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The Postman, by David Brin

Updated on October 23, 2015

A post-apocalyptic novel of the near future

This is the story of a lie that changed the world. A timeless novel, The Postman is the moving saga of an ordinary man who becomes larger than life, rekindling a spirit of hope in a devastated country. Gordon Krantz is a drifter who wanders across the desolate plains after a devastating nuclear war has destroyed much of America. He survives by performing plays in exchange for food and shelter. One bitterly cold night, he borrows the jacket of a long-dead postal worker. The old, worn uniform still has power as a symbol of hope, which begins to spread throughout the land.

"The Postman was written as an answer to all those post-apocalyptic books and films that seem to revel in the idea of civilization's fall. It's a story about how much we take for granted -- and how desperately we would miss the little, gracious things that connect us today. It is a story about the last idealist in a fallen America. A man who cannot let go of a dream we all once shared. Who sparks restored faith that we can recover, and perhaps even become better than we were. It would take a special kind of actor to play the lead role -- a ragged survivor, deeply scarred, yet still willing to hope. In this era of cynicism, we need reminders of the decency that lies within." -- David Brin

The Postman was published in 1985. A movie based loosely upon the book was released by Kevin Costner in 1997.

Content of this site

1. Focus on The Postman, the novel by David Brin

2. Compare The Postman to other post-apocalyptic books

3. Background on David Brin, the author

4. Focus on The Postman, the movie by Kevin Costner

5. Foreign editions of The Postman

"In dust and blood - with the sharp tang of terror stark in his nostrils - a man's mind will sometimes pull forth odd relevancies."

--the first line of the book

Plot summary

Widespread plagues and nuclear war have destroyed much of civilization, leaving only scattered communities struggling for survival. A lone drifter, Gordon Krantz, wanders across the devastated landscape of the Pacific northwest, exchanging stories for food and shelter. On a bitterly cold night, he is ambushed by bandits who rob him of everything, Krantz seeks refuge in an abandoned U. S. mail truck. He dons the tattered uniform and cap of the dead letter carrier for warmth, then takes the sack of undelivered letters to to barter for food. When Krantz arrives in the nearby town of Pine View, the residents initially regard him with suspicion, until they receive letters from long-lost loved ones. They come to view him as a mailman representing a Restored United States, an illusion that Krantz propagates, accepting their letters for delivery to the next village.

Much of the land has resorted to a near-feudal system, struggling against roving bands of survivalists who ransack the towns, propagating a climate of terror. These gangs are followers of the ultra-violent leader, Nathan Holn.

Krantz enlists townsfolk in setting up networks of riders to deliver mail across an ever-expanding area, opening lines of communication between towns that have become increasingly isolated in a world of fear and danger. Krantz hears rumors of a super-intelligent computer which has survived the war. This rumor, though false, becomes another myth which spreads hope of a resurgence of technology.

The postal riders encounter increased opposition from the Holnist warlords, who turn out to be augmented soldiers -- whom they must defeat in a final showdown.

The theme of the book is one of loss, of a civilization destroyed, and the many things, both great and small that we would miss, as society descends into anarchy and chaos. But one of the most important things is a sense of connection, of being able linked to a larger world.

Throughout the novel, Krantz is a reluctant hero, the hero who doesn't know he is a hero. Without intending to, Krantz brings hope to these isolated communities, as. Krantz enlists people in restoring lines of communication, and helping to bring his dream to life, giving birth to the real Restored United States.

Quote from The Postman

"It's said that 'power corrupts', but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable."

Prelude to The Postman

Chill winds still blew. Dusty snow fell. But the ancient sea was in no hurry.

The Earth had spun six thousand times since flames blossomed and cities died. Now, after sixteen circuits of the Sun, plumes of soot no longer roiled from burning forests, turning day into night. Six thousand sunsets had come and gone -- gaudy, orange, glorious with suspended dust -- ever since towering, superheated funnels had punched through to the stratosphere, filling it with tiny bits of suspended rock and soil. The darkened atmosphere passed less sunlight -- and it cooled.

It hardly mattered anymore what had done it -- a giant meteorite, a huge volcano, or a nuclear war. Temperatures and pressures swung out of balance, and great winds blew. All over the north, a dingy snow fell, and in places even summer did not erase it.

Only the Ocean, timeless and obstinate, resistant to change, really mattered. Dark skies had come and gone. The winds pushed ocher, growling sunsets. In places, the ice grew, and the shallower seas began to sink. But the Ocean's vote was all important, and it was not in yet.

The Earth turned. Men still struggled, here and there.

And the Ocean breathed a sigh of winter.

An excerpt from The Postman

In dust and blood -- with the sharp tang of terror stark in his nostrils -- a man's mind will sometimes pull forth odd relevancies. After half a lifetime in the wilderness, most of it spent struggling to survive, it still struck Gordon as odd -- how obscure memories would pop into his mind right in the middle of a life-or-death fight.

Panting under a bone-dry thicket -- crawling desperately to find a refuge -- he suddenly experienced a recollection as clear as the dusty stones under his nose. It was a memory of contrast -- of a rainy afternoon in a warm, safe university library, long ago -- of a lost world filled with books and music and carefree philosophical ramblings.

Words on a page.

Dragging his body through the tough, unyielding bracken, he could almost see the letters, black against white. And although he couldn't recall the obscure author's name, the words came back with utter clarity.

"Short of Death itself, there is no such thing as a 'total' defeat.... There is never a disaster so devastating that a determined person cannot pull something out of the ashes -- by risking all that he or she has left....

"Nothing in the world is more dangerous than a desperate man."

Gordon wished the long-dead writer were here right now, sharing his predicament. He wondered what pollyannaish glow the fellow might find around this catastrophe.

Scratched and torn from his desperate escape into this dense thicket, he crawled as quietly as he could, stopping to lay still and squeeze his eyes shut whenever the floating dust seemed about to make him sneeze. It was slow, painful progress, and he wasn't even sure where he was headed.

Minutes ago he had been as comfortable and well-stocked as any solitary traveler could hope to be, these days. Now, Gordon was reduced to not much more than a ripped shirt, faded jeans, and camp moccasins -- and the thorns were cutting them all to bits.

A tapestry of fiery pain followed each new scratch down his arms and back. But in this awful, bone-dry jungle, there was nothing to do but crawl onward and pray his twisting path did not deliver him back to his enemies -- to those who had effectively killed him already.

Finally, when he had come to think the hellish growth would never end, an opening appeared ahead. A narrow cleft split the brush and overlooked a slope of tumbled rock. Gordon pulled free of the thorns at last, rolled over onto his back, and stared up at the hazy sky, grateful simply for air that wasn't foul with the heat of dry decay.

Welcome to Oregon, he thought bitterly. And I thought Idaho was bad.

He lifted one arm and tried to wipe the dust out of his eyes.

Or is it that I'm simply getting too old for this sort of thing? After all, he was over thirty now, beyond the typical life expectancy of a postholocaust traveler.

Oh Lord, I wish I was home again.

He wasn't thinking of Minneapolis. The prairie today was a hell he had struggled for more than a decade to escape. No, home meant more to Gordon than any particular place.

A hamburger, a hot bath, music, Merthiolate...

... a cool beer...

As his labored breathing settled, other sounds came to the fore -- the all too clear noise of happy looting. It rose from a hundred feet or so down the mountainside. Laughter as the delighted robbers tore through Gordon's gear.

... a few friendly neighborhood cops... Gordon added, still cataloging the amenities of a world long gone.

The bandits had caught him off guard as he sipped elderberry tea by a late afternoon campfire. From that first instant, as they charged up the trail straight at him, it had been clear that the hot-faced men would as soon kill Gordon as look at him.

He hadn't waited for them to decide which to do. Throwing scalding tea into the face of the first bearded robber, he dove right into the nearby brambles. Two gunshots had followed him, and that was all. Probably, his carcass wasn't worth as much to the thieves as an irreplaceable bullet. They already had all his goods, anyway.

Or so they probably think.

Awards won by The Postman

  • Nominee for the 1985 Nebula Award
  • Nominee for the 1986 Hugo Award
  • Winner of the 1986 Locus Award
  • Winner of the 1986 John W. Campbell Memorial Award
  • American Library Association 1986 "Best Novel" for young adults

Commentary on The Postman

"David Brin's The Postman is as powerful a cautionary tale about the dangers of nuclear war as has been produced by science fiction. It reminds us of the frailty of our world, which we have chosen to make so vulnerable to destruction. In the end, though, what makes The Postman such a moving experience to read is that it portrays the great strength of human beings in the face of adversity. May we use that strength now to prevent war, rather than later, as the Postman must, to pick up the few pitiful pieces that might be left." -Whitley Streiber

"Brin's novel, The Postman, first published in 1985, is about the power of myth in the lives of otherwise ordinary folk. Myth, as nebulous as the all-seeing eye of Odin, as widespread as the belief in the cleaning power of certain detergents, as pedestrian as Elvis sightings. Myth holds us all together, with all its tangents and fringes." -Tomas Myer

"The Postman will keep you engrossed until you've finished the last page."--Chicago Tribune

"Excellent book. The best post-apocalyptic I have read. Very believable characters. It's been a long time since I read the book, and I am considering ordering it and rereading it. That is rare for me." -- Mark J.

Using The Postman to Teach

Teacher Don Braden has developed an innovative online curriculum for using both the movie and the book to teach in a high school classroom, addressing such issues such as:

What makes civilization work?

What is the role of patriotism?

How are we influenced by legends?

What is the role of heroes in times of crisis?

How do dictators use fear to control people?

What role does fiction play in shaping our images?

What power comes from controlling the news or mail?

The message of The Postman - David Brin comments

"Most post-holocaust novels are little-boy wish fantasies about running amok in a world without rules. In fact, such lonely 'heroes' would vanish like soot after a real apocalypse. The moral of The Postman is that if we lost our civilization, we'd all come to realize how much we missed it, and would realize what a miracle it is simply to get your mail every day." -- David Brin

"In the book, America had already been weakened by bio terror plagues before waves of selfish violence took down the rest. But the real enemy was the kind of male human being who nurses fantasies of violent glory at the expense of his fellow citizens." -- David Brin

"Above all, in these days of rampant and contagious solipsism, with so many people claiming to despise a civilization that has been so kind to them, this book's overall message needs to be heard.

We are in it together. Civilization means something. IAAMOAC: I am a member of a civilization." -- David Brin

About the Author - Who is David Brin?

"Anyone who wants simple, pat stories should buy another author's product. The real universe ain't that way, and neither are my fictive ones. "

Trained as a scientist, David Brin weaves scientific realism with a flair for drama in his novels. David Brin is a world-renowned author of science fiction and non-fiction. His novels provide amazing glimpses into possible futures for humanity and our planet. David's books have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. In all, his books have been translated into more than twenty languages. His best-known titles include Startide Rising, The Uplift War, Foundation's Triumph, Kiln People, and Heaven's Reach.

Born in Los Angeles, David attended Caltech and UCSD, earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics. He has lived in London and Paris, and now lives in San Diego with his wife and three children.

David is also one of the most insightful commentators on the issues of our day. David writes and speaks extensively about space exploration, SETI, and how technology shapes our future. He is passionately outspoken about issues involving privacy; his nonfiction book, The Transparent Society, deals with secrecy and accountability in our modern age. He has appeared on television shows such as "Life After People" and "The Universe."

David Brin offers hope for the future

David Brin challenges us to develop innovative problem-solving skills to face the complex world of the future. For the first time, the entire world community is able to communicate -- across borders and nationalities -- to share strategies and seek solutions.problem-solving for our future.

How do we prevent the End of the World?

Every generation had legends of a coming downfall. Whether you call it The End Times, Armageddon, Apocalypse, Doomsday, Ragnorak, The Population Bomb or 2012....we've long been fascinated by prophecies of devastation and doom. What is fiction, and what is possible? David Brin discusses how can modern civilization can start limiting the risk.

The Postman -- A Movie by Kevin Costner

The 1997 Warner Brothers film was based loosely on David Brin's novel. The film was directed by Kevin Costner, based on a script written by Eric Roth and Brian Helgeland.

Kevin Costner as The Postman

Produced by Lester Berman, Kevin Costner, Steve Tisch and Jim Wilson

Directed by Kevin Costner

Written by Eric Roth and Brian Helgelund

Cinematography by Stephen F. Windom

Original Music by James Newton Howard

This was the first time since Dances with Wolves that Kevin Costner directed and starred in a film. The movie was filmed in Washington, Tucson, Arizona and central Oregon. It was released on Christmas Day -- the same day as The Titanic! And The Titanic may have played a role in the sinking of this movie.

Kevin Costner stars in the leading role as the Postman. Co-stars include Will Patton, as well as Olivia Williams, Larenz Tate, James Russo, Tom Petty, and Mary Stuart Masterson. Tom Petty also starred.

The film received a round of negative reviews, earning two thumbs down from Siskel and Ebert, sweeping the Golden Raspberry awards for worst picture, worst actor and worst director. At three hours, it seemed too long. The dialog was called sappy: "You give out hope like it's candy in your pocket." A review by James Berardinelli, faults the movie's length, plotting, logic and dialog, but concludes, "When all is said and done, however, at least it can amuse us."

The Simpsons released a parady of the movie, Monty Can't Buy me Love. See below for the author's impressions of the movie.

A clip from The Postman movie

The year is 2013. The United States doesn’t exist. There is no order, no peace. Those who survive are few. All that connects them is a memory of the past – an a man who will keep it alive.

Filming The Postman

The movie was filmed at several locations:

In Oregon:

Bend, Deschutes County

Redmond, Deschutes County

Three Lynx, Clackamas County

Terrebonne, Deschutes County: Crooked River at the Canyons Ranch

In Washington state:

Boundary Dam, Metaline Falls, Pend Oreille County

Anacortes, Skagit Conty

In Arizona:

Green Valley, Pima County

Tom Petty on location at the Boundary Dam in Metaline Falls, Washington.

The author visits the set

David visited the set during the filming of The Postman, on location at an open pit copper mine near Tucson, Arizona. In this photo, David stands, with his young son, near actors portraying the Holnists.

The author at the movie premiere

David and his wife at the premiere in Los Angeles.

Kevin Costner discusses the movie

Costner analyzes his role as director and producer and actor of The Postman – and how fame has shaped his life.

The Postman on Amazon

The Postman
The Postman
Set after a major war has destroyed much of America, leaving behind isolated towns, Gordon Krantz seeks shelter in an abandoned postal van, and dons the mail carrier's uniform for warmth. Finding a bag of letters, he takes them to the next town in exchange for food. Without realizing his role, he delivers hope to isolated communities.
The Postman
The Postman
Costner stars as a charismatic drifter-turned-hero who leads the resistance against a military tyrant (Will Patton) by reviving the long-dormant postal system to reunite isolated communities in their fight for freedom. The cinemetography is gorgeous.
The Postman
The Postman
The unabridged audio cassette version of David Brin's post-apocalyptic novel,The Postman.

Soundtrack for The Postman

The soundtrack for The Postman was written by James Newton Howard, who also scored music for Waterworld, Pretty Woman, and Hidalgo,

The Postman: Music From The Motion Picture (1997 Film)
The Postman: Music From The Motion Picture (1997 Film)
CD of the stirring music from the movie, by James Newton Howard. With links to the mp3 version.

Foreign Editions of The Postman

How does the novel translate across the world?

Le Facteur: French Edition of The Postman

German edition of The Postman

translates as "Gordon's vocation"

El Cartero: Spanish edition of The Postman

Hungarian edition of The Postman:

translates as "The Messenger of the Future:

Japanese edition of The Postman

Russian edition of The Postman

Romanian edition of The Postman

Dutch edition of The Postman

Czech edition of The Postman

Italian edition of The Postman

translates as "The Man of the Day After"

Polish edition of The Postman

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