Book Review: Spanners: The Fountain of Youth

Spanners: The Fountain of Youth by Jonathan Maas dabbles in theories regarding the nature of time and how humans perceive it. Humans experience time linearly, living our lives from age one through whenever we die and aging as we go. Spanners, however, experience time differently. Some age backwards. Others do not age at all. Some age back and forth. And this non-linear experience with time and age gives Spanners a host of unique abilities.

Adam Parr is an 8,000 year old Spanner and detective who specializes in dealing with his own kind. When an old adversary uncovers the most powerful Spanner that ever existed, Adam must stop her from destroying the world. Now if this sounds like a cliché plot, it may help to know that the adversary in question is explorer Ponce de Leon. And the Spanner he discovers? It is the Fountain of Youth, which turns out to be a person and not a place. This intriguing little twist makes for a much more interesting plot than your typical end-of-the-world scenario.

There are two things that detract from the narrative. First, as Spanners is classified as a Science Fiction novel, science fiction fans expect the science to be buttoned up. If you want the reader to accept a world where people age in non-linear ways, you need to make sure that the “real” science is accurate so as to not throw people out of the story. And in this regard, much of the problem appears to be the result sloppy fact-checking than anything else.

For example, clone spanners are explained as being identical twins of opposite genders. But twins of opposite genders are fraternal twins, not identical. The only way identical twins can be opposite genders are through some mutation, but clone spanners are described as being free of mutation in every way. This is one of those factual mistakes that shouldn’t happen in a science fiction novel, particularly because there is no plot-based reason for it. Clone spanners could have just been described as fraternal twins and avoided the error. There are a lot of minor points like this throughout the book that, individually, you would gloss over. But collectively, some science fiction readers may become annoyed.

The second issue is that the author tends to over-explain things, often in a way that either conflicts with what we have been led to believe previously or simply “talks down” to the reader. This over-explanation often comes across as dry data dumping of information that we have already inferred from the plot itself. And in some cases, such as the clone spanner example above, the over-explanation makes things worse by illustrating the lack of fact-checking of the most mundane information.

The world-building aspect, however, is well done. Maas does a fine job of integrating Spanners into his setting in a way that makes logical sense. They feel like an organic part of the setting; not just a cosmetic trick. The different types of Spanners tie neatly into the greater story in a way that hints at an even larger society and perhaps a series of books in the future.

Fans of hard science fiction will be annoyed at the science lapses and over-explanation. But if you like your sci-fi on the light side with a greater focus on plot and character development, Spanners is an entertaining read. Just go into it knowing what you are getting, and you won’t be disappointed.