Phule’s Paradise, by Robert Lynn Asprin

phules-paradise-by-robert-lynn-asprin coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Ace
Published: 1992
Reviewer Rating: two and a half stars
Book Review by David Hart

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This is the second in the “Phule” series. Though the story could just about stand alone, you really should read it after the first book, Phule’s Company (the same applies to this review!).

The company of misfit legionaries have been turned into an elite unit by their mega-rich young commander, Captain Phule. However his enemy in the Space Legion HQ arranges for the company to be assigned to protect a casino in Lorelie, a space habitat devoted to gambling. Supposedly a cushy duty, the casino has been infiltrated by the local Mob, who intend first to bankrupt it and then to take it over. Watch Phule and company dig in to repel the invaders, marvel at their counter-attack (or rather at its absence), thrill to the occasional low-key danger and violence.

As you may have gathered from the tone of the last sentence, I feel that the book, and indeed the whole series, suffers from an inherent problem. Here we have a 200-strong military unit complete with lethal hardware, and what do they do with it? Not a lot. In Phule’s Company they guarded a swamp, here they guard a casino. At least this time a few shots are fired in anger, though in a nice, controlled way to make sure nobody is hurt. Once the enemy is defeated, do they kill? do they prosecute? No, actually they don’t do anything much at all. Maybe that’s because they sense that the bad guys aren’t especially bad–at least the way Asprin portrays them.

Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not particularly keen on blood and guts or detailed military maneuvering. However the series needs to decide what it’s about. So far at least it isn’t about warfare. Despite what the blurb-writer thinks, it isn’t conspicuously humorous. The first book introduced the situation and the characters, which passed the time pleasantly enough. The sequel doesn’t really expand on either; and neither does the next in the series, A Phule and His Money. I can’t help feeling that both would have been improved if there was something more for the troop to confront: a tiny galactic crisis perhaps, or maybe a limited war, or at least a bloodless coup.

So much for the bad points. There are good points too. The writing style is light and readable. The main characters are reasonably convincing (though the lesser ones tend to be rather flimsy). Though the story relates matters of less-than-cosmic importance, there is enough detail in the plot to keep the reader’s attention. In summary, I feel the book is a missed opportunity, but still not without merit. Don’t look for hidden depths, or even unhidden ones. Read it for relaxation, secure in the knowledge that no one will be seriously hurt and the good guys will win.

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