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 Who is going to take responsibility?

America has been left in ruins in the wake of the Doomwar, a conflagration of various doomsday scenarios. Seventeen years later, Gordon Krantz, who was a college sophomore before the end, struggles to survive in a harsh environment where scavenging and violence is the norm and the vicious, fanatical Holnists reign supreme. He has been searching and searching for a place, anywhere, where "someone is taking responsibility." When he is robbed of most of his possessions, Gordon takes the uniform of a long-dead postman for warmth. The simple act of taking up this symbol soon snowballs into an elaborate tale casting Gordon as an agent of the fictional Restored United States. At first, he maintains this lie only to survive, but as hope springs up in his path, the lie becomes something more.

This 1985 novel by David Brin is most famous for an adaptation made 12 years later that nearly killed Kevin Costner's career.

Tropes used in The Postman include:
  • Action Girl: Dena and her Scouts
  • And the Adventure Continues...: The book ends with the Postman departing to find and make contact with The Republic of California.
  • After the End
  • Apocalypse How: Continental/Societal Collapse. Unusually, there was not one single cause of the Doomwar. In fact, humanity probably could have weathered the nukes, the electromagnetic pulses, and the bioengineered diseases if not for the predatory, hypersurvivalist Holnists who took advantage of the situation.
  • The Apunkalypse: The rule of law has collapsed After the End, and bands of toughs roam the countryside roughing everyone up.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie / Lies to Children: Gordon the Postman and his Restored United States of America and Cyclops.
  • Beard of Evil: General Bethlehem in the film.
  • Cameo: Tom Petty plays the mayor of one of the towns Gordon visits in the movie. It's never stated outright even in the credits, but dialog heavily implies that the mayor actually is Tom Petty.
  • Character Name Alias: President "Richard Starkey."
  • Chekhov's Gun: The diary Gordon loses in the beginning shows up toward the end in the hands of the Holnists, as does the person who stole it.
  • Cincinnatus: George Powhatan. And Gordon pities the person who tries to make him a king.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: A recurring theme, even if that power is the position of postman.
  • Crazy Survivalist: The "Holnist Survivalists"; it's explicitly noted that after everything fell apart, Holn himself was dragged out and lynched for getting them started.
  • Dead Ex Machina: Although they don't take direct action, all of Gordon's "ghosts" Cyclops, Johnny Stevens, the Army Scouts, dream-Ben Franklin and his chess playing stove, etc. appear to encourage him toward the end.
  • Fake Real Turn: Gordon made up the Restored United States and its postal services, but as he travels and recruits more postmen to his cause, the lie becomes more and more real.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: General Bethlahem was originally a photo copier salesman.
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: Kevin Costner's Postman, at first.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: True-blue postal carriers vs. the red-uniformed Holnists.
  • Heroic Neutral: George Powhatan feels he's done his share of fighting, and it's up to Gordon to persuade him to take on the Holnists.
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: The Holnists in the movie.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Ford is the real brains behind the postal service. After leaving Pineview, he sets up an extensive network between towns.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: As punishment for housing the Postman, General Bethlehem lays waste to an entire town with his oversized artillery.

 General Bethlehem: These people made it through the bugs and the riots and the three year winter. But they're not going to survive you.

  • In Love with the Mark: Subverted. This is the reason that Dena and the Scouts' plan to infiltrate the Holnists failed.
  • Our Founder: Costner's bronze statute in the epilogue. Gene Siskel snarkily dubbed the film Dances With Himself.
  • Paranoia Gambit: In a stare-down with Bethlehem, the Postman claims the U.S Government has moved into Vikings Stadium and has sent reinforcements.
  • Plot Armor: The Postman and Ford have a peculiar immunity to the Holnists' bullets.
  • Properly Paranoid: Gordon blesses his paranoid in the beginning, which prevents the thieves from getting his gun at least.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Holnists, who base a person's worth on his (emphasis on his) strength. This leads them to be a cult of hyperviolent, luddite lunatics who kill without hesitation and enslave anyone weaker than them.
    • It's also implied that they and their kind are the reason why civilization ultimately collapsed, having gunned down any attempt at reconstruction they came across.
  • Refused the Call: George Powhatan. Well, he tried.
  • The Reveal: Towards the end of the book, the Postman discovers why the Holnists have been pushing so hard into Oregon. They are retreating away from an army in the Republic of California.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Despite all the horrible things that happen, the message of the book is hopeful.
  • Snowball Lie: In the process of covering his ass, the Postman accidentally invents a "Restored United States." The myth becomes so widespread that even the Holnists can't stomp it out.
  • Straw Feminist: Dena, sort of. She's very heroic despite her possibly-crazy outlook, however.
  • Super Soldiers: The Augments, who were chosen for their violent tendencies, modified freakishly, and deployed several times before the government wised up to what that sort of soldier does during peacetime. Post-Doomwar, they hold the top positions among the villainous Holnists. George Powhatan is also one, but he was chosen because he is an Actual Pacifist and forcibly transformed.
  • Token Minority: Ford in the film.
  • Unstoppable Mailman: The title character
  • Vehicular Theme Naming: Ford Lincoln Mercury.
  • You Make Me Sic: "You spelled 'tyranny' wrong."
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