At the Church of Man we believe that God and Man are one and the same. We believe that we can become better people if we recognise that the forces of good in this world -- kindness, forgiveness, generosity, love -- are inherently within us, within our control. The old religious dogmas have outlived their usefulness in a world where people can now live hundreds and thousands of years ... We do not believe in preparing for an afterlife. We believe this life is the afterlife. (p. 148)
America, the near future: a cure for death (well, for natural ageing) has been developed. At the outset of The End Specialist, the cure isn't legal, but that doesn't stop lawyer John Farrell paying his $7,000 and getting his three injections. His 'digital journal' supplies a narrative viewpoint over the next sixty years, interspersed with news reports and anecdata. Farrell develops the cycle marriage, a forty-year contract designed to fix the problem of "no one told me forever would be this long!" (p. 39). He attends 'cure parties' at the Fountain of Youth Resort and Casino ("Do all the things Ponce de Leon always dreamed of doing!" (p. 98). And he records the social changes brought about by the cure: the excommunication of those who've taken fate into their own hands; the legislation preventing anyone who's Cured from claiming social security or Medicare benefits; the Thai trade in underage girls who'll be underage forever; the mothers who won't let their perfect babies grow up; the forty-year-olds who are sick of acting the age they look; and the Church of Man, which believes that God and Man are one and the same.
Not everyone wants the cure. Farrell's father is 'at peace with the idea' of death: "I've had a good life" (171). Farrell's sister is doubtful, a late adopter: "I'm guessing there'll be a point where everyone has it and I feel obligated to get it too. I was like that with cell phones." (68). At first Farrell can't understand why anyone would turn down what might as well be immortality (if you're careful, if you're rich). As the novel progresses, he starts to understand the difference between life and mere existence. And it's death that prompts his change of career, from lawyer to End Specialist -- "half angel of death, half event planner" (207).
There's a lot in this novel (which was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award) but it doesn't quite come together. A messianic figure, an epiphany, a saboteur; love, death, the prospect of endless tedium; a soft apocalypse of overpopulation and exciting new diseases. And yet -- perhaps because Farrell's really not a very likeable character? -- it falls flat somehow.