I recently found myself between books and decided to re-read an old favorite, Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin.
Originally published in 1990, I discovered this book during Middle School and fell in love with it.
The back cover:
The Few. The Proud. The Stupid. The Inept.
Meet the soldiers of Phule’s Company.
They do more damage before 9:00 A.M. than most people do all day…
And they’re mankind’s last hope.
It’s about a charismatic young Space Legion Lieutenant who breaks a few rules but also happens to be the rich son of a mega-billionaire. The Legion can’t really punish him so they promote him and give him command over a “hopeless” company full of losers, criminals, and pacifists. Much hilarity ensues.
I just have to say that Robert Asprin is a brilliant writer and that’s most evident in Phule’s Company. His other books are good but this one is fantastic. It’s smart, it’s funny, and he hits all the right points, and his descriptions are awesome. He even breaks a few of my reader rules without losing me, like head jumping and switching perspectives, which is very uncommon. It just works so well the way it’s written.
Even reading it now, some twenty years later, I still love the book and highly recommend it to others. Other great series by Asprin include the Myth series, Time Scout, and Thieves World.
And as a writer, there are some other things that are interesting about Robert Asprin and Phule’s Company that don’t involve his skills. In many ways, as fantastic of a writer as he was, there are several aspects of his life that could stand as lessons to the rest of us.
You see, Phule’s Company is one of the few books published by Robert Asprin without a co-author.
This went well until the late 1990’s, when RLA’s (Robert Lynn Asprin) career was disrupted by a converging set of circumstances. Firstly, Mr. Asprin ended up in extremely serious trouble with the American federal tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, over the supposed non-payment of income taxes, specifically in relation to his appearances at various science fiction conventions. The IRS is reported to have garnished RLA’s income, meaning that, while the garishment was in place, any income RLA made would go directly to the IRS. If he were to write and publish a book under these conditions, any and all profits would be automatically claimed by the IRS.
A way around this, evidently, was for RLA to sign off on officially ‘co-authored’ books. This is presumably one reason why the Phule and Time Scout series have continued to appear under co-authored bylines (Peter J. Heck and Linda Evans, respectively.) License Invoked (with Jody Lynn Nye) used the same scheme.
According to RLA’s own introduction to Myth-ion Improbable, as of April 2000, this dispute was finally “resolved.”
Another reason for the co-authoring as well as for the lack of new Myth books is that it appears RLA’s writer’s block, as discussed below, became terminal for several years. As noted elsewhere in this FAQ (Section 9.4), RLA has admitted for the record that he contributed very little to the writing of Wagers of Sin. The same is likely true of A Phule and His Money, Ripping Time, et al, although there has been no official confirmation of this. (Although the tax-agency subplots running through A Phule and His Money and Myth-Taken Identity must have been inspired by RLA’s real-life experiences in this area.)
Thirdly, there was the situation with Donning. While Mr. Asprin was still under contract, Donning’s “Starblaze” line, which published the original hardcover versions of the MythAdventure books, was shut down. Donning as a whole is now (more or less) defunct, having been bought out by another publishing company. The company went under amidst a storm of accusations of legal and financial chicanery, and so, for several years, if RLA was still under any contract to write Myth books, it was with this zombie of a company, an entity with whom he had no desire to conduct further business.
IRS and publisher issues almost derailed Robert Asprin’s career. Around the same time these issues were first cropped up, writer’s block stopped him from writing for SEVEN YEARS. That’s the official story at least. I’m sure he did some writing during that time but was either unable or unwilling to publish because of those issues. Thankfully, the disputes were eventually resolved and he went on to put out many more books before he passed away in 2008.
It’s a fascinating story all around, both the author and his work. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read Phule’s Company to go out and pick up a copy. The rest of Robert Asprins work, especially Time Scout, are awesome too but Phule’s Company has a special place for me.