Monday, 19 September 2011

Review: The End Specialist by Drew Magary

Published: 29th September 2011
American Title: The Postmortal

“You got me. I don’t want to die. I’m terrified of death. I fear there’s nothing beyond it and that this existence is the only one I’ll ever possess. That’s why I’m here.”
(An excerpt from the digital journal of John Farrell, cure age 29)
2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you’re immortal – not bulletproof or disease-proof but you’ll never have to fear death by old age.
For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is revelling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear.
Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell.

This may be the single most terrifying book I have ever read. Not because it’s particularly scary or gruesome, but because Magary has captured the essence of how the world could turn out when faced with a cure for ageing perfectly.

John Farrell is your perfectly average guy – a lawyer, reasonably attractive, the sort of guy who probably wastes half his life surfing youtube in his spare time for something to do. He gets the cure, on a whim mostly. He hates the idea of death, of growing old, and so he takes the plunge, and spends several thousand dollars being injected with the cure. His cure age – 29.

A chain of events has been set in motion, where the cure for ageing has been discovered, where it’s illegal but a series of protests and bombings eventually force the presidents hand to make the cure legal.
John documents the entire thing, not because he’s particularly well connected or influential, but mostly out of a lack of anything else to do. The book is a series of entries by John himself, interviews and articles of the day, and daily round ups of news. 

We follow John over the course of the sixty years the cure is in existence and legal, as he charters the highs and lows, the terrifying moments where the world loses all of its sanity, and through the moments where the world seems so empty and meaningless.
Magary has a truly brilliant imagination – terrifying but brilliant – and it truly felt real watching the self-destruction of the world. Every little detail – right down to which countries would react how, and who would nuke who first.

My only frustration was that sometimes it skipped about a little bit and I wanted more. For example, the book is divided into several sections chartering the rise and fall of the cure in all its stages, and twenty odd years could pass at a time, and I felt like I missed things. The important things would be reference to, but it didn’t feel like enough sometimes.

Some of the editing is a little rough, there are passages that are missing words so they don’t quite work, but for the most part the writing is seamless. It’s an engaging narrative that is brutal in its attack on the concept, and I was almost surprised when I looked outside my window and saw a world not ravaged by humanity. It was like watching our current trajectory but in fast forward with a lot of really terrifying moments and people thrown into the mix. Magary examines everything from world powers, religions, terrorist groups who are both pro-death and pro-cure. He takes the world we know and just takes it further – and it’s fantastic.

One of the things I really loved was that John doesn’t stop to explain anything. Sometimes things become clear, sometimes they don’t – but I didn’t want them explained because it would have polluted the narrative into something that didn’t seem organic and as though John was just jotting it down in his spare time.

It’s a truly incredible book. It looks at this new fad we have for immortality, and breaks it down to its bare bones – the hard realities and truths of what we would do with immortality if it was offered to us – cycle marriages, drinking, gambling, sex… An endless round of the life of the twenty and thirty somethings. But with old souls. It’s a brilliant examination of life and what we do with it.

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