Colin Greenland’s Take Back Plenty (1990)
It’s rare enough in the fields of Science-Fiction and Fantasy literature that a female protagonist plays the central role but one such character is Tabitha Jute, the lonely heroine of Colin Greenland’s epic Sci-Fi adventure-mystery ‘Take Back Plenty’. Published in 1990 it marked Greenland’s breakthrough success after several years as a SF critic and writer, and marked him as part of the latest ‘New Wave’ generation of British SF writers along with Iain M. Banks, Neil Gaiman and others.
The story itself is a complex one, following the adventures of Tabitha, the impoverished owner-operator of the spaceship cargo craft the ‘Alice Liddell’, from Mars to a massive alien spacestation in orbit around the Earth, the aforementioned ‘Plenty’, which is something of a character in and of its own right. The main action takes place in and around ‘Plenty’ and takes several unexpected twists and turns which belie the initially rather familiar and standard Sci-Fi tropes. Indeed, if some story elements are fairly generic borrowings from elsewhere in the SF field, the story and characterization are anything but. Greenwood’s storytelling abilities and convincing characters have justly won him the most praise, and some of the clichéd elements of the narrative are more than compensated by the strength of his writing. In Tabitha Jute not only has he given us one of the few genuine female heroines of the SF genre, but one of the very few black ones too in a field that far too often remains the domain of the stereotypical White Anglo-Saxon male.
The first novel in the ‘Plenty’ series was followed by three other well-received titles, ‘Seasons of Plenty’ (1995), ‘The Plenty Principle’ (1997) and ‘Mother of Plenty’ (1998). Though losing some of the darker and more claustrophobic elements that made the first novel such a success all the books in the sequence remain excellent examples of British and European Sci-Fi literature with its greater focus on the human element and the grittier nature of reality – even future reality.
Though hard to find now the ‘Plenty’ books will more than reward anyone willing enough to track them down. That such dark yet honest Sci-Fi literature is now out of favour probably says much about the poor state of the genre at the moment and the road it has taken into increasingly vacuous TV and cinema-influenced pop-corn literature.