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I'm looking for a novel set in America after a plague has wiped out nine tenths of the Earth's population. Although dark in theme and incident the novel has a lively comic tone. The central character is an old man, a survivor of the plague. Although a cynical con artist, the old man is too full of humor and good sense to seem bitter.

He's accompanied by a young couple accused of witchcraft (they were reciting love poetry to each other while cuddling). The trio have the job of delivering a microfilm library to a community of archivists in New York. They start out in California.

We're told that many small towns burned every book except the Bible. Fear of knowledge and science are rampant. The group has a run in with a religious zealot called "Simple Simon." The old man cons him with a cure for warts. While dealing with the zealot, they meet a government agent called The Pieman.

Subplots involve a young man exiled from the archivist community for the crime of writing poetry. And the voyage of a Mars colonist to Earth.

The book must have been written after the early 1960s and I read it before 1980. The story wasn't set a full century in the future.

EDIT: (added from OPs comments) When the young couple accused of witchcraft is brought to court, we find out, through the "judge's" internal monologue that he's an actor. The government uses fraud and deception to deal with the more feral communities. There is an off hand mention of the Duke of California. The journey across America is in a medicine show wagon drawn by horses.

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The novel you are looking for might be "Damnation Alley" by Roger Zelazny, published in 1969

Hell Tanner isn't the sort of guy you'd mistake for a hero: he's a fast-driving car thief, a smuggler, and a stone-cold killer. He's also expendable - at least in the eyes of the Secretary of Traffic for the Nation of California. Tanner doesn't care much for those eyes. You'd also never mistake Hell Tanner for a humanitarian. Facing life in prison for his various crimes, he's given a choice; rot away his remaining years in a tiny jail cell, or drive cross-country and deliver a case of antiserum to the plague-ridden people of Boston, Massachusetts...if anyone is still alive there to receive it, that is. The chance of a full pardon does wonders for getting his attention. And don't mistake this mission of mercy for any kind of normal road trip - not when there are radioactive storms, hordes of carniverous beasts, and giant, mutated scorpions to be found along every deadly mile between Los Angeles and the East Coast. But then, this is no normal part of America, you see. This is DAMNATION ALLEY...

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  • You could improve this answer by editing it to specify the ways in which this matches the book described in the question, and any ways in which it doesn't. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 0:22
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    Damnation alley doesn't seem an especially good fit. Yes, post-apocalyptic plague, yes road trip, no everything else.
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 0:23
  • @Valorum - The encounter with Simple Simon and The Pieman is a part of the plot in that novel Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 0:25
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    Searches for "Simon" and "Pieman" turned up zero results in the online internet archive version of Damnation Alley. openlibrary.org/search?q=damnation+alley&mode=everything Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 1:00
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    On the one hand there is no mention of Simple Simon or The Pieman in Damnation Alley. On the other hand downvoting an answer posted in good faith seems mean spirited. Commented Feb 27, 2023 at 5:48

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