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Robert Asprin/Peter J. Heck – Phule’s ErrandHere's a previously published review of Phule’s Errand, the 6th book in the ‘Phule’ series, by Robert Asprin and Peter J. Heck, which did not fully convice. While the book is enjoyable, it also leaves the impression behind that the series is running out of steam, and is simply being churned out while people still buy the books.

Funny in parts, but overall a mixed pleasure.

 

This is the 6th book in Robert Asprin’s Phule series, the last few written in conjunction with Peter J Heck – either for more ideas, or to do the footwork… either way, they should re-examine their approach to these books I think.

This time round we find Captain Jester (aka Willard Phule, multi-millionaire extraordinaire) with his Omega Mob of the Space Legion on the Planet Zenobia, as the main contact to the recently discovered native races. When a new member, Nightingale, joins the unit things kick off, as Nightingale is the Legion name for Laverne, the former right-hand woman of the Mob boss on Lorelei, with whom Jester collided in an earlier book. And who has a crush (reciprocal) on Jester’s butler, Beeker. Nightingale and Beeker decide at the drop of a hat to take their vacations, and leave Zenobia, taking Beeker’s Port-a-Brain with them. This has potentially catastrophic consequences, as Jester’s and Beeker’s Port-a-Brain’s are linked in ways Beeker is not aware of, but which endanger Jester if they are separated for a longer amount of time. So Captain Jester, CO, leaves his unit, and takes off in pursuit of the vacationing love-birds.

This, obviously, is the exact moment General Blitzkrieg, in charge of the Space Legion and Jester’s sworn enemy, chooses for a surprise inspection of the Omega Company. So it falls to the cadre, with the help of Jester’s hospitality robot (looking and acting like him, within clearly defined boundaries), to ward off disaster for their Captain and for themselves. They mainly do this by building a golf course on Zenobia (guess what Blitzkrieg really likes to do during his work hours), but also through even more inventive measures.

 

The humour element is basic – a classic example is on the planet “Cut’n’Shoot”, where some kind of Old West scenario is being played out, planet wide, for the tourists. Only, the records didn’t specify which Indians were in the Old West, so they have Western Indians, Eastern Indians, and Wild/Red Indians. There’s nothing like a Cowboy encountering a native Rasta in the prairie, or the ancient, savage custom of playing Cricket. One more? Ok, Jesters local relative ‘in charge’ in Italy, on Old Earth, is called ‘Piti da Phule’. Enough already. Some parts of the book make you chuckle, most of them are not as funny as they think they are, or outright boring. 

The book doesn’t introduce any new concepts except for the conceit of the Port-a-Brain links to Jester, the rest is simply re-hashing existing people, relationships, and concepts in a slightly different way, plus the world-to-world-to-… chase bulking up the book with descriptions.

 

Given that this is the 6th book in the series one would expect some kind of introduction to the main players and the scenario the books plays in. None whatsoever is provided, though – during the story there are some mentions of history etc, but I think if you haven’t read most of the 5 first books, then you will miss most of then in-jokes, and will struggle generally to get a grip on what’s going on and why given that you don’t have any background. I guess in can be read on its own, but I’d expect it to be even less enjoyable that way; I don’t think I can really recommend the book for new readers. Get the first two or three books of the series instead, these are very good, and genuinely funny.

I’m not sure what could revive the series – some more care whilst writing the stories? New blood in the form of a different co-writer? Otherwise I feel that the series is seriously running out of steam. Overall I felt that this is a very uninspired book, and for fans of the series only.

 

More Robert Asprin

 

Title: Phule’s Errand

Series: Phule

Series Number: 6

Author: Robert Asprin

Author: Peter Heck

Reviewer: Markus

Reviewer URL: http://skating.thierstein.net

Publisher:  Ace SF (Penguin)

Publisher URL: http://www.penguin.com

Publication Date: August 2006

Review Date: 12 November 2006

ISBN: 0441014232

Price: UKP6.5

Pages: 281

Format: Paperback

 

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