A Phule and His Money, by Robert Lynn Asprin, Peter J. Heck

a-phule-and-his-money-by-robert-lynn-asprin-peter-j-heck coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ace
Published: 1999
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the third in the Phule series, the first two being Phule’s Company and Phule’s Paradise, which should be read first. Those were written by Asprin. This book is co-authored by Heck, but I couldn’t detect any difference in its style.

The book picks up the story of Captain Phule and his company where Phule’s Paradise left off: guarding a casino in a space habitat devoted to gambling. In the previous book Phule had overcome the attempt by the local Mob to take over the casino. Now the Mob strikes back, by getting a Biker gang and the Yakusas (Japanese underworld) involved and, most dastardly of all, the IRS. At the same time the company has to cope with an influx of new recruits, and a newly appointed chaplain ordained in a rather unusual religion. The first half of the book relates how these problems are overcome.

Then the company is reassigned to a poverty-stricken planet as a peacekeeping force in the aftermath of a civil war. The government’s big idea for making money is to attract tourism by building an bigger, better roller coaster park, that being the local specialty. For implausible reasons they won’t let Phule invest in this project, so he goes off in a huff and contacts the rebels to suggest a roller coaster-building competition between the two sides, with the Legion helping the rebels. Implausibly they agree to lay down their arms and take part in this. The rest of the book describes the construction of the two parks, both of which turn out to be popular with locals and tourists, and by implication the planetary economy is saved.

You may have noticed that I have used the word “implausible” twice in the last paragraph. It also featured several times in my review of Phule’s Company. This is not an accident; the plots of both books rely excessively on unlikely coincidences and implausibilities. This flaw in the series is not fatal, but be aware that at times the plots tend to be patched up with chewing gum and string rather than held together by careful crafting. Another defect of the book is a tendency to unnecessary over-complication. Plotlets introduce potential problems which then are left hanging or get solved too easily. An example is the weird chaplain, who looks set to provoke religious troubles but in the end doesn’t. Or the new recruits who are difficult to integrate, and then they aren’t. More important is the poor structure of this book: it consists of two barely-connected halves. The problems of the first half have to be solved with implausible ease to get the company to the second half on time.

Though these faults detracted from my enjoyment of the books, nevertheless they are still quite readable. My main gripe with the series is that Asprin doesn’t seem to know where it is going. The lack of an adequate theme that I complained of in the review of Phule’s Paradise is now worse. The only real dramatic tension in the book is between Phule and his superior officer, who hates him for poorly explained reasons. This might have been enough to support Phule’s Company, but not the sequels too. As a result the star-count is steadily reducing. But if you found Phule’s Paradise enjoyable, you should enjoy this book too.

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