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The Postmortal: A Novel Paperback – Bargain Price, August 30, 2011
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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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I very much did not enjoy the characters here.Read more
Read this book or else you suck too!
Also get "The Hike".
For those who do not know, here's a little background about the book:...Read more