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 it all came down, 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 killedKevin Costner's career.
This book provides examples of:
A Nazi by Any Other Name: Holnists, who firmly believe that the strong should rule the weak, the only possible law is the law of jungle and idealism is only good for retarded kids.
Amazon Brigade: Dena's Army Scouts. They are almost entirely wiped out after a failed plot to infiltrate and sabotage the Holnists.
America Saves the Day: In a sense. In that the Restored United States of America ultimately becomes very much real.
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.
Artistic License - Gun Safety: Averted. Gordon never holds more than four bullets in his revolver, unless it's an emergency or it appears he's doomed. His gun is always secured in its holster. He takes a good care of it and always uses it with an accurate' two-hand grip.
Celibate Hero: Inverted. Gordon wasn't with any women not because he didn't want to be, but because there was no opportunity or suitable woman for a long while. When he's with Dena, he's more annoyed with her than aroused.
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.
Conspiracy Theorist: Nathan Holn, a bat-shit insane nutcase. Everyone, including people born after the Doomwar (and thus lacking any serious education), wonder how he could get any support for his ideas.
Gordon finding the postal van while trying to catch up with robbers who just mugged him. It helps in both the short and long term - first providing shelter and clothes, then giving him a perfect U.S. Postal Carrier disguise.
Gordon finding Dena after being recaptured by Holnists, moments before she expires in his arms.
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. And that the Holnists forever tainted the term "survivalist".
Deadpan Snarker: Who else but Gordon? It often borders on Sad Clown, as he's fully aware how miserable the situation is or can get.
The seasons in which the action takes place are related with this trope. In the first section, it's autumn, where everything is dying. Then the action fast-forwards toward early spring, when Gordon starts setting his Postal Service and things are going smooth. Then the Holnists show up - right when autumn is about to start. The war against them takes place mostly in the winter, when nature is dead and animals struggle to survive. In the end, when Holnists are defeated and Gordon heads toward California, it's the beautiful spring of 2012.
Gordon's dream in the postal car, about a giantbird building itself a pyre and burning on it, after which the surrounding plants starts to sprout new leaves.
In Love with the Mark: Subverted. It's speculated that this could be the reason why Dena and the Scouts' plan to infiltrate the Holnists failed.
Know When to Fold 'Em: The main reason Gordon managed to exceed the current life expectancy of thirty years old.
Mundane Luxury: You know how bad the situation is when a handfull of wild berries and a few short gulps of whiskey are considered as a celebration-worthy delicacy.
Not Too Dead to Save the Day: 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.
Only One Name: It's very easy to miss the fact that Gordon's surname is Krantz. Outside of Pine View, barely anyone addresses him with it.
Properly Paranoid: Gordon blesses his paranoia 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.
Gordon really tries to believe that cynism is an answer, treating idealism as a luxury he can't afford. Yet he's a genuinely good person, who keeps on doing the right things and eventually proves himself that idealism is all what's left to firmly believe in.
Straw Feminist: Dena, sort of. She's very heroic despite her possibly-crazy outlook, however. More - she's quite aware that she might misinterprated many facts about pre-war world because of Small Reference Pools she has access to.
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 a second generation augment, chosen because he is an Actual Pacifist and forcibly transformed with more subtle implants focusing on biofeedback.
Survivor Guilt: Gordon doesn't feel too good about the fact that all his fellow militiamen are dead. It's more than a decade and he still labours under the burden of being last man standing.
Taking You with Me: When tracking the muggers in first chapter, Gordon notes that he will most likely die in the process... but at least the surrounding area will be a bit more safe for future travellers.
Technical Pacifist: George Powhatan, a man who is a living legend from his fights against Holnists, yet is very reluctant to enter any conflict. Gordon himself usually is stopped by his "oldfashioned scrupules".