Tag: robert

Ross Reads: Phule’s Errand

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was surprised to find another book in the Phule's Company series in the bookstore, as I hadn't heard anything about it.  Apparently it was published in 2006, which makes me the latecomer to the party, but I expect I didn't hear much about it because it's such a lackluster addition to the Phule series.

The novel itself follows in a similar vein to the others in the Phule's Company series, but just doesn't have the same sparkle or life to it.  In all the other novels, the whole Omega company of the Space Legion (composed of misfits, in the most worthless branch of the military) has to adapt to a new assignment on a new planet, and succeeds, thanks in part to a bit of dumb luck and the willingness of their Captain (Willard Phule) to spread his inestimable wealth to give his company the best operating equipment and facilities in the new location.

This novel focuses less on the Omega Company and more on only a handful of its members.  Phule has to rush offplanet in attempts to catch his butler, who has gone on vacation but didn't leave his security-code for Phule to access his financial records.  A couple of his soldiers surreptitiously follow to aid Phule in his efforts, but always end up a step behind their commander, who in turn is always a step behind his butler Beeker.  This departure from the typical Phule novel might not be so bad except that the execution of the subsequent events is done in such a way that the story itself is not enough to retain the reader's interest.

The hijinks on their tour to four new planets are reminiscent of an old Marx Brothers movie (but not in a good way) and leave the reader wishing Phule would just catch up to his butler and end the "suspense".  The parallel plot of Phule's commanding officer, General Blitzkrieg, performing a surprise inspection while Phule is gone is almost as uninteresting, although it is tempered a bit by a little interaction with various members of the Omega Company.

As (I'm assuming) this is the final book in the Phule's Company series, this was a sad way to cap off the stories about Captain Jester and his ragtag band of misfits.  I know it may not have been planned to be the last in the series, but it still felt like it was a "straight-to-video" addition to the series tacked on just to take advantage of the name and characters Asprin worked so hard to develop in the early 90's.

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Ross Reads: Variable Star

Variable Star
Robert A. Heinlein & Spider Robinson

Hold the phones, stop the presses – Robert Heinlein is writing new novels from beyond the grave!

Well, technically, it's a collaboration, but Variable Star by Robert A. Heinlein and Spider Robinson reads like a Heinlein novel, and delivers everything you could want from a book written by two of the greatest writers of modern science fiction.

Set in the not-too-distant future, just a little while past Heinlein's Crazy Years period, the protagonist is a young musician (saxophone) and composer named Joel Johnston.  Joel's pride and stubbornness (and a whirlwind series of events) cause him to book passage on a colony ship destined to become the Earth's 20th colony, on a planet 85 light-years away from everything he held near and dear to his heart.  The novel is as much about humanity, kindness, love, music, and hope as it is about the Joel's experiences on his voyage to the stars.

The novel feels like a Heinlein juvenile, and for good reason.  During the period that Robert A. Heinlein was writing his juveniles, he put together a very dense-but-unfinished outline of eight typed pages and fourteen 3×5" index cards of extensive handwritten notes about Variable Star.  And then, for some reason, he never wrote the novel and instead put them in a desk drawer, where they sat undiscovered until members representing his estate went through all of his works, and in 2003 asked Spider Robinson to turn the outline into a full novel.

Spider Robinson, first called "the new Robert Heinlein" by the New York Times Book Review in 1982, eagerly accepted the challenge to turn the outline into a novel that would make the Grand Master proud.  He managed to follow faithfully in the classic model of a Heinlein Space Opera, complete with RAH's own trademark phrases and quips.  Yet Robinson also poured his own life and soul into the story, bringing about a depth to the characters and scenes that only Spider Robinson could dream up.  Although he restrained himself somewhat compared to other of his novels (like his Callahan series), Robinson still managed to sprinkle a liberal dose of puns throughout the story – but rarely, if ever, do they appear to be puns for punning's sake.

Readers should be aware that Robinson does bring a bit of the contemporary to the stereotypical '50s style of Heinlein's earlier works.  There are some references to sex & drugs, and some minor profanity that you wouldn't expect if the novel was solely authored by Heinlein.  However, these are not very graphic at all, and I would say the book is a safe read for anyone 13 years and older.

This book is a fantastic read that kept me up way too late for many nights in a row until I devoured it from cover to cover.  As a long-time fan of both authors, I could not think of a more enjoyable story to cap off Heinlein's long writing career.  This is a definite must-read for anyone who is a fan of Robert A. Heinlein's books, and fans of one of Heinlein's greatest students will not be disappointed with Spider Robinson's latest creation, either.

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The DQ #53 – October 14, 2007

"… one of the main causes of the fall of the Roman Empire was that, lacking zero, they had no way to indicate successful termination of their C programs."
    -Robert Firth

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The DQ #35 – September 26, 2007

Phule's Company
Robert Asprin

"Waitresses and card dealers are paid minimum wage in anticipation of their income being supplemented by tips, so if one doesn't tip them, one is, in effect, robbing them of their livelihood.  Public officials, on the other hand, are expected to live within their salaries, so any effort on their part to obtain additional earnings for the simple performance of their duties is extortion at its worst and should be a jailable offense!"
    -Captain Jester in Phule's Company, by Robert Asprin

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The DQ #8 – August 30, 2007

"Don't ever become a pessimist… a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun, and neither can stop the march of events."
    -Robert A. Heinlein

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The DQ #3 – August 25th, 2007

"The world is full of willing people — some willing to work and some willing to let them."
     -Robert Frost

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