The End Specialist by Drew Magary
If you had the chance to live forever, would you take it?
It is the year 2019. The cure for ageing has been discovered. If you get the cure, you will never suffer the aches and pains of the old, you will always retain your youthful looks, you will never leave your loved ones behind.
a) Get the cure
b) Ignore the cure, grow old and die
c) Become a licensed End Specialist for the US Government
For John Farrell. It’s not so much of a choice as a mission his life depends on.
Before you start reading this review do me a quick favour; go and take a good look at yourself in a mirror right now. It’s ok I’ll wait here…
Good, you came back.
Now, I’m looking for some honesty here. If you had the choice to stay exactly as you are at this moment in time would you take it? I’m not worried about your weight or the colour/style of your hair. I want to know if you would be happy with your age? I’ve reached the age (thirty seven since you asked) where I sometimes wake in the dead of night and ponder my own mortality. You may have experienced the same horror yourself? During the day, I have the distractions of life to keep these dark thoughts at bay, but at night I lie there panicked about the fact that one day it is all going to end and I can’t do a damn thing to stop it. Cheery stuff I’m sure you’ll agree, but I think it did make me particularly receptive to premise of The End Specialist by Drew Magary.
The book follows the extended life of one man, John Farrell. He decides to take ‘the cure’ at age twenty nine and the reader gets to follow the next sixty years of his life. He learns that, barring accident or disease, the cure means that he will remain forever young. I felt initially that Farrell came across as quite a vain individual. The choices he makes in the years just after the cure are certainly driven by his own selfish reasons. That said, I am pretty sure that most people, given the same opportunity, would probably do exactly the same thing. Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t actively dislike John, he does try to care for his family and friends, but it took me quite a long time before I began to empathise with his situation. It is only after decades have passed and he begins to question what he does, and his place in the world, that I finally warmed to him. Magary has a flair for characterization and John Farrell exhibits real flaws and reactions that make his journey compelling to read.
Magary also takes the time to examine the political, religious and practical ramifications that the cure would have on the world, essentially this book is about the politics of death. In a place where no-one grows old but people continue to be born, isn’t it only a matter of time before resources run out? How do the authorities maintain control and help to ease the ever-growing strains on their fragile economies? Those that have taken the cure are known as post-humans, and almost everyone has had it, so controls need to be put in place. Enter the End Specialists, government licensed individuals that help those that have become disaffected with life to move on. Farrell joins them and is quickly caught up in the various intrigues that come with this line of work. As the situation goes from bad to worse, the rules that the End Specialists have to follow become more and more radical.
The novel is split into four periods of John’s post-human life written as a series of diary entries, he is described as a meticulous note taker after all. There are also snippets of information from various sources on the Internet so the reader gets to hear about what is going on outside the US; China and Russia in particular. I enjoy when an author takes time to consider these additional little details, as it breathes life into the main narrative. I certainly wouldn’t have been adverse to a few more of these insights.
Is the book perfect? Not quite. I felt that the pace slowed a little too much during the novels middle section, but this was saved by a fantastically bittersweet conclusion that hits all the emotional nails squarely on the head. I don’t think that The End Specialist will be for everyone, death is pretty dark subject matter but that said this novel is genuinely thought provoking stuff, cunningly disguised in a shiny science fiction wrapper.
This is one for those of you who have ever lain in bed awake at night worrying about the finality of the human condition. Drew Magary’s debut novel is keenly observed and I look forward to his future efforts. I can guarantee that after you finish reading, there won’t be one single person that doesn’t ask themselves the question – Would I take the cure?
The End Specialist is released by Harper Voyager on 29th September 2011.