Over the years, the interplanetary romance, pejoratively referred to as “space opera,” has been disparaged as a science-fiction subgenre and described as the province of people writing hard-driving adventure stories without much regard for characterization or neatly tailored plots. Colin Greenland did much to encourage a reappraisal of this much-maligned form with Take Back Plenty, demonstrating that it was entirely possible to produce literate, even intellectual, space opera. It came as no surprise to anyone that Take Back Plenty won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Science Fiction Award.
Greenland’s success with the form comes from his knowledge of its antecedents. He plays fast and loose with the gimmickry of science fiction, subverting it to his own needs to produce a witty and fast-paced plot, packed with references for those in the know, without ever detracting from the story for those as yet unfamiliar with the form. Thus, he includes references to writers Lewis Carroll, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Anne McCaffrey, and M. John Harrison. He uses the conventional themes of space opera—the hard-bitten, down-at-the-heels space pilot with a dilapidated ship—and yet gives them his own distinctive gloss. His spacer is a woman, and his ship conceals a fearsome intellect yet likes to be told stories. Readers are told Jute’s story by the ship itself. Greenland, however, can be traditional: Mars is as it often appears in science fiction, the former home of a long-dead civilization that left behind the mysterious beauty of its canals, still the most enduring image of science fiction.
Greenland’s exuberant style in this novel won him many admirers as well as demonstrating that there was still life in an apparently defunct subgenre. It remains to be seen if others will follow in the wake of Take Back Plenty and write in a subgenre that Greenland has made so uniquely his own.