Drew Magary is a blogger best known for his work on Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber. If I’m a little bit biased in this review, it’s because I’m an admittedly big fan of his
dick jokes work at these two rather irreverent sports blogs. But I won’t be biased. I promise.
At first blush, The Postmortal is simple enough. Magary utilizes the soft science fiction device of “What If…?” while keeping everything more or less recognizable to our world — in this case, “What if we all lived forever?” To begin answering this question, the primary action of the novel begins in the very near future and introduces a world that has discovered the pharmaceutical fountain of youth. Through the rediscovered digital journal of John Farrell, encompassing a period of 60 years from 2019 AD to 2079 AD, the social, psychological, economic, religious, and political implications of eternal youth are explored.
In most minds, eternal youth seems to go hand in hand with every concept of an utopia (along with golden toilet seats). Like a number of speculative fiction authors before him, Magary does an excellent job of turning a simple assumption on its head, and does so by infusing tragedy, comedy, and some downright horrifying things into his tale. The concepts are well thought-out, the technological development is realistically paced and believable, while the characterization is consistent.
The Postmortal does a lot of things well in terms of story and characterization, but it falls short on a few other fronts. It’s always easier to criticize, so here goes:
This is a frame story. You are reading a man’s journal in the year 2090 AD, and the individual posts cover 60 years. I was never particularly sold on the “blog” format. They rarely read like blog posts. Some just read like regular narratives with too many details for the chosen frame. The blog format could have been used to tell the story in a clever manner, but it really seemed as if the author just wanted to tell his story and the frame was an afterthought. It is also stated that the “text files” have been formatted for the reader to skip over certain things. That could explain the gaps where the story flashes forward anywhere from a decade to multiple decades, but I have a hard time believing nothing significant happened in the meantime that our prolific blogger main character did not blog about.
The gaps lead into the second issue I had with the book — the pacing always felt off. It does not feel like the first part of the book was really written with the ultimate object of the second part in mind. Some things went really quickly, some things dragged on. For instance, the pacing might have felt off because the tone shift felt too quick and never settled completely in the second part.
Finally, the twist with Solara Beck (a character mentioned in the opening pages), was a little contrived. I can’t really go into it without spoilers, but the outcome felt forced and out of place considering the context and history.
Overall, the book is an excellent and very readable first effort. I think Drew has some great potential as an author of speculative fiction. Lucky for him, he has the intangibles down — he can conceive a story and he can make it interesting. The story falls short on the things that promising authors tend to improve upon on their following efforts.