I’ve had The End Specialist on my Kindle for a few months now and thought I’d give it a whirl after seeing that it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award. The premise itself is simple and that’s what originally intrigued me. The novel is set over many years starting in the early 21st century and finds John Farrell about to get the cure for death. The cure has been stumbled upon and stops living creatures from dying due to old age. Those who receive the cure can still die from disease and illness but as long as you can stay healthy, you can live forever.
The book’s narrative is told through blog posts on a WEPS device which seems to be a modern mobile phone or mini tablet and each chapter takes the form of a diary like update, round up of web links or a transcribed interview. John tells us the story of how the world changes after the cure is invented from his perspective.
What is so brilliant about the book is how Drew Magary paces the plot. The story begins quite lightly as we see John taking the cure via illegal means. He’s desperate to live forever and sees the world stretching in front of him. However, as more and more people begin to take the cure and it becomes legal everything we know begins to change. Suddenly, people no longer want to stay married because instead of being together for 50 years couples will now be together for 500. This is just the lightest of subjects Magary approaches as the book slowly descends into misery and disaster.
He explores every nuance that could occur in such a world where people are dying less. The population of the world is growing, we’ve farmed the oceans bare, water is running out, riots are sprouting up everywhere and the darker side of society is on the prowl. Because our protagonist lives for so long the book jumps in sections into the distant future; new churches are formed, people paint their heads green and become trolls who maim those who have taken the cure, insurgents terrorise the population and then there are the end specialists.
After John’s life takes many turns for the worse he becomes an end specialist. These are a government protected service that travel America killing those who wish to finally die. Many regret the cure; they’re sick of the poverty that it caused and want to end it all. This is where John steps in and Magary tugs the scab a little harder. Hearing the stories of people who want the end is harrowing and Magary revels in the humanity on display in his novel. This is where the emotion that has built up so far bursts the dam and flows from each word.
By now the reader is fully sucked into the world that Drew has created and everything that passes becomes a sticking point in your mind. You begin to wonder what would really happen and question what your own actions would be. Drew’s writing lends so much reality to what is happening that the book becomes almost cinematic.
The End Specialist is a fantastic piece of Sci-Fi because Magary hasn’t changed anything in our world except the introduction of this cure. This isn’t aliens and spaceships Sci-Fi; this is speculative fiction at its best. The writing is sharp and punchy and while simplistic in places there are moments where Drew’s writing style evokes plenty of emotion from the reader. It’s violent, bleak and genuinely scary as people go from elation from the cure to destruction from nuclear war.
It’s a book of epic scale and it’s all crammed into just over 400 pages. So much occurs that you would think it becomes muddied and convoluted but it flows brilliantly. The characters are a little shallow but that’s because this is John’s story, he’s telling it from his point of view and doesn’t need to flesh out the details. This is one of the first books I’ve read in a long while where each time I’ve put it down I’ve wanted to run back and read more because I couldn’t stop wondering what would happen next.
The End Specialist is one of the best books I’ve read this year (even though it came out in 2011). I loved every moment – even when John is in dire circumstances and the world is a bleak place to be. This is a wonderful piece of fiction and while I want to heap even more praise on, I have to stop. I want to wish Drew the best of luck in the Arthur C. Clarke award and I can’t wait to read what else he has in store.
Published by Harper Voyager. This book was read on Kindle.