I say this only to say that a few weeks ago, I told my newsletter subscribers about a book I had started reading and that I enjoyed. Well I've since finished said book, Drew Magary's The Postmortal, and now want to discuss it with you in more details; notably, what made this novel such a freaking great one?
Let's start with Magary's writing style, which is taut and concise throughout, yet still manages to convey the full range of emotions. John Farrell, the book's protagonist, is a deeply flawed individual, but that only makes him more human: if it's so believable that he essentially takes this cure for aging for no other reason that a morbid fear of dying, it's because it very well could be the same reason why we would do the same.
But wait, a cure for aging? What? Okay, here it is.
This is the book's central premise, which again is rather simple: would you take the cure of aging if it existed? In The Postmortal, an American scientist has somewhat inadvertently discovered that with only a few minor genetic tweaks, he could stop any living organism from aging; that with only three injections, a person could carry on with her life, forever living in the physical state at which they were when they received the injection.
Which doesn't mean that you get to live forever, no. In The Postmortal, you can still die in all the sucky and unfortunate ways that you can in real life, you just will never die from old age if you get the injection: if you're 27 when you get the cure, then you'll be 27 when someone shoots you in the head or whatever else, even if you may actually have lived 82, 110 or 230 years.
Makes sense? Okay, so would you get the cure of aging if it existed? The answer to that question seems to be pretty straightforward, like "Yeah duh," but then you realize it isn't. That's the other part that makes the book so great, that this decision is really not as obvious as you think it is.
Because if you get the cure, you presumably live on forever, or thereabout. So does everyone, and so does every little awful thing. If you're stuck being an end specialist to make ends meet, which really is as terrible a job as the name entails, then congratulations you're doomed to be that for a mighty long time because you'll live forever, remember?
Mourning, too, lasts that much longer; if a person close to your heart, terrified of you because you lost your composure and afraid that you may hurt her, suddenly steps into the path of an incoming truck, well that pain stays with you. If your roommate and best friend dies in a terrorist attack that occurs somewhere where you just took her, well that's on you. If some deranged individual part of a group called the Greenies brands you with your date of birth, you live with it that much longer. If you're haunted by the blond with the impossible body that you saw one day, well you'll be doomed to repeat that day over and over in your hear. If your son and sister both die as well, if your father becomes depressed from having taken the cure under peer pressure when all he really wants is to join your deceased mother, ...well you get the idea. If you live forever, then your pain lasts forever as well.
But of course, it doesn't last forever—because you don't. Sure, you live young forever, but you still will die, and this may be where Magary's genius really shines the brightest. In a near future where everyone can keep on living at their peak physical form, all involved become incredibly self-centered and self-involved. (I mean, more than usual!) But of course, all still live in the same world, the one with limited natural resources and the one over which we humans have continually fought our fellow men for a modicum of power and respect.
That's the lesson, for anyone who reads The Postmortal: even if we could live forever, maybe we wouldn't live much longer than we already do.
This is a slightly edited version of what I wrote in my newsletter.