I Recently Finished Reading: The Postman

postmanBefore I even picked up this book, I remember seeing on TV part of the 1997 Kevin Costner movie based on the novel. I thought that the premise was interesting, even if the movie was just mediocre. That bias carried over when I started reading the book. I thought that it would have some interesting ideas, but wasn’t likely to be great. Fortunately, the movie made some huge changes to the book, to the point where the basic premise is about all they have in common.

The premise is pretty simple. A solitary man wanders the post-apocalyptic United States and comes across an old postal service van. He takes the letters and the uniform and starts establish postal routes. This action sparks the rejuvenation of a demolished society. What I really like about the book, was that the protagonist, Gordon, didn’t really want to do it. All his actions were out of necessity, and he felt guilty any time he had to lie, even if it gave people hope. Another aspect of his character that made me really like him was that he remained unaware of the influence of his actions. Throughout the novel he believes that his words, and more specifically his lies, are giving people hope and bringing about change. He fears that once the lies are discovered that the positive impact he has will collapse. As a reader, however, you can see that it’s his deeds that are the true influence on those around him.

One problem in writing science fiction that takes place within 50 years of the publication date is that the technology doesn’t fit what actually happens. This is one of the big issues with The Postman. One example is the artificial intelligence that Gordon encounters in his travels. It is not only far more advanced than anything we’ve developed so far, but the hardware of the machine is no where near as advanced as what we have. That disconnect, from both ends of the spectrum, emphasizes how wrong Brin was in his predictions. It’s forgivable, due to the knowledge available at the time, but it does show how dated the book is.

Overall, the book was better than I expected, but not fantastic. I enjoyed reading the book, and I really like Brin’s writing, but it was definitely a product of its time. Without the knowledge of what the world was like back then, the novel wouldn’t make any sense at all.

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