Author: Drew Magary
The End Specialist, the title refers to our protagonist, John Farrell’s, job; which is to kill people. Initially at their behest (or soft End specialization), then later against their will (hard End) for those who have skipped out on death sentences or similar. The market in the area of death has boomed since societies discovery of ‘The Cure’ that being the cure for aging and human life begins to take on the same approximate value as that of a Christmas tree on December 26th.
If this pitch interests you, like it did me, then there’s no doubt the book will too. The book is narrated as extracts from John’s digital journal that span the near hundred year period of his life and John is quite the obsessive, with news transcripts and headline recordings. Magary has obviously spent a lot of time thinking about the social and economic implications of elvish style immortality applied to the modern world; with the countries reacting to the cure in different ways, from birth branding in countries that ban it through to forced rapid expansion. There’s consideration of environmental impact and religious impact, pro-death groups pop up everywhere and there are details added, cycle marriages, Peter Pan cases (I’ll leave you to stew on that idea) that make the cure feel very tangible and the book very effective in terms of provoking thoughts on social conditions. These are just a few of the ideas that are put forward, really, he goes mad with the idea bucket.
Yet still, I would have liked to see more of it, because while this constant thoughtfulness and questions are there in the first half, in the second half, they, not disappear per say, but certainly, take a back seat to John. This, in my opinion, is a bit of a mistake. You’d have to be a pretty interesting character to hold someone’s attention next to the cure for aging, and John, to put it simply, is not. Not only is he not particularly interesting; he’s kind of a douche. I can see that Magary wanted to go for the ‘average guy’ protagonist because to view the cure through any eyes other than those of your average passerby would be to cheapen the effect of the speculative narrative.
That said, a single positive quality in our protagonist would have been nice. That way I might care when his life crashes and burns with clockwork regularity and near While E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner levels of absurdity, with freight trains of tragedy crashing through while fanfares play. I actually laughed at one of these tragedies because the drama was so heightened and the whole thing was so rife with clichés and, for some reason, really well comically timed. I don’t think laughter was the reaction the author was going for when he killed off one of his characters.
It’s not just that John is unlikable, but no one near him really is either, and even if they were, the supporting cast remind me of Art Students at a Starbucks; they all look the same, come and go a lot, and even if they stay to work on their screenplay, everyone sits as far away as possible because they’re kind of annoying and even if you do have to talk to them it becomes a visit to the uncanny valley and doesn’t feel like an interaction most humans have with each other.
That metaphor kind of got away with me there, but it fitted better than I expected to, since all I said above is true of The End Specialist. The character side just really lets it down, I had to check the book blurb to remind myself of the main characters name before writing this review. That’s how much I cared for him.
But, as I said, if the concept intrigues you it’s handled well and is pretty thought provoking; if that’s enough for you then give it a read. I might read it again at some point…. Well if I did that, I’d only read the first half, but still, better than a strong desire to throw the book in the bin.