Sunday, August 19, 2018

17. The Postman by David Brin

The Postman has been on my post-apocalyptic to read list for a long time.  I never made a strong effort to find it because I knew it is not that hard to find.  I finally pulled the trigger at a nice used bookstore in downtown Nanaimo.  I had often wondered why it never seemed to get much recognition among the PA classics.  I suspect that part of it is that it came out in 1985, a bit later than when the sub-genre was really peaking and also that the name evokes the much-panned movie.  Having read the book, and especially having got to the end, I can also understand why it doesn't have a bigger footprint.  I'll get to that in the review.

It starts out in the way that I love for PA fiction.  Lone survivor in a crappy situation that just got way worse, with little tidbits of the current situation and how we got here.  Rather than a single major disaster, the downfall is the result of many things, including limited nuclear war that caused economic breakdown which led to social breakdown.  The sub-theme of the disaster (and the book) was that the real collapse was the result of far right extremist survivalists, whose aggression and worldview brought down the remaining pockets of civilization and governance that could have led to re-building civilization.

So our hero gets caught at the foot of the Rockies by a small gang of bandits. He escapes with his life but most of his precious equipment. He hides out in an abandoned vehicle that contains the skeleton of  postman, with his uniform and bag of mail preserved.  He takes the clothes and equipment because it is useful, but in another pinch, lies about who he is to be allowed into a stockaded town.  The surprisingly positive reception to his lie that he is an official representative of a provisional surviving US government operating out of Minnesota leads him to continue the lie which leads him to a role of travelling from town to town in the Pacific Northwest delivering mail and setting up a new mail service in each town.

This part of the book is really cool.  I know some of this region okay and Brin's conversion of it to this recovering and surviving future is convincing and fun to read.  There is a lot of variety in how different communities survive as well as tantalizing hints of larger regional conflicts, particularly in the south. 

Unfortunately, the ending, when these regional conflicts come to the fore as the survivalists make a push from the south and the sub-theme that these assholes are the real problem in the first place also comes to the fore.  It's fascinating and prescient to see how Brin portrays these people in 1985 seen through the lens of 2018 where they have coalesced under the Alt-Right banner and really do present a threat to the American empire.  However, in terms of enjoyable fiction, this is reified into an epic battle between what was initially two side characters and it all very much took me out of the world and the story.  There is also a ton of preaching in these last pages and it became a real slog.  It feels like what happened here is that Brin couldn't figure out a way to finish the story he started in a structurally acceptable way (in terms of how we expect fiction to work).  I get that because really it's a story that can't and shouldn't end, not unlike the Walking Dead.  Also, there may be some liberal preaching coming from Brin.  Either way, I just got really disconnected. 

I would say if you are a fan of the genre, this is definitely worth a read.  Just be prepared that the pleasure of the first two-thirds may not last for you.

I also thought I should watch the movie after reading the book, but now I am even more hesitant than ever.  The hero does a lot of acting and emoting (before he takes on the postman role, he survived by telling tales and doing one-man plays).  I really struggle to see Kevin Costner doing this stuff in a way that would not be almost painfully cringeworthy.

No comments: