Drew Magary – The Postmortal

The Postmortal cover

Drew Magary – The Postmortal

What would happen if we discovered an inexpensive way to stop people from aging? According to Drew Magary’s The Postmortal, everyone would quickly take “The Cure” and begin to wear away at our environment and social fabric. It’s a plausible answer, but a pretty shallow one that assumes a quick read of modern American culture is all we need to predict the next century. In fact, “shallow” describes the book pretty well.

It starts off pretty strongly, with an interesting hook that fits the book’s breezy, blog-post style. (That voice is a little weird if you worry about how convenient it is that the author’s explanations and details are perfectly aimed at a reader of the book, rather than a contemporary of his. But it’s easy enough to ignore.) And when the story suddenly jumps forward ten years to a world still celebrating The Cure, it stays believable. Magary’s depiction of our modern world may be a bit facile, but it feels real and manages to spark anger, curiosity, and sympathy at the right times.

Then it jumps forward again, twenty years this time. And the narrator acts completely the same, despite the major lifestyle changes he allegedly underwent during that time. The world is devolving into chaos, but his day-to-day interactions with the supporting cast feel the same as they did pre-Cure. The occasional interruptions to deal with disasters don’t feel like they belong in the same world he’s describing the rest of the time. And really, the entire plot just flows along as if that twenty-year break had actually been a week. The story gets put on hold whenever it jumps through time (it happens again), and plot threads that should be long-forgotten keep coming up as if the world revolves around just him.

It’s sad to see a light, enjoyable book go so far off the rails. By the end, the protagonist is making sudden, hard to justify decisions about crazy plot twists that stem from events that had been unresolved for decades. The rest of the world seems just as eager to bring things to a climax, and events that were obviously foreshadowed but never made believable begin to happen at a fast pace. What was supposed to be a thought experiment about human nature closes on a big mess of coincidences, rushed plot, and side characters who don’t have agency except to support or foil the narrator.

The Postmortal could have been good. The strong part, which seems more or less grounded in reality and gives us supporting characters to care about, takes up almost the first half of the book. But it lacks the vision to keep extrapolating, as well as the ability to keep the plot developing fairly. It has its strengths and weaknesses, but maybe the most disappointing part is the missed potential.

Grade: C

  1. This reminds me of a sci-fi book I read (by Bujold maybe? No, it was someone else…) which had a society where people didn’t age, so you had many generations living simultaneously with creative inheritance structures and social hierarchies. Resource limits weren’t an issue, so it was a really neat thought experiment. I’ll try to remember the author and title.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review!

    • Thanks. That sounds like it would interest me more. I would have liked to see something unexpected like that grow out of The Postmortal’s setting.

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