Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Age is not just a number

If there were such a thing as a cure for aging, would you take it? Imagine yourself looking exactly the same for several years, unhampered by wrinkles, age spots, back pains, etc. Sounds tempting, right? Such is the premise of Drew Magary's Arthur C. Clarke-nominated novel, The Postmortal.

In 2019, a gene therapy process has been perfected, one that allows your body to stop the aging process. This cure for aging does not guarantee that you'll live forever though. People who have the cure administered to them can die from fatal diseases and gunshot wounds. One John Farrell decides to take this cure and write about his experiences.

In The Postmortal, we get to read the entries written by Farrell. I guess that's why Christopher Priest lambasted this book for being backward looking, which isn't common in the SF genre. Farrell's entries begin at the time he got the cure to several decades after when society has broken down because of the ramifications of the cure.

So Farrell, a lawyer, gets the cure, specializes in divorce law, witnesses a terrorist bombing that kills his roommate, and ultimately becomes an 'end specialist'. Cut to several years when basically everyone has had the cure. Of course, population has increased, and the government has employed people called end specialists who are tasked to kill people with death wishes. It's a dirty job that Farrell excels at.

It's not just the plot of The Postmortal that makes it a very interesting read. I got hooked because of the many situations that it presents and the questions that left me thinking. If I got the cure and was married to someone, would I also get a divorce after a few years? After all, one couldn't imagine living with the same person for several decades, yes?

And what about if I know someone with a death wish, would I be willing to do the deed myself? After all, that overpopulated world would surely benefit from one less mouth to feed, no? And if I were a doctor, would I be giving the cure to someone who is, say, 80 years old, knowing that that person would stay 80 forever? Or would I just give him a placebo and let him go through his natural course of life?

The world that Magary conjures in The Postmortal is fascinating in a disturbing kind of way. Even though no one younger than 26 is allowed to get the cure, we know that there will be deviations. Here we see babies who will forever be in liquid food just because their mothers don't want them to grow up. We read about 'barely legal' prostitutes, the Chinese government which has never allowed the cure and opted to tattoo on babies their birth dates just to monitor if they do get the cure, and over-the-top parties to celebrate one's getting the cure.

I loved The Postmortal. Aside from being a thriller, it's also a thinking novel. It made me reflect on a lot of issues such as what happens if society gets whatever it wants and if people did really live for a long time. I hope it wins the Arthur C. Clarke award.

Read this novel if:
  1. You like your thrillers to be thinking novels too.
  2. You'll read anything that's nominated for an Arthuc C. Clarke award.
  3. You know that age is more than just a number.


Jack said...

I've been married to the same person for several decades. My greatest regret about getting old is that I won't have several more with her.

Your suspension of disbelief must be pretty good, given that you can overlook the fact that "everyone" won't be getting the cure. When I was going to school in the 50s, we were taught that by the 21st century, there would be cures for many diseases and genetic defects that were accepted as a death sentence back then. What nobody mentioned was that only the top 0.1% of the world's wealthiest people would actually have access to these procedures, as they would be "sold" rather than "provided."

I realize this book is a social commentary, and that's what keeps me from getting into those in general: They always seem to hang on some outlandish premise to put the "experiment" in motion in the first place. Sorry, but while this is something that could conceivably come to pass, it would logically be developed by a pharmaceutical company, who would then price it beyond the reach of any normal working stiff.

As a footnote, if it was made available to everyone at large, wouldn't the lead story on the news be about the disaster this represents on the morticians' industry?

Peter S. said...

Hello, Jack! Hmmmm.... You have some good questions in your comment. Although, the book did somehow justify on why the cure was made available to everyone, even though it started as being accessible by rich folks in the black market.

On another note, a lot of people would envy you on what you have (i.e., being married for so long). That's rare these days.

sundersartwork said...

This just looks like it lifted the plot from 'The trouble with Lichen' by John Wyndham. That had a social observance to it, using the idea of a drug filtered from lichen that increases age. The idea of immortality or extended lifespan already exists for the rich. Death is not some specific event. Often it is just a series of small calamities, tiny nicks and tears in your heart, wear and tear in your brain, decades of rubbing from your joints. Death is replacable, and with the development of micro technology and growing of organs such as hearts (in its infancy)people will be able to live past their force score and ten. But of course only for those with the means. Immortality will come from things like organ replacement, joint replacement not stolen from the poor as it is now, for a few rupees. But grown, tailored to the genetics of the buyer.
I liked the idea of people keeping a child in youth, or permanent 50 year old child sex slaves. That sadly is more accurate i feel, or leaders with their lengthy lives now refusing to step down. The ideas in the book are interesting, thanks for posting a review, i might seek it out.

Peter S. said...

Hi, sundersartwork! Oooohhhh! I have to get my hands on 'The Trouble with Lichen'!

Garpppy Garp said...

Sounds v.interesting. Will look for it. Thanks!

Peter S. said...

It is, Garpppy Garp!