The Postmortal, by Drew Magary, is the first-hand account of what happens when a cure for aging is discovered. The story is told to us by 29-year-old John Farrell, an estate lawyer who, in the year 2019, visits a doctor who performs the cure on him for $7,000. The cure is not a fountain of youth. If you take the cure at the age of 65, you will remain 65 years old indefinitely. Also, The cure does not prevent you from dying from cancer, heart attack, alcohol-induced liver failure, or other illness. However, almost everybody who hears about the cure, wants it, even though it is expensive and painful.
Some of the people who don't want the cure lobby the government to prohibit the cure, saying it will spell the end of the human race. But their voices are drowned out by the majority of people who demand it. Eventually, the United States government joins Brazil and the Netherlands in lifting the ban. Other countries soon follow. (China, however, continues to prohibit the cure. They tattoo the arms of everyone with their birth year so they can detect if somebody takes the cure.)
At first, Farrell is elated that he has halted his aging process. But as the consequences of having the entire world stop aging take their toll on the environment, Farrel's euphoria is replaced by dread and depression. Most everyone who takes the cure feels the same way. Partly they are affected by the resource shortages caused by overpopulation, but the personal aspects of quasi-immortality are surprisingly bad, too. People who received the cure when they were old realize they will have to go back to work and never retire. Married couples start to wonder about the “till death do us part” vow they made with their spouses. Parents have to deal with kids who feel no pressure to go out and find a job after going to college, and are faced with having to support them, and their grandchildren, and their great grandchildren, indefinitely.
When the world runs out of gasoline, things get worse. As the population continues to explode, the price of a glass of tap water in a New York City restaurant is $5. Internet trolls, once satisfied tormenting people online, take their griefing into the physical world and throw lye into the faces of people who have gotten the cure. Army deserters form gangs and raid houses for food.
The Postmortal is a dark, bleak tale, but it's also an exciting page turner, with bits of black humor thrown in to keep it from becoming bottomlessly depressing (as in Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I had to abandon very soon after I started reading it because it felt like being crushed to death). I found myself staying up past my bedtime to finish it, tearing through the pages to find out what happens to Farrell over a span of 60 years.
Drew Magary is an excellent writer. This is his first novel but he tells the story masterfully, interspersing Farrell's diary entries with TV news transcripts, Huffington Post style link roundups, and online magazine articles. His scenarios depicting the ramifications of a society that stops aging and keeps reproducing are terrifying. The world in which The Postmortal takes place reminds me of the world in Children of Men –- where civilized society still functions, kind of, but is losing power with each passing year. The most frightening thing about The Postmortal is that this could really happen -- it's not a supernatural story, but it's even more terrifying than zombie apocalypse. I finished The Postmortal a few days ago and I'm still spooked. It also made me realize that if I were given the opportunity to take the cure (and I probably would) I'd end up regretting it.