Over the weekend, I discovered The Walking Dead on Netflix. My wife and I watched the entire first season — all six episodes — back-to-back, and are now officially hooked on it. I’m still thinking about it, and considering reading the graphic novel series, but I don’t want to spoil anything about the series. But I found it kind of jarring that I was watching the show while I was also reading The Postmortal, because while The Walking Dead is about a small group of survivors in a world where nearly everyone is dead, The Postmortal is about living in a world where hardly anyone ever dies.
The premise of The Postmortal is that science has finally discovered a cure for aging, and anyone who takes the cure will be locked in at their current age until they die. People who take the cure can still die, contract diseases, have heart attacks and strokes, etc., but so long as they take care of themselves and don’t run afoul of violence, they can live for as long as they wish. It’s a pipe dream, especially for anyone who’s contemplated their own mortality, and of course it sounds like a great idea. But what we don’t often think about when we think about living forever is what the world would be like if no one ever died. Luckily, Drew Magary thought about it. He thought about it a lot.
It’s hard to discuss the novel without giving away a lot of it, but it’s not a spoiler to say the world becomes overcrowded in a hurry. Where that overcrowding takes society I’ll leave for you to discover in the book, but I will say that while the first quarter or so of the book is filled with hope and optimism, the rest of the book takes a much darker look at the reality of that sort of situation. For all the people who populate the novel, it reads a lot like a post-apocalyptic novel of survival than a science-fictional look at living sort-of-forever.
I turn 40 this year, and over the last couple of years, I’ve found myself thinking more about my own mortality. It’s becoming less and less of an abstract idea, and I’m not ashamed to say that the idea of dying terrifies me. But The Postmortal actually made me feel a little more at ease with the idea by presenting the alternative side of living forever. It’s not a pleasant look at the idea, but it feels like a necessary one.