Off The Shelf - "Phule's Company"

by Marcus Pan

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Phule's CompanyMost people will recognize the name of Robert Asprin from one of two series made popular in the last decade or so. The first and foremost will by the Thieve's World series of books he created with Lynn Abbey. Then his own series of books known as the Myth Series. An adept writer, Asprin has been gracing the shelves of many fantasy and science fiction lovers for many years.

His latest series is a part sci-fi, part spoof style series known as the Phule Series, and the first of these is the one I am writing about today - Phule's Company. Detailing the off-world adventures of Commander Jester, an aspiring officer in the Space Legion, Phule's Company details the beginnings of Jeseter's movement to and subsequent commandment of the Space Legion's Omega Company on the armpit world known simply as Haskin's Planet.

First a bit of background. The Space Legion is an army-like commandment of enlisted men and women. Considered more of a security force than an armed forces brigade, it is a contractible team used for security and laughed at by the true military armed forces. The sleeping security guard at your local bank as opposed to Joe Friday, for example. The Legion is more of an afterthought than a career - enlistment done by thieves and those running from something with a need to get away. As such, it is a poorly trained, crude force with all members there doing so not for the sake of serving but for other motivations.

Commander Jester, an officer more because of his financial status than via capabilities, is sentenced over a court martial not to prison time but instead to the commandment of a force of misfits. An Omega Company occurs every few years in the Space Legion, unofficially, as a place to move the misfits and flack of the legion. His commandment of the force was a direct response to of the Legion brass to get him out of the way without insulting his financial holdings which, as it turns out, are quite important to the Space Legion when you consider that Jester's old man owns the largest weapons manufacturing company there is. So rather than insult Phule-Proof Munitions, the officers drop him into the armpit of space in a hope that he would be quiet and run out his term without further embarrassment.

As it turns out, Commander Jester takes his commission quite seriously. He immediately begins to tune up his misfit crowd into a somewhat respectable group of soldiers and even takes them so far to tie in a competition with the true armed forces' best group - the Red Eagles. And up to and including an alien confrontation - which funnily enough finds itself in a business agreement with the Legion's business-savvy and comical Omega Company officer.

What the Legion brass didn't realize was how willing Jester was in spending his own money for the care of his own troops - which he does extravagantly using loopholes provided in Legion laws and bylaws. His near limitless supply of financial resources allows for quite a bit of motivation all on its own - combined with Jester's inter-personal skills and belief in the (semi-) human spirit the Omega team turns into one that rivals the army itself.

Asprin's Phule's Company was an enjoyable read. It read quickly and easily and was rather engrossing. The characters created by Robert are strongly developed and you get to know them rather well in this sci-fi sitcom. It is this character development, complete with ironic flaws and individual endearing personalities, that makes Phule's Company a fun book to read. Jester's rallying of his new "troops" behind him show a comforting movement of teamwork and leadership motivational ability, lacking in most everyday tribulations. Of course, it is fiction. Too bad, really.

While I never did get into the Thieve's World nor Myth Series, mostly due to lack of time, I think I will pursue the Phule Series. Continuing with A Phule and His Money, this tongue-in-cheek sci-fi collection is building up to be a whimsical and fun collection of reading.

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"Phule's Company" by Robert Asprin
Published by Ace Boods
Copyright © 1990 by Robert Asprin
Cover art by James Warhola
ISBN 0-441-66251-X

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