Colin Greenland: Take Back Plenty

Take Back Plenty
Colin Greenland
First published 1990
Grafton paperback edition 1991
528 pages

Space opera is seldom considered good literature. In fact most SF fans will look down their noses and sneer at you if you say that you actually like it. At best, it is considered as lightweight fun entertainment, best suited as ammunition for film scripts. What then should your reaction be to a novel which is described (on the cover) as space opera and the "best science fiction novel of the year"? The obvious reaction is disbelief - probably accompanied by many and varied descriptions of the brainpower of the cretins who write the text for book covers. Therefore, is Take Back Plenty a masterful contradiction in terms or just another example of advertising hype? Surprisingly the answer is nearer the former that the latter - it is really quite a good book.

The story is centred about a space tug captain (owner/operator) who receives an unusual job offer - to transport a troupe of entertainers to their destination via a rather dangerous stopover. Of course the tug captain is skilful but penniless and the job is even more mysterious and dangerous than it first appears. There are various (nasty) alien species, evil pirates, tangles with the law, space chases, love interest and an intelligent computer to add spice to the proceedings.

Some aspects do not fall within the usual scope of space opera. The first one you will notice is that the tug captain is a woman - and she does not spend much time rescuing scantily clad men. Also breaking with tradition is the development of character depth for the main character. This is done with considerable success by a series of conversations between the captain and the ship computer. In most cases such a device can spoil plot continuity, but Greenland handles it with skill, using the dialogues to make a second plot line which merges with the main line as the story concludes.

Perhaps because the author is English, the style of Take Back Plenty is a little out of the mainstream. But it is a well written and very entertaining work, although perhaps not the masterpiece that the cover writers would have us believe.

Overall rating: Finding out that an advertised documentary on the Sports Illustrated "swimsuit edition" has been replaced by an Addams family rerun.