About a third of the way through The Postmortal, in a chapter executed as a roundup of Internet links, Drew Magary shifts the focus away from “the cure”—an accidental medical advancement that grants humans prolonged life and eternal youth—to how prolonged life affects the home-run record in baseball. “How can you be a success or have a legacy if your career—nay, your entire life—has no definitive story arc?” It’s no shock that Magary, a contributing editor for the whip-smart sports blog Deadspin, would save his most poignant observation for how futuristic medicine would affect sports records.
The cure for aging has its origin in research from the University of Oregon and some shady ignorance of biology; “the cure” claims that merely removing a gene responsible for dictating cell degeneration is the key to prolonged life. People can still die of disease, starvation, or violence, but the widespread elongation of life immediately creates a much bigger international crisis than Baby Boomers. Russia creates an army of eternally healthy super-soldiers, China seals itself off from the world, and the United States descends into massive class warfare. It’s a “better future” where everyone is far more depressed and desperate.
Magary uses a framing device that envisions the text as a discovery from 2093: the blog entries of John Farrell, an estate lawyer who gets the illegal procedure for the cure and keeps meticulous records afterward. John’s fragments mix life observations with lists of links, narrating just how life changes as he realizes the implications of eternal youth. He gets caught up in three separate clichéd romances: first with a woman he loves, but with whom he sees no future, then a tragically short stint with a childhood crush, and finally a woman he sees in fleeting moments over the course of the century he walks the earth as a “postmortal” citizen. Each one is a retread of common relationships, but only the first examines the consequences eternal youth and prolonged life have on the mortal concept of “’til death do us part.”
As Postmortal continues, insurgent groups rise up against those who can afford the treatment, from violent street gangs who assault and disfigure the permanently young to terrorist organizations bombing the offices of doctors who perform the procedure. In four sections spaced out over the 21st century, John describes ever-diminishing resources, government impotence, and the exaggeration of human cultural extremes with resignation.
Eventually, the moments of clever alternate-reality-building start to fade, and The Postmortal digs deep into the trenches of post-apocalyptic literary tendencies, cribbing liberally from the human descent and nuclear threat of The Road, Fahrenheit 451, and others as it rises to an action-movie climax. Too many convenient plot points show up, with the same small group of recurring characters popping in to torment or seduce John, even after the decade-long breaks in each section of the novel. Though it doesn’t linger in the wrong places, and it whips along through the motions, it becomes yet another case of a promising premise and compelling mirror reality bogged down in hitting well-worn beats instead of creating new ones.