by Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck



288pp/$6.99/October 1999

A Phule and His Money

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Robert Asprin is, perhaps, best known for his creation of the "Thieves' World" shared-world anthology, followed closely by his "Myth" series of humorous fantasy novels.  In the early 1990s, he began a series of space opera novels based on the same formula as the "Myth" series with the humorous novel Phule's Company (1990), about Captain Jester, a.k.a. Willard Phule, and a misfit company in the Space Legion.  This series has its antecedents in such popular works as "Stripes" and MASH, ridiculing the military by using highly effective individuals who can not follow the military's strict discipline, but rather bend the rules to work to their own advantage.

It has been seven years since Asprin has published a story about Phule and during that time, rumors have flown about him suffering writer's block.  To tell the latest story, Asprin has, apparently, invited Peter J. Heck (author of the Mark Twain mystery Death on the Mississippi, et seq.) to help him bring this latest adventure to the written page.  Although the story picks up where Phule's Paradise (1992) left off, with the company working as security guards at an orbital casino, the company quickly receives orders to travel to the planet Landoor to serve as a peace-keeping force.

Landoor is the planet which figured in Phule's past and gave him his current assignment.  Phule's Company opened with his court martial for ordering a strafing run on the peace talks taking place on Landoor.  Phule's commander, General Blitzkrieg, sees this assignment as the perfect opportunity to cashier Phule from the service.

As in Asprin's earlier books, the humor in A Phule and His Money is not in the form of jokes, so much as in the situation.  Phule's company is a trained military unit which is given the task of guarding a casino and later, creating an amusement park.   While the novel is a nice, light book, Asprin and Heck could have spent a little more time looking at the characters and their interactions.  Although they introduce several new characters, notably a lizard-like Zenobian and three cat-like Gambolts, the authors never really do much with these or other new characters.  Another character, Mahatma, is given some interesting personality quirks, and the authors apparently have much in store for him, but they don't really go anywhere with him.

The pace of the novel is not quite as fast as it should be.  While the first half, set at the Fat Chance Casino moves along briskly, once the legion finds themselves on Landoor, thigns tend to slow down as they figure out where they are and how to go about building their amusement park.  There is little tension and no concern that they will not be able to circumvent the government regulations which are put in their place.

While it is good to see Asprin returning to his old series, and perhaps indicates that there will be more stories in both this sequence and the "Myth" sequence, A Phule and His Money seems to be the warm-up of an author coming out of retirement, rather than the triumphal return of a missing star.  With luck, Asprin will be able to hit his stride quickly, with or without the assistance of a co-author, and his name will again be common on the bookstore shelves.

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