opinion and might have even rated it higher. Now, though, it’s really just another post-apocalyptic book in a sea of them. It just happens to have a novel idea in a hero who also happens to be a postman.