Short works

Books : reviews

Colin Greenland.
Take Back Plenty.
Voyager. 1990

rating : 6 : unfinishable
review : 8 December 2014

Tabitha Jute was in trouble on Mars.

It was Carnival time and everyone was partying except her. Up against the law, penniless and about to lose her livelihood and best friend, the space barge Alice Liddell – Tabitha needed some luck. Fast.

Then along came the intriguing gloveman Marco Metz. He needed a lift to Plenty to rejoin his bizarre cabaret troupe – and he would pay.

Tabitha knew Plenty was a dodgy place since its creators had been exterminated by the Capellans, the masters of the Terran system. But she didn’t have any choice.

What should have been a simple five-hour journey and some quick cash turned into a chaotic chase from the orbital Tangle into the depths of hyperspace, with the cops on her tail.

And that was only the start of her problems…

Tabitha Jute is an independent pilot, with her own ship. But she’s down on her luck: stuck on Mars with a ship in need of repair, she’s just been fined money she doesn’t have, for brawling at Carnival. Her luck seems to change when she meets Marco Metz, a performer willing to pay for a trip to the artificial world of Plenty. But that may just be the beginning of her problems.

I say “may”, because I didn’t stay to find out, giving up at p133. This won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1991, but I’m not sure why. Some commentators say it’s because of the refreshing depiction of Tabitha Jute as a “real” person, rather than your typical SFnal hyper-competent protagonist. Personally, I’d prefer an at least ordinarily competent protagonist: Jute appears to be an incompetent slob with the impulse control of a two year old. I’m surprised she has survived so long.

p83. The Alice was running smoothly. Tabitha ran an axis circuit check. She listened to the engines. All was well. FAILURE PROBABILITY 44.49%, said the screen. ACKNOWLEDGE, Tabitha replied.

First of all, what does that even mean? Failure in the next minute? On this run? Before the ship is decommissioned? Before the universe grows cold? (Let’s not even mention the spurious precision of the number given.) Whatever it actually means, it’s presented as an insanely high risk of failure (and the assumption is that failure would be catastrophic), yet the implication is that Jute routinely accepts such risks as she tootles around the Solar System. And somehow she is still alive.

Then there is the extremely creepy, and decidedly rapey, Metz. Jute’s reaction to him, rather than portraying the liberated woman happy with her sexuality that I suspect the author was striving for, comes across as a low impulse control idiot, with not a scintilla of suspicion or self-preservation, even after he fails to deliver the promised transport fee!

Now, maybe all these issues are cleared up later, and shown to be hyper-competent plot twists, but I suspect not, and I won’t be staying around to find out. Which is a pity, as the background universe, with its multiple alien species, and the (heavily foreshadowed) problematic Capellan overlords, looks potentially interesting.

Colin Greenland.
Seasons of Plenty.
Voyager. 1995

She had no place to call her own. So she stole herself a world.

Space Captain Tabitha Jute is the hero of the solar system. She has defeated the Capellan overlords and liberated the gigantic alien spaceship known as Plenty. Now begins the first human voyage to another star – a journey that will take the strange ship and her motley complement of passengers and crew far into unknown reaches of time and space.

But Tabitha’s triumph is short-lived. Her artificial workmate Alice is no longer the humble ship’s persona she once knew and loved. Amid rumbles of violence and threats of mutiny, people are starting to disappear. And just who is the dark-haired saboteur in the long black coat?

In the cavernous, honeycombed depths of Plenty, nothing is as it seems…