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The Fountains of Youth
Brian Stableford
Tor Books, 352 pages

The Fountains of Youth
Brian Stableford
Brian Stableford was born in 1948 at Shipley, Yorkshire. He graduated with a B.A. in Biology from the University of York, going on to do postgraduate research, first in Biology then in Sociology. In 1979 he received a D. Phil. Until 1998 he worked as a Lecturer in the Sociology Department of the University of Reading. Since then he has been a full-time writer and a part-time Lecturer at several universities.

Brian Stableford Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Dictionary of Science Fiction Places
SF Site Review: Inherit the Earth

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

Someday, someone is going to have to write a study of the many similarities between writing history and writing science fiction. Both require, for example, the writer to try to understand the motivations and actions of people who are removed from the writer in space and time. This is one reason that early in The Fountains of Youth, the latest novel by Brian Stableford, an adult tells a teenager "All history is fantasy." The teenager is Mortimer Gray, the main character in the novel. Mortimer is one of the first true emortals, new humans who, barring accident or violence, will theoretically live forever. Mortimer becomes an historian, and The Fountains of Youth, an ambitious, thoughtful novel, is nothing less than the memoirs of an immortal historian who is determined to understand the meaning of death.

One of the requirements of writing a fictional autobiography is that the character be interesting enough to hold our interest, as it is essentially a one-character novel. Mortimer has friends and family, but they are not portrayed independently; we meet them through Mortimer. And Mortimer is at first blush a rather dull guy. He is a loner, who is mainly interested in his academic life. He is fairly unemotional. His big saving grace is that he is able to be honest in his evaluation of himself and his work. He can admit to the truth of criticisms offered by his friends, and at times attempts to act on them. But he remains true to himself even when, at the end, major revelations force a revision of humanity's place in the universe.

The underlying irony of the novel is that while Mortimer spends much of his time in the solitary pursuit of his historical research, one of the great periods in human history is going on around him. The book covers approximately five hundred years, from 2500 to 3000 A.D. As the last members of the old, mortal human race die, the new humans split into two camps: the earth dwellers who believe that Earth will and should remain the centre of human existence; and those who have moved into space, and believe in engineering both their environment and themselves in order to meet their goals. Mortimer has friends on both sides, and as the ten-volume History of Death is published, public and private reaction to his work keep us up to date on what everyone is up to, even though Mortimer remains most concerned with his history.

The Fountains of Youth is not only a commentary on history, but on the writing of history. In the long-standing dispute between those who would limit historic writing to the recitation of facts and statistical analysis and those who prefer history as narrative, Mortimer is on the side of narrative history. Providing a narrative framework immediately imposes a point of view, and a built-in bias, thus the observation that "All history is fantasy." But the narrative structure also invites us to understand not just what other people did, but their motives for doing so. In The Fountains of Youth, Brian Stableford's approach to history bids us try to comprehend the motives of people in a future time by telling us their story, even as Mortimer struggles to understand the needs and actions of those of us who live with the reality of death.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson, who is not nearly as morbid as that last sentence sounds, reads and lives to write about it in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.

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