September 1, 2009
Just Phuling Around
One of the problems with reading an entire series back-to-back is that you start to see all the little things that the author -- and his editor -- didn't. Like how minor characters sometimes mysteriously change the spelling or their names between books. And their genders. And their entire characterizations. Or how the main character's father mysteriously starts calling his son Wilfred instead of Willard -- his actual name -- in book five.
Dang it, Robert Asprin, were you even reading this stuff as you wrote it? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
These books are clunky. They're repetitive. They're slow, and generally take about half the book just to start getting to the action. There are some serious problems with the writing. It's full of "As you know, Bob" dialogue. The prose sucks on all sorts of levels -- and yet I can't stop reading them. The trouble is that even though these books are kind of terrible, they're also ... really kind of fun. They amuse me.
Taken in smaller doses, Robert Asprin's (and sometimes Peter J. Heck's) Phule series is good summer reading, light space opera that doesn't need to be taken too seriously. The series follows the (mis)adventures of mega-millionaire Willard Phule, more often known as Captain Jester of the Space Legion. After ordering a peace conference strafed, Phule/Jester is reassigned to command of an Omega Company: a dumping ground for losers and misfits below even the Legion's usual lax standards. Unsurprisingly, Our Plucky Hero (tm) -- and his butler -- turn the ragtag troops into something rather more disciplined and much more amusing, punning all the while.
The characters are stereotypical -- the tiny-but-feisty woman, the Italian small-time thief, the inscrutable oriental, the gentle giant -- but, if anything, that only adds to the appeal of the series. Why wrestle with complex characterization when it's already all laid out for you? Exactly. And the situations are predictable enough that you don't worry too hard about them: Phule's company gets in trouble; Phule gets them out; Phule gets in trouble; Phule's company gets him out, etc. At the same time, though, they're zany enough to keep you guessing.
Plus, there's an entire denomination that worships Elvis.
In short, this series is terribly written, excellent brain candy.