In David Brin’s 1985 novel The Postman a survivor in post-apocalyptic America pretends to be a mail carrier, initially as a way of acquiring food and shelter. Ultimately, his lie about representing a national government encourages fellow survivors to band together and defeat an army of militarized survivalists. Kevin Costner directed and starred in a 1997 big screen adaptation, which became a notorious box office bomb. But Brin believes that President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the mail service ahead of the election in November — one which will utilize the U.S. Postal Service like none before — represent a step towards a literal, real-life disaster and return to a feudal state.
“We are in the middle right now of an attempted worldwide oligarchic push to reinstall feudalism, the dismally-failed governance model that dominated 99 percent of societies on six continents for 6,000 years,” says Brin. “The Postman, both the movie and the book, talk about how essential it is for us to remember the things that knit us together. Small town America is especially coming to realize that really the post office is the center of town, but will they realize it in time to make a difference? I don’t think Trump cares any more if the Republican party is torched in November. I think chaos is the goal.”
Below, Brin talks about how people can support the mail service, what Costner got right and wrong with the movie version of his book, and the importance of dental fillings to creativity.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the idea for The Postman?
DAVID BRIN: Back in the ’80s, there were a lot of post-apocalyptic stories. And one of them, I don’t even remember what it was, grabbed me and got me ruminating. I thought, what would I do? And I realized, I’d be willing to lie to survive. I wouldn’t be willing to hurt people, but I’d be willing to tell a harmless lie. Then I thought there are harmless lies that might do vast amounts of good under the right conditions.
But how did you hit on the specific idea of someone pretending to be a postman?
I don’t honestly know. I believe I probably get half my ideas through the metal fillings that I got when I as a kid. My own children have no fillings at all because dentistry has advanced so far. Me, I pick up radio stations from the Twilight Dimension. That’s probably the simplest answer for where I get my ideas.
To be honest, I have no idea whether you’re being serious.
[Laughs] And that is the response that a science fiction author most relishes!
What did you think about the movie version of the book?
Well, for one thing, I think, musically and visually, it’s one of the most beautiful films ever made. So, that alone is enough reason to appreciate it. And Costner was faithful to the heart-message of my book. The heart-message was, a Mad Max solitary hero was not going to make much difference, but a storyteller who manages to remind survivors that they were once mighty beings called citizens might really matter. That’s what we’re trying to do right now, remind folks amid a deliberately-incited culture war, that we have a common project, and the things that knit us together, that allow us to continue the conversation, even the arguments, based on fact, these are things that are of value. Costner captured that.
The point about the Postman flick is that it was gorgeous, it was big-hearted, but it was also rather dumb, especially the last twenty minutes. So, gorgeous, big-hearted, and dumb I can relate to, because that’s what my wife married. Had Kevin Costner taken the original author to dinner even once, perhaps the ending would have been more cohesive and we’d all be better off.
I rewatched the film yesterday and was struck by its contemporary resonance, particularly with Will Patton’s character. You’ve got this white guy with ginger hair describing a woman as a “first-rate piece of ass,” saying he’s going to make the country “strong again,” and ordering a town’s post office be set on fire.
Self-preventing prophecy is by far the most important subgenre of science fiction. We may owe all our lives to Dr. Strangelove, On the Beach, and Fail Safe. We may owe saving the planet to the number of environmentalists who were recruited by films like Soylent Green and Silent Running. And, of course, the granddaddy of all self-preventing prophecies, 1984.
If people want to help the postal service, what should they do?
I’m going online and proposing a grassroots effort for people to just try to keep up the morale of folks at the post office by dropping by with snacks or standing out front with a placard saying, “Thank you.” I mean, that’s something almost anyone can do. I’m working with a few volunteers to set up a webpage that links to some of these volunteer efforts. Other than that, it’s hard to come up with fresh ideas in the calamity. We are looking at the fruition of vastly subsidized propaganda like that horrible evil film 300 that pushed the notion that oppressively macho regimes like the Spartans were somehow justified in contempt towards the citizen-soldiers of Athens. This has been a subsidized and highly relentless program that is all about undermining an experiment. I’m encouraged by it. I believe that it’s a sign that they know their time is almost up, that they have 20 years to reestablish feudal oligarchy, rule by inheritance, and all of that, or it will be all over.
In the long run of course the answer is going to be political. Joe Biden needs to get on TV and say, “They think tricks like this are going to stop you from voting. The implicit understory is, they think you’re too lazy or scared to go to the polls and that crippling the mail will keep your lazy asses from voting. I think that most of you would crawl through broken glass that’s covered with anthrax. It’s going to be up to you to prove which of us is right.”
What have you been working on recently?
I just self-published my sci-fi comedy The Ancient Ones, because comedy terrifies publishers and I didn’t want any delays. I’ve written a play about a smart-ass confronting the Devil and I have a book of political suggestions that absolutely no pundit or politician is paying the slightest attention to. But all of them can be accessed via davidbrin.com.