REVISE THE WORLD
by Brenda Clough
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In 2001, Brenda Clough resurrected Captain Lawrence Oates, formerly of Robert Falcon Scott's 1912 Antarctic expedition in her Hugo- and Nebula-nominated novella "May Be Some Time." She has expanded (and revised) that work into Revise the World, a novel which presents the reader with not one, but two stories of first contact, along with elements of time travel and some political intrigue.
Lawrence Oates, popularly called "Titus" famously walked into a blizzard saying "I am just going outside and may be some time." Oates body was never found and his sacrifice didn't save his companions, who died about two weeks later, only crossing another twenty miles. According to Clough, the reason Oates's body hasn't been found is that it was plucked from 1912 Antarctic by a band of scientists in the 2030s to prove they could, to cure the varied and sundry maladies Oates had succumbed to, and to provide information for a planned trip to the stars.
Clough divides her story into three parts. In the opening section, an expansion of her originally novella, she examines Oates's introduction to the twenty-first century. He not only must get used to being in the metropolis of Manhattan, but must also learn to deal with (or ignore) the technological marvels surrounding him, the changes in attitudes towards religion, women, and the very definition of what a man should be like. Clough does an excellent job of presenting Oates not only as a fish out of water, but as a man who is making first contact with an alien civilization, made even more subtle by the surface similarities he sees between himself and the natives. However, Clough keeps dropping in jarring moments when Oates can't help but see how different he is from the people among whom he moves.
Once Oates is past his initial disorientation, Clough removes him from New York to the wilds of Wyoming, where he joins up with couple who runs nineteenth-century-style tours in a protected wilderness area. This not only allows Oates to get used to twenty-first century ideas without the distractions of the modern world. Accompanying him on this leg of his journey is Dr. Shelly Gedeon, one of the team which revived Oates. Even as Shel teaches Oates about the modern period, and about women in general, she makes it clear that her plans are to leave in the near future on an expedition to find the planet inhabited by the Forties, a race which recently contacted humans and provided the secret of faster-than-light travel. While the world is already somewhat divided on the Fortie issue, Oates brings his own nineteenth century mentality to the issue.
Finally accustomed to his new life, Clough turns her attention to a new first contact story, this time the human race coming into contact with the hinted at Forties. While the expedition does not go as planned, Clough provides a truly alien planet and race. The optimism at first contact Shel and her teammates show at the opportunity is tempered by the Cassandra-like warnings from Oates, who was raised in a very different world, even if he has managed to make adjustments to the civilization in which he eventually found himself.
Revise the World has a few weaknesses, mostly of omission. The period from Gedeon's departure until Oates's expedition is glossed over. While much of it is, no doubt, unimportant, it means that the reader does not see the important period where Oates becomes comfortable in the twenty-first century. Similarly Clough sets up protesters against the Fortie expedition and Oates's presence, but she doesn't give any real payoff. Once they've served their purpose, they fade into the background.
Despite these glitches, Revise the World is ultimately a satisfying novel. Clough has created realistic characters and her decision to use an Edwardian in the twenty-first century as a viewpoint character gives the novel a unique flavor. Clough finishes the book leaving the reader wondering what will happen next, not only in terms of the adventure she has hinted at, but in regard to her characters' personal lives and the predictions Oates makes upon learning about the nature of the Forties.
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