The Postman: where symbols bring hope

the postman book

Title: The Postman
Author: David Brin
Year published: 1985
Genre: Post-apocalyptic (near, sci-fi).
Threat: EMP weapon, Holnist tribes.
Two words: Hopeful symbols.







David Brin’s award-winning sci-fi adventure, now better known for Kevin Costner’s disappointment of a major film adaptation, has depth beyond its lasting reputation. Where Costner’s film was obvious and heavy-handed in its approach, The Postman is a more subtle – and engagingly written – presentation of a post-apocalypse.

What’s The Postman all about

Gordon, the protagonist, survives an EMP apocalypse, with cities destroyed and biological weapons released, and starts to travel the wasteland of America in the guise of a postal worker. What starts as a little white lie, that he represents a Restored United States, brings hope to those he visits, and gradually builds into a very big white lie. The sort capable of bringing about revolutions.

Amidst his postal meanderings, Gordon encounters two major themes that form the second two sections of the novel – a society that relies on a defunct artificial intelligence for guidance, and a society that follows the teachings of a lunatic madman. In the course of his general battle for survival, the postman must tackle these leadership problems and help to bring a more civilised sense of order back to the post-apocalypse.

What’s different about The Postman

The Postman is entertaining in its own right as a sci-fi novel, an epic adventure, written with bold descriptions and exciting action. Certainly in the final third it slips more towards the action and adventure of more pulp fiction sci-fi. But there’s more to it than that, with its underlying philosophical message and the central themes of symbolism that pervade each section. The different leaders the post-apocalyptic survivors adopt represents a different kind of hope, and speak about people’s need, in general, for leadership. With more developed societies, including tribal groups who stockpile weapons, this story builds on the theme of how one man make a difference – and how one small idea can blossom into a big one. And it does it in a much more convincing manner than the film.



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