The End Specialist by Drew Magary
|Book Name:||The End Specialist|
|Formatt:||Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Fantasy / Science Fiction / Dystopia|
|Release Date:||September 29, 2011|
When I saw the cover of this book – a simple yet striking image of a grim reaper impaled seemingly by his own scythe – I was instantly drawn in. “Who wants to live forever?” it asks underneath the image. I just had to know what this book was about. The back tells us that it is 2019 and a cure for aging has been discovered. Sold. I had to read it. Growing old is possibly one of the scariest things in life for me and a world in which dying of old age was not an option greatly appealed.
This is not a tale of immortality, for indeed disease, murder and weapons can still kill those who have been cured, nor is it a happy ever after, forever after, story. This is an intelligent exploration of a scientific breakthrough that is at first feared and scorned and later embraced to earth’s detriment. Everything I assumed about how the narrative would pan out before I began reading was quickly surpassed and all assumptions I made about the benefits of not aging only touched the barest surface of all that happens here. This is a book definitely worth reading.
And so it begins, with a prologue-esque report from 2093, several years after the end of the book, by introducing the main character, John Farrell, and explaining that the contents of the book are digital archives, written by John Farrell himself possibly for a blog, but that despite the meticulous nature of his recording none of his story can be absolutely confirmed as truth, and so immediately we are introduced to the themes of conspiracy and speculation. It gives us a warning and a word for the wise:
“The cure for death must never again be legalized.”
We are then taken into John Farrell’s notes in the year 2019 as John himself begins his story. Through a contact at work he has sourced a doctor that may be able to give him the currently illegal ‘cure’ to aging. For the incredibly low price of $7,000 and three injections he can cheat time and live forever as a 29 year old. Why would anyone not want that? And so John heads off to the mysterious Dr. X for his initial blood work and consultation.
The meeting goes well and despite the doctor’s warnings – the injections are painful, you can still die from trauma, disease and everything except old age, you will forever look just the way you are now, the procedure is irreversible – John is determined he wants the cure and is to return in two weeks time to receive the gene therapy treatment. Ironically as soon as John has decided he wants to get the cure he begins to examine the promises of eternal youth and cheating time.
Cleverly, through John’s interactions with his family and acquaintances, in the short chapters that serve as blog updates we are introduced to some of the counter-arguments against the cure. There are religious considerations relating to the belief in the sins of immortality; there is the lure of curiosity; questions of vanity and self-confidence; the eternal burden of knowing your death will not be a painless, peaceful slide into sleep; and of course issues of finance and logistics – suddenly things like marriage, procreation and forever I do are put into new perspective.
John has a lot to consider and these are just some of the topics that are explored throughout the course of the story, but he has made up his mind. He watched his mother die a painful death from cancer and he doesn’t want that for himself. It is definitely the cure for him. On his way to the doctor’s office he encounters an alluring blonde woman and once he has halted the passage of time vows he will search for her. Little does he know at that moment the trouble that the woman will bring on him.
From here The End Specialist follows John’s footsteps as his new, improved lease of life begins. Unfortunately tragedy soon follows and he is forever haunted by the folly of his decisions. Jumping through his life, first 10 years into the future and later another 28 years, we see through John’s eyes the catastrophe the cure brings down on earth, first as protestors begin a series of harrowing attacks against the doctors and the cured, and later the consequences of an inflated, youthful population once the cure has been legalised.
The eventual question of what to do with forever is what I felt the book was really leading up to. After all, the characters can still feel pain. They can still love and lose, suffer failure and disappointment. They can still tire and bore just as we can now. The only difference is they do it with an unwrinkled brow in a life they have lived several times over. What happens when you finally get tired of living forever? John Farrell takes us directly into the heart of it and shows us what an End Specialist really is.
When I chose to read the book I hoped that I would be able to relate to and empathise with the protagonist; that an exploration of the consequences of ‘the cure’ would remind me why I have such a fear of growing old and introduce me to someone likeminded. Instead, Magary’s haunting dystopia was a good lesson in appreciating the values of growing and developing over time. I felt like I learned a lot about human nature and about myself as I watched some of my fears and desires reflected in these characters.
The only downside of the book was that the political, religious and moral dilemmas explored through the narrative are so vast that the fast-moving, blog-style reportage used throughout cannot do full justice to the magnitude of what is occurring, and so I needed perhaps for the book to be longer to really thrash out these issues, or else to see only a narrower view of life with the cure. In Magary’s defence this could really be taken as a compliment in that the content here was so relevant, and I was so engaged, that when it ended I still felt there was scope to say much more.