Drew Magary’s debut novel (also known as The Postmortal) has an interesting and under-used premise; what if someone discovered the cure for death? Well, not specifically dying, but old age? You could still catch a disease or my killed, but you would never get old beyond the day you were cured.
Our story follows John Farrell, one of the first to receive the cure in the near future, as the world around him gets used to a new society and all the implications of this revolutionary discovery. John starts out as a divorce lawyer who moves into cycle marriages (after all, who wants to be married to the same person forever?) and eventually into end specialism. This is a government sanctioned role for people who may have regretted getting the cure, or for whatever reason, have become tired of life. John works the legal side while his buddy Ernie carries out the specialist bit.
Along the way, John deals with a number of relationships as they change throughout the novel’s timeframe from 2019 to 2079. He sees the lives of his best friend, his father, his loves and his son change as a result of how America and the rest of the world adapt to the post-cure world. A new breed of terrorists is born; those who believe the cure to be anti-human. A new church – the Church of Man – is born; those who eschew traditional religions and believe ‘man’ is his own ultimate achievement. There is also trouble in Russia with rogue military personnel while China is engaged in its own predictable population control. Then there’s another cure, one that takes on all diseases, which has some unexpected side-effects.
The novel is presented in a series of chapters edited by officials after it had been found in storage in 2090, so we have to take the novel as an unreliable narrator trope. Which is quite odd, as everything that is presented to us appears to be genuine. If these ‘officials’ have edited out parts of the story, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. I’m not sure what could be edited out. The prose, as well as John’s narrative, also contains transcripts from documentaries, snippets from newsfeeds and other information sources – very much the feel of a blog. The novel takes us from the early days in 2019 and then in 20 years jumps until the conclusion in 2079. The first half of the book is dedicated to world and character building, while the second half is more the consequences, when John is the End Specialist. Honestly, I found the first half much more engaging, as it explored the potential and the flaws of humanity. The second half was more of an action thriller. The nature of the story also gave it an episodic feel. Characters and situations are introduced and then not mentioned for ‘years’. What is does show is that Magary has planned the structure very carefully. When the gun is shown on the mantelpiece in Act 1, it really does go off in Act 3.
Magary’s writing is strong and very readable. His imagination is better. His near-future vision is almost without fault, investing human nature, politics and science. Some of the relationships between John and other characters appears a tad rushed and without any real conflict. This (and the unnecessary editing conceit) being the only real flaw in The End Specialist shows it is a superior piece of near future science fiction.