Open-ended history is a big, fat doorway for modern fantasy writers to walk through. Dan Simmons’ The Terror, for example, postulates a fictional ending for the crew of the Erberus and Terror whose fate is unknown in reality. Nicola Griffith’s Hild likewise writes a volume of history where none exists in textbooks. Andy Duncan puts a sense of prescience into George Patton’s head in Fortitude, providing an explanation for his bravery under fire. Tying off a thread left hanging in the wind in R.F Scott’s Antarctic journals, Brenda W. Clough’s 2001 novella May Be Some Time is likewise one such extrapolation, though, given its combination with a variety of other tropes, holds more in common with a popcorn thriller.
May Be Some Time is the continuation of the story of Lawrence “Titus” Oates. With his last words spoken in the Antarctic, he wandered away from the starving, frostbitten fellow expedition members in delirium and was never heard from again. Resurrected in 2045 after advances in science have made such things possible, Titus is in a whole new world compared to the Eduardian one he last existed within. Women having rights and receiving education, transportation vastly speedier, and information available at the fingertip, to say he is in shock would be an understatement. But it’s coming to terms with aliens that is the real purpose behind his revivification.
May Be Some Time is a story with a plethora of sci-fi tropes. For some readers this will certainly be of interest, the multitude of ‘yet possibles’ the main draw. (God knows there is a mainstream to the genre.) It’s also possible to view the elements as fragmented, incongruous, even overwhelming. Two of the major motifs of science fiction thrust into story (first contact and time travel), not to mention the baggage of futuristic extrapolation on technology and social contrasts, as well as inclusion of the history associated with the failed R.F. Scott South Pole expedition may be more weight than a novella can rightfully bear. That no new spin was placed on any of these tropes does not help to make it a fresh or coherent story.
A secondary result of the disparate usage of tropes is that the distance between them is more overt than subtle. An Eduardian gentleman in 21st century America? Of course there are bound to be some differences regarding gender perspective. New technology, really? Here’s a chance to describe some of it. And alien contact, well, that’s left so far hanging from the opening premise that one wonders if it can be connected at all.
In the end, May Be Some Time is a love affair with the Scott expedition converted into science fiction in less than satisfactory fashion. Clough’s sense of style is on point, and at times can be highly recommended. But that it is applied to manhandle a selection of sci-fi tropes into the same, small box is not. May Be Some Time is simply unable to create something greater from the sum of its already big parts. Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s The Gallery of His Dreams, by comparison, integrates history with science fiction in a simpler, and as a result, more textured story that has room to settle, to let the ideas trickle through the story without constantly pinging and ponging Big Sci-fi Ideas. This is not to say simple = good, rather that limiting the number of possibilities—especially in a novella—creates a stronger base from which to unpack the ideas under discussion. Throwing in too many, as is the case with May Be Some Time, is distracting with possibility, the conclusion all over the map.