59 pages 1 hour read

Drew Magary

The Postmortal

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2011

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Summary and Study Guide


The Postmortal by Drew Magary is a science fiction thriller that follows a man named John Farrell in the decades following the “postmortal cure,” a type of genetic engineering that stops aging. The novel grapples with the human experience amid technological advantages, religious zeal, and increasingly human-driven crises. Magary, whose legal name is Andrew Schuyler Magary, is a journalist, humor writer, and novelist. He has written for magazines such as GQ and is the co-founder of Defector Media, for which he currently writes. He has written five other books, but The Postmortal is his first novel. This book was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award and the Arthur C. Clarke Award, both notable awards for science fiction.

This guide uses the Penguin Books paperback edition. It is important to note that the United Kingdom title of this text is The End Specialist.

Content Warning: This novel contains references to sex trafficking, death by suicide, assisted suicide, the exploitation of minors, and eugenics.

Plot Summary

The Postmortal is broken up into sections that take place decades apart. Written as a series of blog posts, it is interspersed with news articles and headlines that inform the reader of what is happening in the world.

In June 2019, lawyer John Farrell visits an unnamed doctor for the “postmortal cure,” a genetic engineering injection that will stop him from aging. The doctor warns him that he is still susceptible to illness and injury, reinforcing that it is not a cure for death. John gives blood samples and is told to return in two weeks for the synthesized cure. He shares details about his visit with his roommate, Katy, and agrees to share the doctor’s contact information once he is officially cured. Global protests break out as people become polarized between pro-death and pro-cure. Two weeks later, John is entranced by a beautiful woman in the elevator of the doctor’s apartment building, which encourages him to get the injection. Later, he walks with Katy to meet the doctor but spots the beautiful woman on the street. He chases after her moments before the doctor’s apartment explodes, killing Katy. He has a period of intense mourning and paranoia, chasing after blonde women as he becomes convinced the stranger was involved in the explosion. He shares news of his cure with his family and is met with mixed responses. The President of the United States removes the ban on the cure, making it accessible to all.

Ten years later, John and his partner of four years, Sonia, break up because Sonia wants to get married. She reveals she is pregnant, and John promises to be a good father. He attends a cure party in Las Vegas with a friend who is getting the injection, but increased cure-directed violence and protests set him on edge. John’s father becomes increasingly distressed about having gotten the cure, as he misses John’s late mother. An old coworker named Chan contacts John, sharing that in China, officials are tattooing citizens with their own birthdates to discern who has gotten the cure, which is illegal there. Chan and his wife are both taken into custody after it is determined that they were cured while working in America.

Increasingly, the wealthy start stockpiling supplies as overpopulation and climate crises escalate. John’s son is born and looks like him. He also learns about the Church of Man, a religious group that worships humanity and opposes violence of any kind. John visits a client who has been stockpiling in preparation for a societal collapse, and he is given a gun. While celebrating a friend’s pregnancy, he meets a woman he went to school with who he had passionate feelings for named Alison, and they plan a date. On his way home from the bar, John is attacked by a member of an anarchist group, who cuts his birthdate into his upper arm. John subsequently shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

John and Alison begin dating. Shortly after, his father announces that he has pancreatic cancer and has denied treatment. John and his sister, Polly, meet to discuss their father’s illness. Polly reveals that she and her husband are having issues and expresses her fear of the future, mourning the slow disintegration of her family. Alison and John discuss marriage. After grappling with his cancer, John’s father passes away. Several days later, John and Alison are reminiscing about their past when they are attacked by a Greenie, a type of anti-cure domestic terrorist. John beats the Greenie with his gun; Alison is so disturbed by his behavior that she runs out into the street, where she is hit by a truck and dies.

Thirty years later, John begins work as an end specialist consultant for a private company. Accompanied by a large man named Ernie and employed by a brash man named Matt, John helps people end their lives. He gets a call to meet up with his son, David, who he has not seen in decades. He goes to Sonia’s apartment and discovers she is pregnant. After spending some time as a family, David and John get drinks, during which David encourages John to join the Church of Man as it has helped him find meaning in his life. David disapproves of John’s employment, believing that he is committing crimes against humanity. John attends a church meeting, but a bomb threat causes him to flee and never return. Later, he and Ernie are attacked by Greenies while on a job but are saved by representatives from the Church of Man, who step in at David’s request. News breaks that the son of the cure’s inventor has developed a vaccine capable of curing all diseases. Nuclear explosions go off in China that seem to be an intentional way to curb population growth.

Unable to sleep, John calls a sex worker. The two talk, and when she learns that he works in end specialization, she asserts her desire to die. He helps her pass away, but he has a heart attack. It takes hours to get into the emergency room, where a strange disease has attracted the doctors’ attention. The next day, a Church of Man representative comes to John’s home and shares that an explosion killed David, Sonia, and Sonia’s husband. John tells Matt he wants to be an end specialist, not just a consultant. This news comes as the government ratifies “hard” end specialization, or killing people who are government enemies. John’s first target is the beautiful woman from the elevator, whose name is Solara Beck.

Twenty years later, John reflects on the sheep flu that has killed hundreds of millions of people. At the market, John sees Solara and chases her down; however, he only asks whether she is responsible for Katy’s death, which she denies. He offers to help her fake her death when she shares that she survived abuse. She agrees, and the next morning, the two stage her death. John takes her to his apartment, where they bond as she reveals she is pregnant. John is sent with Ernie to kill an old woman as part of a new government program seeking to remove the elderly from the population. John refuses and flees with Solara. As the two attempt to escape into the wilderness, nuclear bombs explode. They take shelter in a basement with other refugees, then attempt to find sanctuary in a Church of Man compound. They are accepted because of John’s relationship with David, but they are mortally wounded in their efforts to get to safety. John secures medical attention for Solara because she is pregnant, and then the two are married. The novel ends as John prepares to die by suicide before he succumbs to his wounds.

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