Quick Review: The End Specialist by Drew Magary

Ok! I’ll admit I have been totally rubbish at blogging recently, and have even been avoiding the blog for the last couple of weeks! I’m not sure why, I think it’s because the longer I left it the more daunting it got… if that makes sense? Anyway, I decided to just bite the bullet and blog about a book I read aaaaggges ago, but was one of the most fascinating takes on the future I’ve read. I know I said I was leaning against book reviews but I’ve had a change of heart and besides, this summer I read A LOT and have lots to tell you about!

You may not know this, but I’m a HUGE fan of end of the world/post apocalyptic books. The more desperate the situation the characters are in, the better! I’m not sure why I like them so much, it could be because they make me feel a lot better about my life in a it-could-be-so-much-worse kind of way, or it could just be that they’re exciting books that enable us to visualise that which we hopefully won’t see in our lifetime (although apparently the world is in fact going to end in December this year so… eek).

You might not initially think that The End Specialist was this type of book, based on the central theme. It’s what I call a “what-if” book, a sort of fictionalised mental exercise in which you imagine how society would change if something was radically altered. In this case it’s “what if we invented a cure for ageing?” and explores how this cure would affect the whole world. But if you thought there was going to be a happy everyone-was-immortal-and-lived-forever-in-peace ending, you’d be corrected as soon as you saw the title of the prologue, which is: “A Note About The Text From The Department of Containment, United North American Territories”. An ominous beginning if ever there was one.

The End Specialist follows John and what happens to him after he gets the “cure”. Written as if a blog, the book is different from others which explore the world after a major catastrophe (The Road, The Hunger Games, etc.) as it explores the disaster while it is happening. You get a real sense of being stuck in the middle of events which will change the world as we know it forever. It’s also interesting because it explores not only the social impacts of the “cure” (divorce rates soaring, marriage rates plummeting, people having fixed-term marriages), but the economic (population rates rising, resources running out, starvation and disease) and the political (Russia makes all its soldiers in the army get the cure and begins a new aggressive foreign policy). The book jumps forward a few decades several times throughout the book, and in this way Magary is able to explore the really long term affects of such a “cure”. Eventually, people begin wishing they could die, and there becomes a market for people who are willing to help them. These people are called “End Specialists” and our protagonist, John becomes one.

Overall I found this an interesting, if a little depressing, read. The sheer amount of thought put into the central concept of the book and its consequences is staggering, and very impressive. Magary has considered every possible outcome of the cure and has included it into his not-overly-long novel. However, John isn’t a hugely sympathetic character and the real fall back with having a blog-style book is that it becomes faintly ridiculous during moments of life-shattering action that he would be blogging all the way through it (I don’t want to spoil the end so I won’t go into detail). Having said that I’d definitely recommend this to any fellow fan of the genre.


You Need to Read This Book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I haven’t done a book review in a while, but when I picked up this book I knew I had to write about it…

After reading a string of disappointing books and generally feeling unenthused about all fiction I suddenly came to find ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS I’VE EVER READ EVER. Yes, the capitals were necessary. As with most great things in life, I just happened to randomly stumble across Ready Player One when it was mentioned on a book blog that I occasionally look at. Originally, I thought it might be a bit too much about video games and contain lots of obscure eighties references that I’m too young to understand properly (being born in ’88). But, as I was in a rut and I like Ferris Bueller and Star Wars I thought I’d give it a go anyway. And boy, am I glad I did!

Ready Player One is set thirty-odd years in the future when most of humanity escape the misery of the real world (global energy crisis, poverty, famine, disease) by jacking into a virtual utopia called the OASIS. In the OASIS you can be whoever you want and can do whatever you wish; there’s shopping, gaming, you can take holidays, watch films, visit planets created around your favourite books… the possibilities are endless. Children even attend school in the OASIS, and it’s common for people to live most of their lives virtually.

The book starts with the death of the creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. Halliday has no heir, so he instead decides to leave his multi-billion dollar fortune and control of the virtual world to whoever can find the “easter egg” hidden in the OASIS. He leaves a riddle and the promise of more riddles and games that need to be solved in order to find the egg. The whole planet becomes obsessed with solving the riddle. Halliday was a teenager in the eighties and was public about his affection for the decade, so everyone knows where to start looking for clues. Suddenly, the decade becomes incredibly popular and cool; people know everything about it, and eighties fashions start coming back in. The most dedicated easter egg hunters (“gunters”) know everything there is to know about the decade, from popular 80s arcade games, TV shows and films, to food chains and music. Everything ever mentioned by Halliday is picked over in minute detail by the “gunters”. However, for years, no one can solve the first riddle. The world is stumped.

It is at this point that we meet Wade Watts, a poor teenager who attends school in the OASIS and lives with his aunt and many others in a cramped trailer in Oklahoma. Wade is a “gunter” but as he has little to no money, he can’t travel around the OASIS looking for clues, and he can’t get more credits by fighting and building up his online experience without being kicked out of school. So Wade is confined to the planet in the OASIS that school is on, and he instead fills his time mastering 80s video games, watching Halliday’s favourite films and chatting to his friends in online chatrooms. One day, though, whilst in a Latin class, Wade suddenly has a flash of inspiration, and he knows where to go to solve the first riddle. The game is finally afoot. Wade has to battle against other “gunters” in order to find the egg, but most importantly, he has to take on an evil corporation called IOI who are intent on finding the easter egg and controlling the OASIS for themselves. I have probably told you too much about the plot already so I’ll stop there.

So, as you might have gathered, I absolutely LOVED this book! I thought it was just excellent! Firstly, I love a good quest story. They’re just so exciting (when done properly). Secondly, I am a huge fan of sci fi/ dystopian books so another box was ticked there. Thirdly, it’s all about the eighties! What more could you want from a book? I’m a bit sad that I didn’t get to grow up in the decade like Halliday did!

On top of all that, the book is excellently written. The pace never falters throughout, it is continually exciting. It’s rich in detail without being boring and all loose ends are very satisfyingly tied up at the end. The book has obviously been meticulously plotted by someone who is very fond and knowledgeable about being a geek in the eighties. What’s more, Ready Player One retains its credibility, it doesn’t spiral out of control like sci fi is known to do. Cline makes this version of the future seem realistic, and scarily probable. You could just imagine IOI being Google or Facebook with its unchallenged might and less-than-ethical approach to privacy. And the icing on the cake: the characters are loveable and witty and the book retains a humorous feel to it despite being set in a dystopian future. Overall, I was blown away by this book, and I wish I was still reading it.

If you’re not yet convinced, I would say that anyone who likes or has heard of any of the following things would love this book (this is not an exhaustive list, it’s just what came off the top of my head):

  • The Goonies
  • Back to the Future
  • Indiana Jones
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Out or any other 80s film with Matthew Broderick in it.
  • Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (I reviewed this book as well! Here)
  • Pacman or any old arcade video game
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Family Ties
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • The Breakfast Club
  •  The Matrix
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Any computer game ever

Even if this stuff sounds a bit geeky and silly for you, you should still read this book! It is one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time, and I am expecting more exciting things to come from Cline (please?).