The Last Mailman: Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Zombies by Kevin J. Burke is not at all what I was expecting from the title. It is not about a man delivering mail between survivor outposts or anything like that. It’s about survivors trying to tie up loose ends, so they can move on with their new lives; sometimes they find peace, and other times they lose the last of their hope. Even though this is a zombie novel, it’s so much more than just a story about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s about the frailty of people, how they adapt to extraordinary situations, and what the “mailman” truly represents.
DJ is the mailman for New York, but it’s NY in name only. There are several outposts renamed after major cities, and they have worked out a trading system, using planes to move goods between them. Some places are doing better than others, even with the spirit of cooperation. Sporting a population of around 800 people, NY is far larger than the 200 to 300 folks in Atlanta (also, not the original Atlanta). However, the CDC is still at work in some form in Atlanta, and they say they have cure that they will share in exchange for some fertile women. There is so much concern about repopulating the earth that child-bearing women are in high demand. Some of the women are happy to help out, while others see it as a form of rape. DJ is asked to escort some women from NY on a plane to Atlanta, and return with the cure. After all, he is somewhat famous for his excursions into the “wild” to retrieve mementos of past lives, and find any living relatives of the other survivors. Usually, he returns with suicide notes. DJ had been looking forward to retiring from his post, and doesn’t agree with using the women as currency.
To make matters worse, the pilot dies in mid-flight on the way to Atlanta, and reanimated pilots do not know how to land a plane. DJ is forced into a leadership role because he is the only one who is used to being on the outside among the undead. Unfortunately, the zombies aren’t the only ones on the outside. When the others in DJ’s group realize what some people have had to do in order to keep living, the cure seems more likely to be false hope for a future. The array of characters was just amazing; I absolutely enjoyed the interactions between all the players, although some of their behavior was a bit frustrating at times.
Towards the end, when DJ’s best intentions have all gone horribly wrong, and there are uber-zombies to contend with (in addition to the traditional zombies), the remaining folks all seem to have gone crazy. I’m not sure if Burke was trying to be funny, but I laughed my ass off during several chapters. I think I should have felt bad that the characters had been pushed to the madness, but they way they embrace their lunacy was hilarious and kind of uplifting. I think it showed a warped resilience of the characters, which is probably why they lived through the initial zombie apocalypse.
I love how this book doesn’t conform to the existing formula for zombies. The story takes place years after the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of society. Mankind exists in tiny pockets of people, essentially as individual countries smaller than the size of pre-apocalypse city populations. It goes into a completely different direction and forces the reader to think about what the new societies are willing to do to exist.
For some of the characters, the past is a link that helps them weather the obstacles of the present and work toward the promise of a future cure. For the others, desperation is the real disease that infects the living and threatens the very foundation of their survival. The key strength of the storyline is Burke’s creative construction of internal and external conflicts for his characters, at once humanizing them and drawing readers into their struggles.
I hope we see more of Burke’s work in the zombie genre.