Obscenely green and emblazoned with the cartoonish cover image of the grim reaper being impaled from behind with his own scythe, Drew Magary’s The Postmortal: A Novel was something I nearly passed on reading. While I think I am above judging a book by its cover it turns out that I am not, and nothing about this cover made me think this was something to be read and taken seriously.
I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself.
Set in an all too plausible near future when a cure for aging — after being available only on the black market as political and moral debates take place — is discovered and made attainable to people worldwide, The Postmortal digs its paper claws deep into the fear each of us has of dying and keys off of what would happen if humanity was presented with the chance at immortality.
So much of what makes us behave the way we behave and believe what we believe is based upon the idea of our mortality. What happens, for instance, if you take away the need for people to love their fellow man and behave accordingly in order to reach a heavenly reward of an afterlife… if that afterlife can be put off indefinitely?
Why be a “good” man now and hope for God’s reward if you can be a sinful man living only for yourself for a thousand years as long as you plan on seeking redemption before your dying days? Come to think of it, why worry about laws when you can commit crimes that will place you in jail for hundreds of years only to know that you can do that time and still come out and be just the same as you were when you first went in?
What happens if you take away the limitations and man is reduced to this primal nature where he does not fear for repercussions?
At least, that’s what I got out of this.
From the individual out to the idea of a nation of individuals (think China or Mother Russia is scary? Imagine them with armies of immortal soldiers) I can easily see society breaking down and making an eternal life one that is eternally a struggle.
Dark, bitingly dystopian and often depressing as hell when you realize that what you are reading is not all that much of a “fantasy” if it is a “probability” should these insane circumstances present itself. (Dislike Palin, Obama, Clinton, Republicans, Democrats or the Tea Party? How about if they were eternal and ALWAYS in the political arena?). It surprised me in the end by being something I never expected.
Through all the darkness and despair of some of the moments in The Postmortal, there was always this one golden thread of something else: hope. Always, whatever was going on, you could hope that people would come to their senses; that people would see how foolish they were and how fear can never overcome brotherhood or love.
Right? Love can win out, can’t it?
Weirdly, the answer to that is what I got out of reading The Postmortal. Buried in the camouflage of this bleak commentary on humanity and how fragile the ties that bind us to decency and brotherhood in our fellow man, there is that golden thread of Magary playing with the idea of love itself.
Is love an idea we created only to help us fight off our fears of mortality and how we very much do not want to die alone in the end… or is it something that exists despite our own dumb fears and prejudices?
And prejudice is a good word to end on as I am glad I ignored my own against The Postmortal’s cover. I still dislike it with all my heart, mind you, but the pages it protects are some of the most original and powerful I’ve read in quite a while. I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone, as well as a book cover.