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WesternSFA


The Postman
by David Brin
Bantam, 294 pp
Published 1985

Okay, I’m not afraid to admit it…I love this story.  Yes, I’m a total sucker for post-apocalyptic worlds but I’m really a sucker for a good patriotic, go-USA story. (See “Moon Maid” and “Moon Men” by ERB!)

In a sixteen-year-past post-apocalyptic Oregon, Gordon Krantz is just trying to get by.  He’s a traveler; a drifter if you’re not being kind.  One particularly bad day, he is relieved of most of his worldly goods by unprincipled men.  Desperate to find shelter to survive the cold night, Gordon finds a wrecked US Postal Service truck and crawls in.  The unexpected gift of a warm jacket sporting a USPS patch was a blessing; letters to read were like manna for a literate man starved for words.  He keeps the jacket, of course, and takes a packet of letters for further entertainment on lonely nights.  Gordon generally makes his way in the world as an itinerant actor; bringing a bit of foolery and drama to people with little in the way of entertainment.  Towns usually welcomed him and he gained by a few nights in a warm bed and a full belly.  But his fortunes changed dramatically in the next town he visited…still wearing the Postal Service logo.

Pine Cove was a welcome surprise – a prosperous and happy town, not starving and not brutalized by a dictator; as so many were.  Gordon was welcomed and feted.  To his credit, he was completely honest about how he came by the jacket and the letters.  It wasn’t his fault that he inspired a vision; a vision that somehow, in a small way, the United States still existed in the form of a US Postal Service patch and a handful of letters almost two decades old.  And he could find no way to refuse to carry letters with him when he left.

The tipping point was the next town. In an act of desperation against an unfriendly and hostile town, Gordon the actor became Gordon the Postal Service Courier and Federal Inspector.  And the myth was born.  It was so much easier and more lucrative than his poor acting of Macbeth.  And everywhere he went, he inspired awe and hope.  In a fine bit of irony, even as Gordon found sweet, friendly towns where Gordon the Actor might have been invited to stay and settle down; Gordon the Postman could not.  His mission was to keep traveling to bring towns together again.  But after a while, it didn’t seem like much of a burden.  He was actually doing good; connecting families and widening people’s horizons.

But there was still blackness in men’s hearts.  The true plague of the apocalypse wasn’t the bombs or the pestilence; it was the survivalists.  Men who took and took; men who destroyed and rampaged.  Men who still terrorized towns in the name of might.  And rumors of military movement are horrifying.  But the rumor of a scientific enclave where electronics still live…now that’s a rumor of hope.  The survivalists are south in the Rogue River area and the scientists are north towards Eugene; easy choice. Gordon just didn’t expect to run into a scouting party from Rogue River and have to defend a woman and boy scavenging electronics.  The event polarized him; sending him in a direction that Gordon the Actor would never have gone; but Gordon the Postman had a duty.

He became the beacon of hope that he had spent so many years looking for.  While trying to find civilization, he fostered it.  But with “great power comes great responsibility” and even after he realized he’d gone too far to back away and abandon people who looked to him; he still looked to find a real hero to lead them.  And he did.  But the hero didn’t want to do it anymore; he wanted to live quietly on his mountain.  It took great acts of savagery to bring him into the conflict but it was really Gordon he came for.

This story was about hope and principles; that a single person can make a difference, especially with help and support that grows.  Hollywood did not do well with this story; the movie failed to capture the heart of the story.  And the final punch was a theme Robert Sawyer used in one of his stories, the Neanderthal Parallax Trilogy and I’m not telling.  It was really the best wrap-up and I wouldn’t want to deprive a new reader of the experience.  ~~ Catherine Book

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