I don’t want to live forever: A review of Drew Magary’s The Postmortal

What would you give to be able to never grow old? Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.
In Drew Magary’s first novel, The Postmortal, he wonders what the world would be like if someone discovered a cure for aging. It sounds like it would be a great thing, but as the story unfolds, the reader quickly discovers it would be a nightmare.
In the opening chapter, we meet our hero, John Farell, a lawyer who is paying a black-market doctor to have three simple injections which will keep his body from aging. He won’t be immortal, but as long as he doesn’t contract a fatal disease or get hit by a bus, he could potentially live hundreds or thousands of years.
Eventually, the cure becomes legal, cheap and widely available. In no time, just about everybody is “postmortal.”
The time and setting of the book is America of the near-future. As Farell ages, the book advances by decades and society gets progressively worse as a result of the cure. When a scientist discovers a sort of vaccine that prevents cancer and other deadly diseases, the world starts to go off the rails. The Postmortal is essentially a pre-apocalypse novel.
The biggest problem the world faces with postmortals is the fact that most people get the cure when they are young and remain reproductively viable for much longer than normal. In other words, people can have as many babies as they want and it’s not unusual for someone to be married multiple times and raise multiple families. As for marriage, it seems that “until death do us part” is no longer part of the lexicon and people aren’t keen to spend a real eternity with someone else. The result is that divorce skyrockets and relationships are more dysfunctional in this future world.
In many ways, The Postmortals is a story about the effects of overpopulation on the world and how it would lead to competition for resources that would ultimately lead to a breakdown of society. It might already be happening on Earth, but it’s happening over generations so we, as individuals, don’t notice it, but postmortals have the misfortune of living long enough to witness the decline.
The hero of the Postmortal is not the most lovable character. He is a lawyer, which has negative connotations for many, but his career switch as an “End Specialist” makes him even less appealing. It seems that many people don’t want to live forever, so they call End Specialists to terminate their lives. Each person seems to have a unique request on how to do it along with different reasons why they want to die.
At first Farell doesn’t pull the trigger on those who want to end it all. He’s there to act as a sort of official witness who interviews the clients and takes note of their final wishes. Eventually, the End Specialists have to carry out forced terminations where the government targets specific people to be killed. Farell is no longer just a witness, but now an executioner. He is conflicted about this turn of events and has to decide whether or not he should continue.
The Postmortal is written in a first-person style and is formatted as a series of what appear to be electronic blog posts or journal entries. It’s a gimmick for the web generation, which I don’t think it’s entirely necessary. It doesn’t add or subtract to the story other than it indicates the passage of time.
Magary has written a riveting book that will both fascinate and scare you and maybe make you glad that you will die some day before the world becomes an even worse place to live.
Disclosure: An electronic review copy of the book was provided by Penguin USA.