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A Phule and His Money
Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck
Ace Books, 288 pages

Walter Velez
A Phule and His Money
Robert Asprin
Robert Lynn Asprin was born in 1946 in St. John's, Minnesota. He attended the University of Michigan and work for a number of years at University Microfilm in Ann Arbor until he decided to write full-time in 1978. The Cold Cash War was his first published novel followed by Another Fine Myth, a hilarious farce with dragons, stranded demons and bad puns. He has also collaborated with Lynn Abbey to edit the very popular 12-volume Thieves' World series -- it became the touchstone for shared-world anthologies.

ISFDB Bibliography
Robert Asprin Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Robert Asprin's humorous Phule series depicts a company of the worst disciplinary problems in the Space Legion, headed by billionaire Willard Phule. Originally published in the early 90s, Asprin returns to the series with A Phule and His Money, co-authored by Peter J. Heck, most recently known for a series of mysteries starring Mark Twain.

A Phule and His Money begins with Phule's company serving guard duty at the Fat Chance Casino, their assignment in the previous installment, Phule's Paradise. In addition to the run-of-the-mill gangsters and other casino operators, Phule must deal with a group of new recruits, the IRS, and his commanding officer, who would like to see nothing more than Phule fail in an explosive and public manner.

Asprin and Heck introduce a few new characters, notably a trio of alien recruits and an alien observer. Along with the already sizable cast who need to be reintroduced following a 7-year hiatus, the authors spend the first half of the novel focusing on these characters. Once the reader is familiarized with them, Asprin and Heck move the action away from the Fat Chance Casino to the planet Landoor (nee New Atlantis), and practically ignore their supporting cast.

The new setting could have offered a wide variety of plotlines. The series originally began when Phule ordered a strafing run on a peace negotiation between the New Atlantis government and a rebel faction, so he has a history on the planet. Similarly, the first half of the novel sets up a variety of possible storylines. Instead of following up with any of these, Asprin and Heck choose to describe Phule's attempts to build the galaxy's greatest amusement park. At no time is there really any tension about Phule's success. The blocks placed in his way by the Landoor government and by his own commanding officers are easily negotiated.

Given the tone of the novel, the important question is whether the humour can carry the entire book. The answer is a qualified yes. If readers approach A Phule and His Money expecting a series of laugh-out-loud jokes, they'll be disappointed. The humour in this book is based on the situation, a highly-trained military unit working security at a casino and building an amusement park, rather than punchlines. In the few places where the authors do set up a joke, it is incongruous enough to make the reader pause, but it stands out specifically because it does not fit with the general feel of the book.

According to rumour, Asprin has long suffered from writer's block, which may explain the 7-year hiatus of this series and his recent collaborations. Assuming these rumours are true, A Phule and His Money should, perhaps, be seen as an author attempting to return to form. With luck, Asprin (and his co-authors) will regain their stride and future novels in both the Phule series and Myth series will manage to recapture the humour and pacing of the earlier novels.

Copyright © 1999 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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