Phule’s Company

No Phule Like an Old Phule, by Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck

nophuleIn a truly orderly universe, a once-in-a-trillion-chances event ought to have the common courtesy to wait for someone to make a few million attempts to bring it about before manifesting itself.  It says something very unpleasant about the universe we live in that such an event can just as easily occur the very first time someone tries to bring it about.
-Beeker’s journal entry #727


After my review of the last book in the Phule series, Phule Me Twice, one could be forgiven for thinking I’d give the latest, No Phule Like an Old Phule, a pass.  But I did enjoy other books in the series, and Robert Asprin has completed his Myth books (well, maybe; I could swear I’ve seen references to a newer book somewhere), so that’s no longer on the back of my mind-so I go into this offering of the Phule books with an open mind.  And one of the big reasons I wanted to read this one has to do less with Willard Phule, and more with someone with at least as much wealth:  his father, Victor Phule.  Victor has a few issues with his son’s business practices-particularly with the acquisition of the Fat Chance casino at Lorelei.  He just can’t accept that the casino makes money, and plans to prove it by hitting it big.  At the same time, though, a pair of failed kidnappers-Lola and Ernie-are coerced into giving it another try-and it looks like Victor’s the only Phule in town.

This is, however, the least of the issues facing the Space Legion on the world of Zenobia.  Captain Jester still has to deal with the ill-will of General Blitzkrieg; this time, the ill-tempered general has sent representatives from the Alliance Ecological Interplanetary Observation Unit to observe the environmental impact the Legion is having on Zenobia (yes, the organization really is AEIOU); worse yet, its most famous representative has come to see-Barky, the Environmental Dog.  In addition, there are a number of big-game hunters with connections who want to try to take some shots at the local wildlife.

But that isn’t all that’s going on!  We’ve also got the enlistment of a fellow named Zigger, a Lepoid who definitely isn’t the usual material for the Legion-he’s too good!  Such an aberration can only be assigned to one unit-Omega Company.  And there’s something odd about the Zenobians, who seem to be working on something that’s caught the attention of Sushi, Do-Wop, and Rev; the Rev’s trying to determine the mysterious connection between the King and an entity the Zenobians call by the curiously named “‘L’Viz”, and the search for that connection leads to some rather interesting revelations about the Zenobians.

In spite of all the various plotlines in this book, it helps that they’re primarily concentrated in two areas-Zenobia and Lorelei.  That fact is probably the only thing that allows Willard Phule to keep riding herd on everything-and even then it’s a close thing.  Once everything starts to come together, even Phule has some trouble managing the various crises.  I rather enjoyed most of the subplots in this book.  I enjoyed the boot-camp and subsequent assignment of Zigger, who takes on a Legion name that had me shaking my head; the mystery behind the Zenobians really got my attention, and the end result was hilarious.  I can’t bring myself to go into detail about how things fall out at Fat Chance.  Let’s just say that while certain gambles turn out fairly predictably, the aftermath is far more amusing (a classic example of the quote used for this review).  I was less interested in the big-game plot, although I was certainly amused by the resolution.  The big conflict on Zenobia is driven by the AEIOU and Barky, and the efforts to prove that Omega Company is far more environmentally friendly than the average Legion unit; not as easy as it sounds, as Barky tends to have a very, very sensitive nose….

I felt this was a more enjoyable book than the previous effort; I was pleased that this didn’t introduce too many new long-term characters at the expense of the characters already in Omega, because I still feel that the current batch has a lot of mileage still in them.  While No Phule Like an Old Phule isn’t quite as good as the first pair of books in the series, it is certainly moving back in the right direction.

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Phule Me Twice, by Robert Asprin with Peter J. Heck

phuletwiceSo if we do our job well, we are sent to a place where there is trouble, and if we do it poorly, trouble comes to us.  Please, Sarge, how does this system encourage virtuous conduct and and constructive effort?
-Space Legionnaire Mahatma, giving Sergeant Brandy a headache


Here’s the back story:  The Phule books (beginning with Phule’s Company) are the story of Willard Phule, aka Captain Jester of the Space Legion.  The Space Legion is more or less the rough and tumble military arm of the Alliance (as opposed to the more glamorous army), and the Omega Company is the worst of the bunch-a group of misfits and ne’er-do-wells.  Willard Phule-who, incidentally, is one of the richest men alive, as the head of Phule-Proof Industries-chose to join the Space Legion, and in a move of enthusiasm, he strafed the site of a peace treaty and got promoted…so he could take command of Omega Company.  In spite of expectations, he turned the Company around and in the course of three books made the Company the highest profile in the Legion.  This has, needless to say, also managed to get him a couple of enemies.

As this is a book by Robert Asprin, it can certainly be inferred that this is not the typical military space army novel. Phule Me Twice is the latest offering, in collaboration with Peter Heck.  As of this book, Omega Company is basking in the success of having stopped a potential civil war on the planet Landoor, and is enjoying the benefits of the two major amusement parks built on the planet (as related in the previous book, A Phule and His Money).  However, a recent ally of the Alliance, the Zenobians, have had some unknown force beginning to encroach on their home planet, and Omega Company is called upon to find out what’s going on.  At the same time, a robot duplicate of Phule left on the space station Lorelei, at the Fat Chance casino (another story, chronicled in Phule’s Paradise) becomes the target of kidnappers thinking that they’re after the real Phule.

While the plot may seem heavily mired in past continuity, Asprin does a credible job in making the book accessible to new readers, often in the form of journal entries by Phule’s butler, Beeker.  At the same time, the readers of other Phule books will recognize the regulars-Sergeant Brandy, “Mother”, Chocolate Harry, and Sushi.  The Phule books have done at least one thing well-they stand alone with a distinct beginning, middle, and end.  There are a few loose ends left at the end, but they are not enough to leave a reader hanging.

I like the way that Asprin transitions from one plot to the next.  The early part of the book deals with departing Landoor and making off to the Zenobian homeworld, with a few bumps on the way.  There’s a scene with some Legionnaires questioning the scuttlebutt as to where they were being sent next which was interesting, and leads to an important plot point later; and one character continues an audacious plan to take over the interstellar Yakuza, while keeping an intact skin at the same time-and is learning exactly what an officer deals with in the process.

I hate to say it, though, but this book didn’t grab me.  The first two books were definitely enjoyable, although the second was slightly weaker.  A Phule and His Money was released much later; I don’t really know the reason why, since I haven’t been keeping up with Asprin in the newsgroups or anything, but I suspect it’s the same reason he hasn’t written any Myth books for the same length of time, and perhaps is the reason he’s begun collaborating with Heck.  It seems that Asprin’s lost something in the downtime, because I just couldn’t get into the book.  Newer characters introduced haven’t really stuck in my mind, with the exception of the Reverend Jordan Ayres, of the Church of the King (who asked his flock not to be cruel, “a poor boy, climbed to the top, with no help from anybody”-a church which idolized a legend in the mid to late 20th century); he’s an interesting fellow to listen to preach.

In the end, I’d only heavily recommend this book to die-hard Asprin fans.  Phule Me Twice is only an “okay” book, and may be only worth picking up at a used bookstore or a library somewhere along the way.  It’s not one of Asprin’s stronger efforts, but I’m still willing to give him some leeway for now.  I’ll admit I may still be a little irritated that he hasn’t wrapped up his Myth series yet in favor of this series, but my enjoyment of the Phule books keeps my own personal complaints to a minimum.  Besides, if you’re a longtime fan, this might just be your cup of tea.

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