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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The End Specialist - Drew Magary

The tagline for The End Specialist by Drew Magary is, "Who wants to live forever?"  My immediate answer is, well, I do.  Who would turn that down, right?  My review copy from Voyager differed slightly with the words, "Immortality Will Kill Us All (Except for me)."  Interesting how a few words could make me reevaluate my answer to the first question.  That's exactly what Magary's book is all about.  What would happen if we had the cure for aging?  Is it really a good thing or something we should even be pursuing?  End Specialist is a long form response to those questions, very much in the tradition of Marvel's What If? comics.

A cure for aging is discovered and, after much political and ethical wrangling, made available worldwide. Of course, all the cure does is halt aging doing nothing to prevent all the other fun and gruesome ways to die (think heart attack, cancer, torture, etc.).  And surprise surprise, not everyone wants the cure leading to extremist groups and zany religious cults.  Everything quickly descends into a downward spiral.

Told through the first person blog entries of John Farrell, the novel follows the cure's progression from lab tests, to illegal experimentation, to full-blown saturation of the population before then documenting the fallout and hinting at eventual recovery.  If that reads a bit like the plot line for a story about an outbreak of black plague then I may have painted the appropriate picture for how Magary's novel treats the cure for death.  Interspersed throughout the novel are chapters that include asides to the main story.  These windows into the world outside Farrell's view are vital bits of world building that provide haunting, and occasionally hilarious, examples of how the cure for death is failing.

I think haunting is the right word to use to describe End Specialist because it's a novel that going to stick with you for a bit.  I'm not sure how the general public reacts to death, but for me, I find it a generally distasteful line of thinking.  Whether one possesses religious conviction or not, the thought of losing the "now-ness" (boy, that was articulate) of life is frightening.  Magary taps into that fear capturing not only the raw desire for immortality, but the depths to which humanity is willing to sink.

Wrapped up in the novel is something that resembles a love story, albeit not exactly boy meets girl, marries girl, has kid with girl variety.  There is some of that, but more often than not it's about falling in love with the moment, and the realization of how stagnant such things are.  It's also about vanity, selfishness, and pride as tragic stories tend to be.

There will be parts of the novel that drag a bit as most of the first half is spent in the moderately mundane life of John Farrell the newly immortal.  In fact, the end specialist bit promised on the back cover doesn't really get going until about the two-thirds mark.  That's not a knock, as the pages flew by, but I was frequently asking myself when Farrell was going to be become a licensed U.S. government end specialist (which in my mind conjured up James Bond with a hypodermic needle).  Things pick up significantly in that last third and provide a satisfactory ending to a tremendous setup.

I have a feeling that most of the people who read End Specialist (especially in the UK) aren't going to have a clue who Drew Magary is.  The cross-over from U.S. sports humor blogger to international science fiction author isn't commonplace.  For the last six or seven years Magary has written at Deadspin and Kissing Suzy Kolber, two blogs that somewhat resemble TMZ or io9 for sports enthusiasts.

Having read these sites off and on over the years I've been pretty exposed to Magary's writing.  I have no idea how he went from this to science fiction, but I'm sure glad he did.  The End Specialist is a top-notch novel that should have a great deal of appeal to a wide swathe of readers.  I've already ordered a copy for my mom.

The End Specialist is available in eBook now from Amazon.uk and in hard copy September 29, 2011.

Sidenotes:

  • In the U.S., Magary's novel is being published by Penguin under the title The Postmortal.  It's should be available today in all formats.
  • The author will be at Politics & Prose in Washington D.C. tomorrow for a reading and I presume signing.  I may attend to learn more about immortal strippers.
  • Read this post from Magary today on Kissing Suzy Kolber. It's a detailed list of things you can expect in the novel. Funny, and informative.

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