Mars is Ben Bova's love letter to space exploration; it's a novel-length booster for a manned Mars program. A very well-conceived and engaging (in places) novel, you should not read it expecting it to be space opera or really, any kind of adventure aside from the inevitable dangers of flying to another planet. Mars stays strictly hard SF, so even when the possibility of life on Mars arises, you can be sure it won't come in the form of ancient cities and little red men, nor hazardous beasties who need to be shot or run from.
The main character is Jamie Waterman, a half-Navajo geologist who is a member of the first Mars expedition. The expedition is a multinational effort, with astronauts and scientists from every country that could afford to chip in. Much of the drama in the book involves the politics of the mission — the Russians and the Americans jealously keep track of how many astronauts of each country get to join the landing party, the Japanese astronauts are hyper-conscious of how they are representing their country, and the promiscuous hottie who does every other man on the expedition deliberately drives the Russians crazy by not sleeping with them because Russians killed her grandfather fifty years ago. Meanwhile, back home the founder of the Mars project is trying to balance concerns for the mission (including the fact that his own daughter is one of the scientists on Mars) with satisfying the politicians, in whose hands rest the decision to send more Mars expeditions or not. There are politics in space and on the ground, along with dossiers on each character that add depth to their backgrounds so that we understand why each one behaves the way they do on the mission.
That said, while the characters were each fleshed out and the story is compellingly plausible, with just enough hazards introduced to make the mission more than a long walk in space, it's a little spare as sci-fi goes. The major life-threatening situation that arises — a "Mars flu" that mysteriously afflicts everyone and stumps all the physicians trying to figure out its cause — has a clever forehead-smacking solution. There are hints of Martian life that don't really develop into much by the end of the book, though they are enough to whet the appetites of scientists, and readers of subsequent books in this series. There is some political intrigue between Jaimie Waterman, his ambitious journalist girlfriend back on Earth, and the opportunistic Vice President of the United States, each of them trying to get what they want from the other to advance their own agenda.
An enjoyable if slightly dry hard SF novel that should certainly go on your "Mars or Bust!" reading list. 3.5 stars - good book, though not very exciting.
This book is cheesy big guns blazing entertainment, and I loved it. I am giving it five stars not because it is the best of the best, but because it was fun and action packed and it's an example of an author doing nothing more and nothing less than entertaining his audience without pretense.
Warbound is the third book in the Grimnoir trilogy, so you want to read the first two. It is set in an alt-history in which a magical being came to Earth in the 1850s, and its presence bestowed magical powers on 1% of the population. Most people get a single power, so there are "Brutes" (super-strength), "Heavies" (gravity controllers), "Cogs" (gadgeteer geniuses), "Readers" (telepaths), "Fades" (turn insubstantial), "Torches" (pyrokinesis) and so on.
Basically, despite the "fantasy" element, these are period superhero novels. And the author devotes many words to describing the battles in full-page multi-panel glory. It's hard to do superheroes (an inherently visual genre) justice in written form, but Correia does a pretty good job. At times he reminded me of his fellow Mormon author Brandon Sanderson, who's also known for his intricate "magic systems" and long descriptions of characters figuring out how to use their powers in creative new ways, but Correia's plots are less contemplative (which is not to say simpler) and more about the action.
That said, major suspensions of disbelief are required, but no more than with most epic or urban fantasy.
In the conclusion of the trilogy, war with the Japanese Imperium is imminent, but only the knights of the Grimnoir know that Chairman Tokugawa has been replaced by an impostor. His "son," Iron Guard Toru Tokugawa, knows of the deception and the corruption of the Imperium's magical training schools, Iron Guard, and Shadow Guard, and so has reluctantly joined the Grimnoir.
Since this is a rising Japan in the 1930s, guilty of pretty much the same atrocities Japan was committing in Asia at that time in the real world, this causes a lot of tension with the Grimnoir, who have been sworn enemies of the Imperium. Toru manifests all the usual tropes about fictional samurai: hard-headed, death before dishonor, all non-Japanese are weak and lazy, grudging respect for Westerners who are brave warriors even if they are ignorant barbarians, blah blah blah.
A summary of the plot would be kind of pointless: if the premise does not interest you, it's not gonna interest you, but Correia does do a very good job of working within the parameters he has established and then treating it seriously. Powers work a certain way and everything follows from certain first principles, and when some of the big twists are revealed, more pieces fall into place, including some that have been developed since the first book.
Is this is gonzo gun porn and superhero slugfests? Yes! And awfully darn fun. But awfully damn intelligent for a historical superhero novel as well. And there is a conclusion to bring this trilogy to a definitive close, while still leaving open the possibility (I would guess, based on Correia's prolificness, inevitability) of a new series coming down the pike.
This is not the best written or deepest or most original series. It's just fun and entertaining. Did I mention fun? Okay, so I am a superhero nerd. But in all seriousness, for what it is, the plotting, pacing, characterization, and worldbuilding were all far above the somewhat low bar I have for this kind of book. Hence, 5 stars. Would read more Grimnoir, definitely.
And an additional 5 star rating must be given for Bronson Pinchot. I HATED Balki and "Perfect Strangers"! But he is one of the best audiobook narrators ever! Seriously, he nails every single accent, does men and women both flawlessly, and probably puts more life into Correia's characters than exists on the page.
John Douglas is a former FBI profiler - he's written several previous bestsellers, and reminds us frequently in this book about his pioneering work as a profiler and all the other books he's written. I suspect his earlier books are better, as this one, while interesting, seemed like it was very much written to fill a publication slot. Douglas's own connection with the BTK case is tenuous - he provided some advice to police detectives during the initial investigation of the BTK serial killer when he first began, in the 70s, but had no further connection with the case until many years later, after the killer was caught and identified and imprisoned for life. At this point, Douglas, now long-since retired from the FBI, is filled with a desire to interview Rader.
The interview itself is only the last chapter of the book, achieved after a lot of hoop-jumping and negotiations with an unfortunate would-be author who had already secured exclusive rights to Rader's story. Douglas's meeting with Rader behind bars at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas was anticlimactic. Rader presents exactly as we'd expect: a psychopath who is matter-of-fact about his crimes, as there is no point in denying them now, yet still trying to game his image and what people think of him. He's able to tell Douglas little that we don't already know about him, and few additional insights are gained about the inside of this sick pervert's mind.
Still, the journey along the way was both fascinating and disgusting. Dennis Rader was no criminal mastermind, no charming Manson-style leader or scary monster who makes you look away from his chilling gaze. He was a not-particularly-bright man obsessed with bondage and killing, who wormed his way into positions of small, petty authority where he could terrorize people in small ways while terrorizing Wichita, Kansas in a very real way at night for decades. The only particularly unusual thing about him, as Douglas notes, is that he stopped killing for a while, long enough for the police to think he'd either retired or died, and then started again. It was when he restarted that he got caught, as he began making use of new Internet and word processing technology. This proved to be his undoing. He was quickly tracked down, arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Is there anything to learn from Dennis Rader's story? Douglas talks a little about what might have made Rader the way he is. He rejects the "broken from birth theory," though the evidence seems pretty strong that Rader, like all serial killers, was a sociopath at an early age. Douglas probably prefers to believe that Rader had a choice and therefore is fully responsible for his crimes. That seems mostly a philosophical point; we may be curious how someone becomes a serial killer, but with little ability to identify and prevent them, we do as a practical matter hold them responsible for their actions when they are caught, as we must. Douglas repeatedly refers to Rader and other killers like him as "monsters" who deserve to die, which they surely are, but it makes him sound less clinical and more personally invested. Understandable for a former fed, but given that he has little insight to offer on that score, sometimes it just felt like an obligatory reminder that John Douglas is a good guy fighting bad guys, even though he's long since hung up his badge.
This is not a book for people who have a high degree of empathy for victims, even strangers, as the crimes of the BTK killer are described in detail, though here Douglas does remain clinical rather than gratuitous, aside from a few sympathetic (but wrenching) speculations about what the poor victim must have felt, realizing only after they are tied up what they are really facing.
What stood out to me was how banal and ordinary Dennis Rader was — a dweeb who could've been taken down by anyone who had the foresight to fight him, yet a combination of luck and cunning allowed him to kill and kill again, even after several botched adventures. John Douglas tries to link himself to Rader's eventual capture by describing how the techniques he innovated decades ago were used, but he really had nothing to do with Rader's actual capture and there's not much evidence that any of the advice he ever gave to the police helped them catch Rader sooner.
Marko Kloos is another one of those self-published SF authors who found an unexpected following, hence my discovering this book as an Audible deal of the day. It was, while not epic or on the level of one of the better works of Heinlein or Pournelle or another big-name military SF author, a nice treat.
Terms of Enlistment shows its very obvious Heinlein influences right away - Andrew Grayson is not exactly Johnny Rico, being a slum-dweller who joins the military for three squares and a shot at an enlistment payout if he survives his five-year hitch. But the training and the ground-pounder action is quite reminiscent of Starship Troopers. That said, it's Starship Troopers without much military or political philosophy, and in fact the "North American Commonwealth" that the troopers serve is a rather skeletal setting. The military is divided into Army, Marines, and Navy, and while Grayson wants to go to space, it's the Territorial Army he winds up in, rescuing embassy employees from civil unrest and quashing riots in tenements like those Grayson grew up in.
This futuristic military is completely coed, so Grayson falls in love with a Navy-bound enlistee who becomes a pilot, and through a rather contrived set of circumstance, he is able to get a service transfer and then get assigned to her vessel.
Until this point, the book had been a rather flat sequence of events, full of action but very little plot beyond the main character's ambitions. Then we get to leave Earth, and if the ending is even more contrived and improbable, it does throw a major twist into the story and set it up for a sequel.
Overall, an unexpected gem which I recommend to all space opera fans, especially if you like military SF. Kloos actually seems to know something about the military and writes convincingly about training, different branches, ranks, and equipment, something a lot of SF authors don't do so well at convincingly portraying.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman was famous as a 19th century feminist author, and apparently she's taught in a lot of feminist/women's studies courses. I was vaguely interested in her most famous story, The Yellow Wallpaper, so when this collection was an Audible deal of the day, I went ahead and downloaded.
I'm glad I did. I'll get to the title story in a minute, but I found the other short stories - which were all about a woman being presented with a choice (usually in the form of a man). Clearly there is a feminist undertone to each story, though bear in the mind this is 19th century "First Wave" feminism, so it remains largely a given that even a spirited, talented, independent-minded woman is still going to marry eventually. But Gilman was first and foremost writing short stories meant to have a beginning, middle, and end, and does not beat her readers over the head with any "message." In that respect, these stories were quite enjoyable, some of them having an O. Henry twist. I particularly , in which a moralistic, wealthy old spinster aunt promises her two nephews $50 (a small fortune, especially to children) if they forego butter for an entire year, believing butter is bad for children and too "rich." They do, and when the year is up, the old hag gives them their $50 in the form of membership pledges in a missionary society. The reader seethes with anger along with the boys at the injustice of it, but Gilman delivers a satisfying coda to the story.
Some of the stories are really just simple romances, though with a slightly feminist spin, but all of them showed that Gilman was a master of characterization and not bad as a prose stylist either.
Now, The Yellow Wallpaper is famous because it represents an early feminist look at the treatment of women and mental health. The main character is a wife suffering in the aftermath of some sort of nervous breakdown and made to stay in an upstairs room decorated with a hideous yellow wallpaper that she abhors. She wants to leave, she wants to do something, she craves mental stimulation, but her kind but egostistical and patronizing physician husband refuses to let her go anywhere or lift a finger. And so he accomplishes exactly the opposite of his intent as she slowly goes mad.
This has obvious significance as an indictment of how women with mental health issues were treated, how their concerns were not taken seriously, and how they could be reduced to powerless chattel even by the kindest and most well-meaning husband. However, as a horror fan, I submit that this story can be read completely differently...
... as a tale of Lovecraftian horror! A trapped woman slowly discovers the secret of the things that live in the in-between spaces accessible from our reality through unearthly patterns in a hideous yellow wallpaper. In the climax, her husband discovers her after she has gone insane from exposure to secrets man was not meant to know.
Seriously, read it that way and it totally works.
Anyway, I really liked these stories, even the ones that were very short and had not much in the way of conclusion.
Oscar Wilde's only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray tends to be classified as "horror" because the underlying premise is indeed one of supernatural horror: a dissolute young man is blessed/cursed with eternal youth, thanks to a portrait painted by an artist friend of his which reflects all the sins and depravities of his debauched life. As Dorian Gray stays young and beautiful, his portrait becomes more and more ghastly, until the karmic climax.
Nonetheless, if you actually read the novel, the "horror" aspects, particularly the supernatural parts, are understated. Dorian Gray, who begins as a rather callow but not evil youth, falls under the cynical influence of Lord Henry Wotton, a professional member of the do-nothing aristocratic class. When the painter Basil Hallward captures Dorian's Adonis-like perfection on canvas, Dorian is overcome with the tragedy of his own face growing old and wrinkled while the painting will always capture him as he was, young and perfect. He wishes it could be the reverse, and gets his wish.
Unlike in the movie versions, there is no magical Egyptian cat-god or explicit deal with the Devil that makes this happen — for Oscar Wilde, Dorian Gray's selling of his soul was entirely metaphorical. He was apparently satirizing the Aesthetic Movement (though he was himself one of its more prominent representatives) which can best be summarized as "Art for Art's Sake." It was associated with decadence and disregard for social and moral judgments; Dorian Gray was a literal manifestation of the Aesthetic ideal: he sold his soul for Art (or rather, a piece of art).
Dorian becomes increasingly heartless after his cruel treatment of Sylvia Vane, whom he loved for her art but then jilted when she let him down artistically. After a brief attempt at redemption, he becomes one of the most notorious men in London, though notably, the precise nature of his many evil deeds is never described, leaving it all up to the reader's lascivious imagination. He ruins lives and destroys everyone close to him, yet still manages to keep a few close friends like Lord Henry and Basil.
(I definitely picked up some homoerotic vibes between Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil, which is interesting since apparently Wilde had to cut out some of the more overt homoeroticism when it went from serialization in a magazine to publication as a novel.)
So, read as a horror novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray is kind of lightweight — it's definitely not "scary" — and as a satire/criticism of the Aesthetic Movement, it is not terribly subtle. However, Oscar Wilde was most famous for his bon mots, and reading Dorian, Lord Henry, and Basil exchange wry witticisms is the real pleasure of the novel, even if none of them talk like actual people having real conversations. This book could be mined for quotable lines on every page, and as a story of a man falling headfirst into Faustian temptation, it definitely has its literary moments. It is not perfect (it's awfully convenient how often Dorian escapes judgment by someone else's timely death, and the prose is a bit turgidly Victorian), but it's a solid 4 star book. Definitely worth reading for the one-liners and for absorbing a very readable literary classic.
As a regular reader of James Wesley Rawles's Survival Blog, I was interested to hear what a novel written by him would sound like. Knowing he's a conservative Christian libertarian, I expected a big dose of hatin' on Obama and probably a bunch of atheist liberals getting what's coming to them, but in fairness, the author mostly keeps the right wing vitriol in check until the latter part of the book. But when it does emerge, boy does it ever.
The first thing to know is that Rawles clearly hopes this book will "wake up" some of his readers, both to the threat he believes is facing the country and to the need to prepare for the coming collapse. Whether or not you believe that hyperinflation will cause a a total collapse of the U.S. government, I have always felt that there is some wisdom in preparing for worst case scenarios, for some value of "worst case." In other words, the preppers are not completely wrong. We can't all move to an armed compound in Idaho, as the characters in this book do, or even build bunkers in our back yards, but we can keep a month or two supply of dried rations, water, toilet paper, and first aid kits in storage. People with pets and kids and medications to juggle have to think more seriously about what they'd do if the power goes down for more than a day or two. And some of us might even include things that go bang in our preps...
So, when you read this book, be prepared for lots and lots of lists, of firearms, ammunition, accessories, vehicles, survival gear, rations, batteries, fuel types, backpacks, you name it. There are chapters stuffed with "how tos" on everything from blood transfusion to farming. You couldn't actually use this novel as a guide in a real-life grid down situation, but reading it will make you think a lot about what sorts of things you'd need to know. A lot of reviews complain about the listology and the didacticism of the book, and that's a fair complaint - if you just want a good old fashioned post-apocalypse novel, Patriots is awfully dry at times. But since I do actually have an interest in the subject, I didn't get too bogged down with the "stuff you oughta know" parts.
That said, Rawles is certainly not going to dazzle you with his prose or his characterization either. There are over twenty characters in this book, all of them friends who have supposedly been saving and stocking up for the apocalypse since their college days, and so we get chapters about each of them at one point or another. None of them are really distinguishable from one another beyond a few simply-described traits: there's the chubby Asian gun nut, the ex-Army Officer alpha male, the motherly nurse, the ROTC cadet prepper, the biker machinist (an awful lot of highly skilled individuals with all the right political and religious views just happen to wander down the road to the characters' compound), the token Jew and the token agnostic about whom I can literally remember nothing else, etc.
The "plot" of the first part of the book is basically everyone getting together on their compound and weathering it out for a few years, as America goes to hell and they have to deal with looters (who are Marxists and cannibals and implied to be gay) and other prepper militias.
Then comes the second part of the book. This is when the United Nations installs a provisional relief government, and the book shoots straight into gibbering right-wing lunacy. The UN troops are all mustache-twirling war criminals who think nothing of rape and torture, the American quislings promptly agree to suspending every single American civil right (literally the first thing a newly-arrived UN-backed American official does is give a speech to a skeptical community of survivalists that carrying a gun will henceforth be a capital crime), and soon we are seeing, I kid you not, FEMA concentration camps.
The militia organized by the main characters joins up with a resistance movement, and in a few months they are able to kick heavily-armed UN troops with tank divisions out of the country because Americans are just that awesome. Then they rewrite the Constitution and institute a new U.S. government that would make the Tea Party collectively die of spontaneous orgasmic expulsion of their precious bodily fluids.
I still give this book 3 stars because it was, after a fashion, both entertaining and informative, but it was like the author was trying to keep his rabid Euro-phobia and Red-baiting impulses in check for the first few hundred pages and then he couldn't hold it in anymore.
If you have a serious interest in prepping combined with a love of post-apocalyptic novels, this book is worth reading, but if your interest is only in fiction, there are much, much better books, and if you're mainly interested in the survivalist aspects, try Rawles's non-fiction or his blog instead.
I was expecting to dislike this book, because I'd heard that the narrator goes off on a rant about atheists and agnostics, and I have a bit of an aversion to be lectured about how empty and meaningless my life is without being filled with the author's favorite flavor of deity. However, as it turns out, the ruminations on religion (and atheism and agnosticism) were not nearly as soapboxy as I feared, and they come from the protagonist, who is a 16-year-old boy.
Actually, Pi Patel's attitude towards religion is neatly summed up in his anecdote about his spiritual awakening in his hometown of Pondicherry, India. Inspired to "love God," he begins attending church, mosque, and temple, becoming a devout Christian, Muslim, and Hindu - all at once. Much to the distress of his priest, imam, and sadhu when his triple-dipping religious observances are discovered. This is evidently supposed to reveal something deep and universal about Pi's spirituality, but to me it revealed that he's a kid with an understandable yearning and curiosity about the divine, and no intellectual foundation or empirical experience with which to genuinely seek truth.
But that's all in the first few chapters. Most of the book is about his months-long survival on a lifeboat in the Pacific with a grown Bengal tiger as his sole fellow survivor.
How does a sixteen-year-old Indian boy survive months on a lifeboat with 450 pounds of hungry Bengal tiger and not get eaten? The tale is a fantastic one, and it's very well told, sprinkled with a great deal of information about zoology and animal behavior. I can't personally attest that Yann Martel did his research, though I haven't read any reviews by zoologists saying he doesn't know what he's talking about. But I found myself believing.
Which is ironic, because in the climax, the investigators to whom Pi tells his tale, after he finally makes landfall in Mexico, do not believe him. So Pi tells them a different tale. The reader is meant to decide for himself, I suppose, which is the real one.
I probably shouldn't compare this book to a Salman Rushdie novel, because while the main character is Indian, the author is not, so it should be a coincidence that Life of Pi reminded me a lot of Midnight's Children - the style, not the story. I haven't read enough of either Rushdie or Martel to know whether they really do have a similar style. But the fact is, those two Man-Booker Prize winners both narrated by young Indian protagonists do strike me as similar. Martel also writes about sometimes horrific events with a wry humor sprinkled throughout.
So yes, this was a good book and I enjoyed it a great deal. But I'm still knocking off a star for the agnostic-bashing.
Probably many more people have seen the famous Judy Garland movie than have read the book. I listened to this classic because it was an Audible download, and the narration by Anne Hathaway made it particularly delightful.
L. Frank Baum wanted to create a new and original fairy tale that had all the magic and meaning of traditional fairy tales. Expecting this 100+ year-old children's book to be a childish product of its time, I was surprised that it really does hold up as the classic it is, with descriptive language and clever dialog that is suitable for its young audience but does not talk down to them. It's full of fantasy and magical creatures, but it's a genuine and well-constructed quest. (Fans of Joseph Campbell could probably map Dorothy's quest to the Hero's Journey, but let's not get carried away here...)
Presumably you have seen the movie if not read the book. Surprisingly many of the famous quotes and scenes from the movie really are in the book. And the movie follows the story from the book pretty closely too, though of course some details are left out. The fearsome flying monkeys, for example, play a larger role in the book (and are more sympathetic creatures, being unwillingly bound to the Wicked Witch's service). Dorothy has more adventures in the book, even after killing the (second) Wicked Witch and returning to the Emerald City. And the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodsman, and the Cowardly Lion are somewhat less comical figures, as Baum gave a little more depth to their deficiencies and how and why they sought to overcome them.
Also, the book is rather bloody, with the Tin Woodsman hacking dozens of wolves and crows to death, and the Cowardly Lion slaying a couple of giant monsters! Although I think I've been told that we learn in subsequent Oz books that nothing ever actually dies in Oz.
Anyway, this was fun to listen to even for an adult, and I'd recommend it for anyone who has children of an age to be read aloud to.
Asimov has never been one of my favorite SF authors, but I fondly remember reading many of his short stories when I was a child. He seemed to do best in that form, as he was full of ideas and could pack his encyclopedic knowledge of everything under the sun into a few pages, and never mind the cardboard personalities of his characters.
The Currents of Space is set on the planet Florinia, whose inhabitants harvest "kyrt," which can be made into the most desirable cloth in the galaxy: it is super-durable, incredibly sheet, and infinitely useful. For some reason, kyrt only grows in the way it does on Florinia, among all the planets in the galaxy. (The reason for this is revealed in the climax.)
Florinia is ruled by the wealthy Sarkites, who profit from controlling the sole source of kyrt, and who treat the Florinians like serfs. Florinian society is divided into the laboring class and "Townsmen," who are the local representatives of Sarkite authority. They are educated and given special privileges, and so put above the ordinary Florinians. In other words, they're overseers.
When an amnesiac named Rik (which is a nickname meaning "idiot" to the Florinians) is found on Florinia, he triggers a series of escapades involving a cast of Florinians, Sarkites, and representatives from Trantor, the most powerful planet in the galaxy. The Trantorians dislike the Sarkites' oppression of the Florinians, but they fear being accused of imperialist ambitions themselves, and will not risk war with Sark - both because of galactic political sentiment, and because they'd risk cutting off the kyrt supply.
In case the metaphor eludes you, it's explicitly stated that kyrt, grown anywhere but on Florinia, is ordinary cotton. So the story turns out to be a combination of planetary adventure and morality tale; Florinia must be saved in more ways than one.
The plot was well written and brought out the motives and personalities of Florinians, Sarkites, and Trantorians, none of whom are wholly good or wholly evil. I was also pleased at Asimov's descriptions of this advanced interstellar civilization; despite being written in 1952, it was not as dated as some other Golden Age sci-fi. (Except for the women, of course. Asimov didn't treat his women as badly as Heinlein: he just treated them as woman-shaped plot devices.)
If you like good old-fashioned intelligent space opera in a perfectly self-contained story (The Currents of Space is supposedly part of a trilogy and linked to Asimov's Foundation series, but it stands alone just fine), it is definitely worth reading.
I found the narration to be particularly good in this audiobook, as Kevin T. Collins subtly shaded our perceptions of the characters by giving them definitive accents. The Sarkites: snooty and English. The Florinians: common and rural. A few of the cops ("patrollers") had Irish accents, and other characters likewise had accents that fit their personalities and roles in the story.
The Postman does not feature zombies, killer plagues, or EMPs. The "Doom War" that ended civilization was set off by the rise of fanatics in the East and the West, leaving the U.S. (and all other countries) broken and depopulated. The depopulation happened not so much in the initial nuclear attack, but in the aftermath as civilization collapsed and millions starved or froze.
Years later, a survivor named Gordon Krantz, who refers to himself, sometimes ironically and sometimes bitterly, as "the last surviving 20th century idealist," is traveling alone in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest when, fleeing from a band of brigands, he finds an old U.S. Postal Service truck, with the corpse of the mail carrier and his undelivered mail inside. Since he's freezing (thanks to the brigands taking his clothes), he dons the corpse's uniform.
When he shows up at the next town, he declares himself a Postal Inspector of the "Reconstituted United States of America," which is supposedly rebuilding back East, and will be sending men and supplies and technology any day now.
It's a con to get him a bed and a hot meal, but it quickly grows all out of proportion, until Gordon finds himself not only carrying the torch for a non-existent nation, but rallying troops in its name.
Post-apocalyptic Oregon is a fairly realistic post-nuclear holocaust region - most people live in hardscrabble settlements, there has been minimal organization, but a few small enclaves of relative civilization. Of course they are all threatened by the "Survivalists" - remnants of the original survivalist movement, who have now become the warlords and orcs of post-apocalyptic North America.
Most post-apocalyptic novels tend towards grimdark, for obvious reasons. The Postman has its share of violence and grit, but it is at heart an optimistic novel about the triumph of idealism and ethics over pure savagery.
It's easy to see why The Postman was made into a movie. It's the sort of story intended to make you cheer at the end. While it didn't really present a new post-apocalyptic story per se, keep in mind it was written in 1985, before the current trend and all those YA imitators.
A smartly plotted novel with bits of political and scientific philosophy sprinkled into the story, it's a recommended listen.
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