Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland

Take Back Plenty by Colin Greenland
Published : Unwin Hyman Limited (1989), HarperCollins (1990), Gollancz (2012)
Awards Won : BSFA Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award
Awards Nominated : Philip K. Dick Award

The Book :

Humanity has reached the stars, but an advanced alien race known as the Capellans has decided that they are not to leave their own solar system.  Plenty of other alien species have streamed into humanity’s little corner of the universe, and a space-based society has developed.

Tabitha Jute is the captain of her own small ship, the “Alice Liddell”, and she does what she can to break even, hauling cargo or people. Down on her luck one day, she manages to both miss her job opportunity and incur a fine she can’t pay.  Without money to pay the fine, Alice will be taken from her.  Without money to buy parts, she also can’t give Alice some much-needed repairs.

Handsome, smooth-talking Marco Metz promises to be the solution to her problems, if only she’ll haul him to the habitat “Plenty”, where they will meet and then transport his cabaret troupe.  Of course, Marco left out some key information, such as the fact that almost everything he says is a lie.  Tabitha and Alice are headed into more trouble than they could possibly have imagined…”  ~Allie

This is the first novel I’ve read by Colin Greenland.  I’ve seen a number of covers for this book, and most of them pretty are weird. I can’t argue that this one is not an accurate representation of the book—there’s a woman clearly meant to be Tabitha, and the shiny floating baby is Xtasca, one of Marco’s friends.  I have to say, though, that the book was much more entertaining than the cover led me to expect.

My Thoughts :

I would describe Take Back Plenty as a novel that seems like a combination of the space opera of Star Wars and the cheesiness of Flash Gordon.   The society has a grungy feel, like the original Star Wars, and the story focuses on people in the underbelly of society that become unexpectedly important. Tabitha Jute reminded me of a female Han Solo, especially with the financial desperation that led her to pick up passengers who ended up being far more trouble than they were worth.  There’s a lot of detail put into the portrayal of the solar system, with different ships, habitats and alien species. The universe felt very lived-in, and I liked that there was clearly an elaborate history both for Tabitha and for the development of the current state of human affairs. 

On the other hand, a lot of the aliens were pretty cheesy—there were the comic-relief otter-like Perks, some big-headed villains who dressed like Romans, and the space-dwelling cherubs (represented by the shiny flying baby on the cover).  Tabitha’s unwanted adventure also took plenty of influence from old pulp science fiction. There are space battles, a jungle Venus, alien conspiracies, and Tabitha trying to keep herself and her ship alive through it all.  Tabitha’s penchant for taking attractive people to bed was also a sort of gender reversal of the pulp hero who gets all the girls to swoon into his arms.  One thing I could have done without, though, was sexual violence towards women.  This only really comes up once, though, and the narrator seems very apologetic about including it.  Aside from that, the story was full of exciting adventure, with tons of unexpected twists, turns, and reveals. This was not always fantastic for the coherence of the story, but it was certainly entertaining along the way.  

A nameless (though very guessable) narrator tells this story of an adventure in the life of Tabitha Jute. The narration alternates with conversation between Tabitha and Alice, where Tabitha tells her ship stories about her past.  These conversations did a lot to gradually reveal the histories and expand on the characters of Tabitha and Alice.   Beyond the two of them, though, the characters seemed a little one-dimensional. The story had a lot of action, so most of the characters seemed relevant in terms of their abilities.  Some of the characters were very nifty ideas, such as life-forms designed to live in space or the remaining two clones of a clone-group, but very little was developed in the areas that I would have found interesting.  There are other novels set in this universe, though, so it is possible that these side characters get the kind of development in other novels that Tabitha and Alice see here.

My Rating : 3.5/5

Take Back Plenty is a fun story that is reminiscent of pulp space adventures.  It’s full of action, conflict, and strange alien species.  With all the sudden turns, the story sometimes seemed pretty convoluted, but it was always entertaining.  Tabitha Jute, the captain of the small ship Alice Liddell, was a very interesting protagonist to follow, and I enjoyed the development of her character through her relationship with her ship’s personality.  The other characters seemed neat in theory, but fell a bit flat for me.  Altogether, Take Back Plenty was a very entertaining old-fashioned space adventure.

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