I sure do love getting letters from friends and relations out there in the wasteland, and as a matter of fact, just the other day my brother wrote to me from out in Kentucky where he’s living with his wife:
A man ultimately needs to survive, and I guess that’s why I’m writing you by the light of this rusty ole lamp. Brother, I have joined the society of Wasteland Cannibals. Now, I know what you’re thinking, ‘this is horrible, my own flesh and blood is feeding on the flesh and blood of someone else’s flesh and blood’, but before you judge, let me remind you that a man ultimately needs to survive. First of all, they threatened to eat me if I didn’t join their ranks and even after I showed them my mutated fourteenth finger (the one with the beginnings of an eye growing off it) they insisted on serving me up as that evening’s meal. Well, it was right then and there that I made up my mind to become a cannibal, and I swore to hunt alongside them. It’s not so bad anyhow; I’ve got myself a wife and even if she can get a bit bitey, she’s actually quite attractive on a moonless night once I’ve closed my eyes real tight. Don’t fret for me, Charles. Take care of yourself and your homey little hole in the ground.
See you soon,
It's not a hole in the ground, it's an impenetrable bunker. Well anyway, normally I love getting letters from folks; I love how a good long letter keeps me connected to the world beyond my scouting range and makes that world seem a bit more inviting. My mail carrier is a somewhat deathly looking old coot who calls himself Fishbones and wanders the wastes delivering letters and packages and accepting food, water, trinkets or pretty much whatever you're willing to give him. Recently I asked Fishbones why he does what he does and he handed me a copy of David Brin’s The Postman and told me to read it. I did.
After the world ends and the United States crumble to the ground could we ever reclaim our past symbols, achievements, and strengths and use them to crawl back from the new dark age into the light of a civilization we once knew, or are we only grasping at ghosts?
That, friends, is the question at the heart of The Postman; a novel in which the good old US of A was only nearly destroyed by the third great war, and things could have been rebuilt. That is until Uncle Sam receives a knock-out blow when an army of right-wing survivalists led by a charismatic Rush Limbaugh character decide to start a senseless civil war. The nation and it’s infrastructure are destroyed in this second American civil war and our reluctant hero finds himself wandering from Minnesota to as far west as Oregon.
Before we go any further, at this point I have to warn that if you were one of the many unfortunate souls whose minds were seared by that craptastic film adaptation starring Kevin Costner, you should by no means use that as a judge of the book it was based on. The film by the same name is related to the novel only as my snot is related to myself. In other words, the book tells an exponentially more complex and substantial story that the movie really only skims the first third of. Now that I think of it, that snot analogy doesn’t make much sense, but whatever.
The setting shared by both the book and that mental apocalypse of a film is not traditionally post-apocalyptic, and the blighted wasteland we often connect with the genre is replaced with the deep forests and rolling green hills you’re more likely to see in a northwestern flick about a guy who falls for the rancher’s daughter. It seems that The Postman’s northwest has been relatively untouched by the holocaust that left the American civilization gutted.
The main character, Gordon Krantz, may be the last idealist on Earth, with a nagging sense that living should be about more than mere survival, and many years after the U.S. has ceased to be, he finds himself roaming from community to fragile community entertaining the locals by poorly reciting Shakespeare or delighting folks with some old commercial jingles that some can remember from that amazing invention; the television. His work as a sort of post-apocalyptic travelling minstrel seems to be keeping him fed until he’s set upon by highwaymen who take nearly all his supplies and leave him to freeze to death in the night.
Thus, his adventures as the titular postman begin when instead of dying; Krantz comes across a mail carrier uniform, a sack of mail, and the will to survive (a bottle of booze). He takes the mail, wears the uniform, and drinks too deeply from the will to survive and is at first mistaken for a mail carrier because people in the towns he visits are desperate to believe that this symbol of their former nation, the mailman, is still alive and in the flesh. Later, he deliberately lies about himself and the rest of the country and causes hope to grow that the nation is not dead, but only healing.
This is a great post-apocalyptic novel and a fine modern American one as well. Check it out if you actually enjoyed the crappy movie, or if you’re looking for a less bleak, well written vision of the world ended.
I give it four Costners reciting Shakespeare out of five.
Survival Perk: Believe you me, when the world ends and the fight for our lives begins this book reminds us that words truly are weapons. Finding oneself robbed and beaten and left for dead in some wasteland ditch, if there’s anything to learn from The Postman, it’s that one had better learn to bullshit. If you can do that, and have the cajones to do it well, you may not get yourself killed right away. Oh, and it also seems to help to remember some Shakespeare, and for the tougher crowds it's a safe bet to learn to recite Legally Blonde from start to finish. Trust me when I say mutants (especially the ones out in the Deadlands) really eat up that bubbly lawyer crap. It may keep your head off a spike one day.
---Kevin Costner as The Postman in 'The Postman'