By Drew Magary
Background: Freshly published in August 2011, this novel explores the dystopian future of a world that discovers the cure for aging.
What it’s about: The framwork for the book is what works of realism have done for centures: the discovery of a document that contains someone’s personal narrative. In this case, John Farrell’s narrative is found, and we are subsequently immersed in it.
Covering 60 years, John chronicles the discovery of the cure for aging, getting the cure himself, and the politics surrounding it. The cure for aging basically stops you in your tracks at whatever age you currently are. You can still die of disease and starvation, but if you live well, you can live indefinitely. Of course, it has its detractors: pro-death groups bomb doctors performing the cure, and people that John cares about get caught up in this, leaving him alone.
At first, the cure seems wonderful. Everyone is excited at the prospect of eternal youth and throws elaborate cure parties at Las Vegas. But as years pass and resources become scarcer and scarcer for the ever-growing population, we find ourselves thrust completely into a bleak view of the future.
John ends up working as an end specialist: someone who basically murders those who no longer want eternal life, but want a legal way out that isn’t suicide. The journey culminates in total anarchy as nuclear war begins as a form of population control.
Why it will keep you up at night: The frightening possibilities presented in this book are made all the more so by its realism. Yes, Magary glosses over the details of how the cure actually works, making it seem a silly concept to us, but everything else is very much grounded in a possible near future. Everyone has a tablet, a WEPS (wireless-enabled projected-screening device), a screen name, and a personal feed. The internet has become synonymous with actual life and is used as a database for pretty much all information on everyone. Cars are also called plug-ins.
Clearly Magary thought carefully about what our worled will look like twenty, fifty, eighty years from now, and used that to draw us into this almost-familiar world… and then knock us off our feet with the horrifying implications of where our world will head. You’ll be left wondering about life and death, and what lies before us.
I had a few qualms with the book, one of them being the framing device. It was a good prologue of sorts, a way to introduce us to the world of John and provide some foreshadowing, but at the end of John’s narrative, so ends the book. It’s not a problem, really, but I like symmetry in writing and framing devices that are not simply used and forgotten. But maybe I’m just picky about conclusions. I also wasn’t sure how I felt about the time jumps. While necessary to convey the whole story, I always feel like I lose touch with the characters when we skip ahead, and on the whole, I felt a little distant from John. But these are relatively minor quibbles.
There’s a lot going on in this book, and I would recommend it. There are a lot of moments of dark comedy, but make no mistake, this is not a lighthearted book. It takes some very dark turns especially near the end that rather negate the humor.