In 2019, the "cure for aging" -- gene therapy -- is legal in only four countries, but immortality can be purchased on the black market. The issue is divisive: gene therapy's opponents use terrorist tactics to attack the black market while protests in favor of legalizing the cure turn ugly. The desire to cheat death ultimately triumphs.
John Farrell takes the cure without devoting much thought to its downside: If you stop aging, retirement isn't an option and you can forget about social security. If your parents don't die, you don't inherit. If you live forever, you never experience eternal respite from annoying relatives and politicians, it's less easy to ignore future threats like global warming, and the escape clause from your marital vows -- until death do us part -- becomes a nullity. Couples often say they marry so they can grow old together. Would they bother with marriage if eternal youth made possible an eternal choice of partners? On a more serious note, the pressures of overpopulation would dramatically increase the already unsustainable consumption of finite resources, a predicament that would initially lead to hoarding, then to war, and ultimately to a barren planet.
Beginning in 2019, Farrell blogs about the impact gene therapy has on his life and the world. The introduction to The Postmortal advises us that Farrell's text files are discovered in 2090. Through Farrell's eyes, we watch the escalating disaster: the rise of pro-death pressure, the burgeoning prison populations resulting from life sentences that last forever, the harsh measures China imposes to assure that its citizens forego the cure, the glorification of suicide, the fracturing of society. Some blog entries reproduce news stories, political punditry, and advertisements (including a FAQ promoting a new religion). Some of Farrell's entries are observational, others are personal.
Postmortal is not immortal; death still occurs from injury and disease, suicide and murder. Death is a frequent subject of Farrell's blog as people close to him are killed. After a few decades, Farrell becomes an end specialist (sort of a futuristic Kevorkian, except that the government not only approves of assisted suicide but rewards it with a tax rebate). It is difficult to fault Farrell's role in the postmortal future. Compared, at least, to the roving street gangs, organ thieves, and religious charlatans, Farrell's job seems both necessary and altruistic.
Although Drew Magary describes a terrifying future, he keeps the tone light -- perhaps too light. The Postmortal works surprisingly well as a dystopian comedy (if there is such a thing), but the incongruity of laughter and disaster robs the story of its potential power. In the novel's third act, after an event called "the correction" occurs, the story appears to take a more serious course. The disconnect between humor and horror at that point becomes jarring; it is not a line Magary straddles comfortably. Viewed as a cautionary tale about the consequences of overpopulation, the comedy seems misplaced; viewed as a farcical take on the desire for immortality, the drama overshadows the farce.
Those reservations aside, I have no qualms about recommending The Postmortal to readers who aren't put off by dark comedy. While I got a kick out of Magary's humor (his dialog is both realistic and insanely funny), I also enjoyed pondering the issues he raises. Magary obviously gave considerable imaginative thought to the consequences of a genetic cure for aging (including its impact on home run records). There were times when I thought the story went off course, but there was never a moment when my interest in the novel waned. In the end, Magary tells us, there is only the inevitable end. If you can accept that -- even more, if you can laugh about it -- I suspect you'll like The Postmortal.
on April 6, 2013
This is a disturbing, depressing, compelling, captivating read. I have no experience with Magary's other writings. Perhaps that is why I found no humor in the book as other's have said they found. As I read this book, I kept thinking of Lord of the Flies.
The book begins with an account of the discovery of 60 years of John Farell's "text files" containing an account of his life and the world within which he lived. We are told that these materials are being presented as "incontrovertible evidence that the cure for aging must never again be legalized".
Farell describes his decision to seek the "cure" as an obsession: "I instantly wanted it more than I had ever wanted anything....It was a want. A hunger. A naked compulsion that was bullet proof to logic and reason."
The doctor who gives Farell the cure, describes the people who come to him as vane and obsessive:
"When people come through my door, the first and only thing they think about is, `Oh boy, I'm gonna live forever.' But they don't stop to consider what that means. They want to live forever, but they don't think about what they're going to have to live with. What they'll have to carry with them. And whether or not that's something they really, truly want."
The doctor also tells Farell he can never "die a natural, peaceful death". To which Farell responds.
"I don't think most people die natural, peaceful deaths," I said. "All the loved ones I've seen die have been sick, frail, and helpless. Undergoing chemo. Lying in hospitals. Soiling their beds. Two of my grandparents died alone, with no one to talk to. I don't think natural death offers much in the way of gentle relief. I think it's a slow, wrenching thing I'd like to try to get far, far away from."
When Farell's roommate points out that he can never retire and asks "Did you consider that?", Farell tells us "I had, but I'd placed it squarely in the `things I prefer not to think about' pile."
Farell also shares a rant by a Rush Limbaugh-like, libertarian pundit, who supports the cure. The pundit, criticizes opposition to the cure as "liberal thinking at it's absolute worst. They don't want to give you the opportunity to make your own choices." Farell tells us, "I think a lot of what he says is perfectly reasonable - but he delivered a diatribe yesterday that was pretty nuts."
In short, there is a lot to chew on here. While you are chewing, try substituting other social and political changes confronting us in today's world.
This is not the best book I've ever read. But it was good enough. For me it was a page turner, despite the fact that it disturbed and depressed me. I'm glad I read it and I recommend it.
If you want great speculative writing on the peril's of genetic engineering and its consequences, try Margaret Attwood's Oryx and Crake, and the sequel, Year of the Flood. If you want a great feel-good read set in a post apocalyptic world, where people use virtual reality to escape the dark world they actually live in, try Ernest Cline's Ready Player One.
on December 15, 2011
I love the premise of this book - in our world in the not-so-distant future, a cure for aging has been discovered. The President has banned it in the U.S., but it is available on the black market. John Farrell, a bit of an Everyman who happens to be a divorce lawyer, has a connection and decides to take The Cure.
Initially, mayhem and madness ensue, in the best possible ways. John's future world is one of snarkiness, dark gallows humor, Shocking Revelations, and more than a few unexpected twists and turns. At least, it is in the first handful of chapters. After that, well, it becomes a lot darker and the gallows humor becomes more gallows and less humor. Random acts of violence, bitterness, resentment, ennui, and the decline of all forms of faith, hope and love are apparently the name of the game in the future. If we really are in for that kind of future, I am in no rush to sign up - let alone to extend my stay with a late check-out.
In other words, eek, she said.
The book started out terrifically, laugh-out-loud funny. And then shifted, on a dime, to horrifically, cry-out-loud depressing.
The subject matter is heavy - I get it. Issues of resource management, over-population, who "deserves" to be kept alive, and our obligations to one another in society are weighty topics. So is the concept of death. They deserve to be treated with respect - although I'm also fairly certain that they deserve to be treated with mockery and sarcasm because we don't want to take ourselves too seriously, now do we?
There are a lot of take-home platitudinous messages in the book because of the weight of the topics covered. "Be careful what you wish for" is, obviously, prime among them. But "nothing good lasts forever," "to everything there is a season," and "only the good die young" have their places in the sun too. And for the most part, Magary uses them well - they serve to demonstrate the ridiculousness and hypocrisy of many characters and situations, and to provide a nice reminder every now and then about the dangers of over-thinking and under-feeling.
There are also a lot of great lines and darkly funny situations. That's how the book was billed, and the author (Drew Magary) did deliver. This is what I expected the major focus of the book to be, actually, given Magary's other writing credits. I mean, hello, how can you not expect great things from a man whose other book is titled "Men With Balls: The Professional Athlete's Handbook" and who also writes for Deadspin, Maxim, and has contributed to Comedy Central, Playboy, and Penthouse? So humor - dark, odd, random, man-focused humor I expected - especially after reading Magary's own take on his book on Deadspin.
But then he went off on a dystopian "the future is scary!" tangent or two (or six or twelve). And that I found a tad wearing after a while...
Again, I get it. The book is a combo entertainment/cautionary tale. But the existential angst surrounding John Farrell and his family/friends was entertaining for a while, then it got a little heavy-handed to my tastes. Personally, I don't know that I see all that much appeal in a cure for aging. From the beginning, I rather fell in line with the pro-death traditionalists (and John's father) when they pointed out that everything good must come to an end - and that this is not necessarily a bad thing or something to avoid, but just a necessary part of life and the appreciation of what we have. This is, ultimately, the message Magary sends us away with - and it's a good one. But frankly, I think he could have delivered it without quite as many participants in the parade of horribles that poor John Farrell had to deal with along the way...
on July 10, 2014
Pretty good for a first novel. Postmortal is an endgame of over-population and world collapse via the elimination of aging. The book does a good job of pointing out the intriguingly small and large consequences of never getting older.
People still die due to sickness and disease but in the beginning aging is ended. Farther on in the story, the extension of lifespan leads to the development of a nanite-based miracle cure, really ending sickness and death.
Long ago, stories would see the elimination of aging and sickness as the dawn of utopia. Today, we take a much darker view. Mothers who keep their baby as a baby forever, toddlers who will never grow up and farm animals who never get old. Externally managed metabolism turns people into roving crowds that strip fields of plants, eat animals and even other humans in a never-ending search for more calories.
As over-population sets in, the rapid decline of the worth of an individual is made all the more chilling by the obvious extension of present and past cultural reactions to over-population.
Sometimes a journal, sometimes a traditional story, sometimes a collection of media releases. This seems to detract at times from the flow.
This is not a happy story. The book wavers between what could be dark humor and just plain tragic. One thing that is done well is the gradual build-up of tension throughout the book to the final end. As others have noted, Soylent Green would be a good comparison.
As I visit the area often, I liked seeing how the story has Eden Center, 7 Corners and the Four Sisters restaurant turn out. Sadly, I think Four Sisters has closed.
on September 26, 2011
... as Magary alludes to fearing in the acknowledgments. And it represents good entertainment value for the dollar.
Magary writes a good story, and he keeps it interesting. The overall tone is a throwback to the science fiction of the late 50s and early 60s, "average guy from today goes on an interplanetary adventure" type stuff, transposed of course to a different plot; more "R is for Rocket" than "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream". I give it 5 stars for imagination, and 5 stars for prose style; he follows his assumptions to their logical conclusions based on an uncanny assessment of human nature and humanity's nature, and he writes like his brain is on fire. I give it two stars for sketchy, incomplete characters and some cliched plotting and dialog. (For example, I can't help but think Magary knew he was writing for the movie script when he had a female character trip and twist an ankle while running from a mob. I re-read the scene without that passage and wondered why it was allowed in by the editors; it is a needless flourish that only called attention to itself.)
I'd give it a 3 1/2, but I can't, and since it's closer to 3 than it is to 4, it gets 3 stars. Nevertheless I still recommend it; the ideas pull you in, and the prose fires you right through an enjoyable, vivid story.
on August 3, 2013
I read Drew Magary's The Postmortal in an afternoon--which is probably the best way to do it. It's an interesting ride, but doesn't benefit from careful consideration. The central question, "What would American life be like if nobody ever grew old?" is interesting, and Drew does take a few stabs at answering it. But when you have time to start thinking, questions come up: "Does the cure for aging also somehow eliminate common sense, empathy, and basic decency?" "Why does looking 30 forever seem to automatically make men act like they're particularly brain-dead 17-year-old boys?" "How do all the available natural resources, from water to oil, get used up in just 30 years?" "Who's still running the power plants that supply the juice for the electric cars--and where did that infrastructure come from, in such a messed-up system?" "This is a cure for aging, not disease, so how come there aren't millions dying of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, drug overdoses, and so on--especially given the general level of irresponsible stupidity going on?" "Why do the women seem to come through with their common sense and compassion intact, but also get killed off right and left?" "Why are there roaming gangs of zombie-like vagrants freely causing havoc, while the government sends `end specialists' to assassinate `elderly' people (the ones who look old, that is)?" "The Russians decide to take over what's left of the world, while China goes into isolationism and self destructs?" "Boy, I wonder if Drew really does have this negative opinion of humans in general, or if he's actually a more sunny guy than this book would suggest?"
The logic questions have a lot of mindspace to play out, because the main character (it's too much of a stretch to call him a hero), John Farrell, mainly just drifts through an increasingly violent, nonsensical version of Mad-Max-but-with-suburbs America (a Malthusian dystopia, which I'm sure a lot of other people have noted). [SPOILER SUMMARY] He starts off as an estate lawyer for no particular reason, takes the cure, decides he's not in love enough to marry the mother of his child, ignores that child, hooks up with his middle-school crush, loses her, watches his father die of cancer (see, it's possible--and since both of his parents did, shouldn't he be a bit worried about his own chances?), drifts around the world for awhile without gaining either experience or insight (that part isn't spelled out), becomes an "end specialist" helping other people die mainly because it's a job (though he doesn't seem worried about making a living), falls for another formerly unattainable and perfect woman, and gets stabbed to death trying to save her (for what, we're not sure). Most of the more extreme episodes in John's story seem less part of a life than like ideas that occurred to Drew--hey, wouldn't it be cool if he had sex with a chick and killed her while they were doing it, because she wanted him to? Hey, wouldn't it be cool if he got trapped by a mob of homeless zombies and had to shotgun his way through? Hey, wouldn't it be cool if he finally captured the kick-butt blonde terrorist with the "impossible" body, and she turned out to be a smoking-hot babe with daddy issues in dire need of someone to rescue her? Hey, wouldn't it be cool if gangs of Russian and American supersoldiers were looting and pillaging all over the place, with no apparent chain of command?
Overall, Drew raises more (and more interesting) questions than he answers. The part that left me feeling, if not depressed, then gray, is that after dismissing the answers about life's fundamental purpose and importance suggested by both religion (in the form of an address from a Catholic pope and a mention of LDS fundamentalist nuts) and secular humanism (the seemingly hippy-dippy but quite menacing Church of Man) he can only end his hero's unintentional quest for meaning by letting him die happy due to a romantic infatuation with a stereotypical perfect woman who he doesn't even really know. Not exactly a deeply thought-out or satisfying attempt to grapple with the meaning of age and death. But if you're looking for a few ideas to spark your own imaginations and conversations ("What would you do if you didn't have to get old?") and have no trouble sustaining a sunny mood in the face of unintentional nihilism, this is a fair-to-middling time waster.
on September 16, 2015
Not all that great...not sure what the big deal was. Kind of 8th grade level reading. I only read it since it was required reading at the college where I work and I wondered why. It had an original concept but was not well written as far as I am concerned and it makes me wonder why college kids are required to read this
on May 4, 2015
I ordered this book because of the "One Campus, One Book" event that my school was hosting. I figured it would be just another random dystopian and a quick and easy read. Boy, was I wrong. This book was like pulling teeth to get through.
The main character has the personality of a glass of water. The only time he is ever eventful or even mildly interesting is when he's beating the mess out of people. Otherwise, he's very very flat. Which means his narrative is very very flat.
The storyline had a good concept. It was very interesting, but without a good main character that whole interesting plot falls a little behind. I was also very baffled by the random left field love interest? It was almost like a warped stockholm syndrome. You chase this woman your entire immortal existence because she's attractive, but she also killed your best friend… But instead of seeking vengeance you claim to be in love with her?
It was very ver farfetched. I would not recommend the book. I'm baffled as to why it was chosen for my school's event. I was looking forward to the author coming to speak, only so I could sit there and stare at him and ask him why he bothered.
It's great for a concept. But everything else leaves a lot to be desired.
on August 28, 2015
Not much to say. I don't often read modern novels but this one caught my attention being that the author is such a fantastic writer. I flew through this book. Couldn't put it down. A terrific take on the craziness of our modern society and a revealing look at where we are headed. Highly, highly recommend.
on August 29, 2015
The first half of the book made you think about how society would respond if there was no more aging. The second half? It was like reading an unfinished, very long and drawn out description of Suicide Bunnies. Well no, at least Suicide Bunnies has some (morbid) humor to it.
On top of that, the book could be 100 pages LESS, and still get a solid point across. About 152 pages into the book I kept wondering where the story was going. Apparently the author didn't have a clue either, since the book ends without any clear ending whatsoever-be prepared to sigh in disgust at the last ten pages, to put the book down with a look of disgust, and be happy you are done reading it.
So, I give the book three stars for making me think in the first half, but I could just as easily give it two stars for being scattered, and not able to pull itself together in the middle and end.