Dark Futures Book 15: The Postman

Dark Futures is a 20-book exploration of the fears of our futures, an odd sub-genre of Science Fiction that draws in on the society of the time and projects it forward, into uncomfortable visions of the world to be. The idea is the same across many books, the results, very different.  This week the emergance of something we’ve not seen a lot of this year, hope.

One of the things that seems to be true for most of the books on the list this year is that they are about endings more than beginnings. Even stuff like The Chrysalids, which relies on a theme of rebirth, does so by casting way the past for a radically different future. What I’ve not yet seen – and what David Brin’s The Postman is about – is a story about rebuilding what has been lost, about preserving or re-attaining a past that maybe was worth preserving.

There is actually a lot more going on The Postman than I think I can cover in this review, as Brin throws in a lot of near-future SF concepts to the world that has been lost to a war that took a world on the brink of glorious utopia. So we have AI systems, human augmentation and the like that whilst now long lost are still referenced in the text quite heavily. Its an interesting choice in some ways as it moves it away from the ruins of “our” world to the ruins of a more fictional one, but has the nice edge of a world that nearly made it.

The story focuses on Gordon Krantz, a wanderer, heading into Oregon about 20 years after the war. After a run in with bandits, he runs across a wrecked Goverment Jeep with the dessicated remains of a Federal Postman, taking the uniform to replace the clothes he’s lost. From there, partly through chance and partly through guile, he ends up taking on the mantle of a wholly ficticious reborn US Postal Service, sparking hopes of the isolated towns he travels between can rebuild some larger community out of the ruins.

What is most interesting in The Postman is the broad point that the book is making. Which is that hope -even false hope – trumps fear backed with force. In the aftermath of the war, the US didn’t die in nuclear fire, it survived it, but fell from within, from that very 80s villian the Survivalist. It fell because enough people decided it was over and tore down what was left. The book’s finale, which renders Gorden a witness to a battle between two avatars of military strength, is a pretty stark object lesson in that respect.

It seems it is hard to write a book about the fall of civilisation without making a point with it – something which is to the credit of the genre. And it’s nice to have a book with a positive message, a book that beleives that in the face of evil, good men and women can step up and triumph, in contrast to the many books which catalogue their grinding loss. The Postman works on many levels, from solid Sci-fi adventure to post-apocalyptic parable, and I really enjoyed it.


Next time:  Made into a film that never fails to move me to tears (because I am a big softie), PD James’ The Children of Men

Feedback, corrections and other comments welcome either here or by email to grampus(at)dissectingworlds(dot)com or on twitter @thegrampus. Earlier Reviews in this series can be found using the tag “Dark Futures” or the column name “Tolkien Gestures”.

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