Book review: Drew Magary’s PostMortal

The Postmortal starts with whispers that an anti-aging cure has been discovered. This is similar to the human capacity enhancement proposal speculated in chapter 3 of Dickenson’s bioethics. Also, we see similar proposal play out in the chapters of More and Vita-More’s Transhumanist Reader, where technology is speculated to be used to stop aging process, enhance human intelligent, capability and agility. More even goes a step further to propose ‘the Posthumanist’ – overcoming the limitations that describe the less desirable aspects of human condition – a life devoid of disease, aging and death. However, the Postmortal cure does not prevent someone from getting sick, diseases or even dying from accident, rather it merely stops the body from ageing. That means a 27 year old that gets the treatment will have the same body and physical appearance and fitness until the day they die. The United States government instantly prohibits it for three decades, providing them an ample opportunity to research it and comprehend the effects better.

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At this time, pro-cure and pro-death protesters were fighting more and more aggressively for and against the cure respectively. Just like the religious right fought against the stem cell research in chapter 6 of Dickenson’s bioethics in 2001, the religious devotees’ fight against the anti-aging cure and the Vatican issues a condemnation against it. Underground treatments known as black market cure were being perpetuated. Eventually John Farrell, the narrator got the cure at one of these underground markets. Within two weeks or there about, he convinced his friend to get the treatment and thereafter encountered a couple of tragic events associated with a mysterious woman that influenced his emotions throughout the story. Finally, the cure was legalized.

The novel includes how things regarding love, marriage, and the law and government changes overtime. Marriage became endangered because the fundamental premise of marriage “till death do us part” has been considerably altered. John’s law firm devised a new form of marriage called ‘cyclical marriage,’ – a 40-year term marriage which involves an obligation to live together as husband and wife for 40 years, with an option to separate (with evenly split assets) or to renew the marriage for another 40 years at the end of the contract. The cure nearly brought marriage to a halt and love undermined as most people believe there is a greater chance of separation for a new lover.

Mr. Farrell prefers not getting married to his lover who is pregnant with his baby but only choses to take care of the child. As things change around the world, he continues to document his life experiences. A new form of worship is discovered whereby man is seen as the god of his own and ruler of the earth. A lot of people become outlaws and selfish; others become religious enthusiasts; while some others chose to refrain from getting the cure.

Throughout the course of the book, the government gradually loses control over her citizens. Different laws are passed to expand death penalty to include giving “lee-way” to people who wish to die in a legal way without the need of committing suicide but which is of course morally wrong. The other detailed problems consist of jails, how to provide housing to people and basic necessities, as well as how to deal with countries that have become military powerhouses. Similar moral violation was seen in bioethics where executed Chinese prisoners’ kidneys are harvested for sale to wealthy westerners; the Tuskegee and Guatemala experiments by the US Public Health in chapter 7; and the surrogate motherhood and egg selling in chapter 2. All these practices, in one way or the other violate morality at the very least. As the story continues to unfold in the book, Mr. Ferrell falls in love again which also results in another tragic incident. Over and over again he tries to find joy but has his hopes dashed, signifying the fact that the ‘cure’ for ageing is not really a great thing in many ways. As the United States becomes unsafe, Russia and third-world nations assume control of surrounding nations and Chinese starts acquiring nuclear weapons to get rid of certain populations. Pregnant woman are punished because people hate the idea of conception and child birth. A war over Antarctica begins and chaos sets in.

Meanwhile in totalitarian societies like China and Russia, the government takes undue advantage of the looming prospect of an exploding and forever young world population in the face of diminishing resources. Russia forms a strong and formidable army with eternally young soldiers; China cuts herself off from the rest of the world, while the United States plummets into widespread class warfare while terrorism is on the high side as people kill at will. It’s baffling how much of these are conceivable.

At the end of the story, nuclear weapons are dropped on the coast of California where Mr. Farrell tries to elude the attack with his lover. But unfortunately the man is stabbed as they try to make their way to a safer ground. The injury is so severe that he bleeds so immensely and regrettably the end is here for him. Meanwhile as he gradually makes an inroad to a new world, he releases that there is no such thing as immortality. However, his lover is expected to survive.

Nicholas Agar in his book, Humanity’s End, objected similar enhancement proposal. From my understanding of the chapters, many of his objections are based on the premise that, for any action whose outcome is uncertain and perhaps bad, we ought to presume that the worst could happen, and work to address all conceivable exigencies before proceeding further. Thus, going by the fantasy (the story), we have seen how a cure that is rather an everlasting treasure in the hearts of many has turned out to be the greatest nightmare of all time to the society. Perhaps, if the world had applied due diligence (as noted in Agar’s book) before legalizing such cure, these problems could have been avoided.

The book is an awesome read because it raises one’s curiosity as you go further. You are eager to know what happens next and how things will unfold. It is a story that could very well happen. Most of the events in the book are also plausible reactions that the world could very well experience. The first two parts of the book are intriguing as the world goes through a dramatic change with the recognition of the cure, and I admired the tension that arose between pro-death and pro-cure groups. Again, similar religious protest was seen in Chapter 3 of Dickenson’s bioethics where religious movements fought against stem cell research and funding to a halt. Although the ban on its funding was later rescinded by President Obama, but the issue is still contested in courts.

However, one minor issue that I hope to point out is: for a story that started out in 2019 and runs through 2079, technology did not advance that much. Apart from a few inventions like plug-in cars mentioned in the book and which even has same level of sophistication as today’s plug-ins (charging duration of 48 hours), technological innovation seems to be frozen for several decades. One would expect that the significant population explosion expressed in the book would be accompanied by a robust ‘capacity building’ and technological development that is aimed at addressing the problems of a few extra billion population of people around the world, rather technology seems stagnant in this book.

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