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Literature / Phule's Company

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Phule's Company is a sci-fi series by Robert Asprin about (what appears to be) a Millionaire Playboy in the Space Legion who gets Kicked Upstairs and in charge of the Legion's worst unit, unofficially called The Omega Company. He has to turn them from a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits into a well-oiled machine, and through the books encounters more and more bizarre assignments and new worlds.

Later books in the series were officially "co-written" by Peter J. Heck. For better or worse, it is very likely that Heck did most if not all the work.

Books in the series:

  • Phule's Company (1990). Phule gets a new Legion name and takes over the Omega Company, stationed on a swamp planet.
  • Phule's Paradise (1992). The company takes over guarding a space casino.
  • A Phule and His Money (1999). The company finds themselves in contest with a planetary government that runs on theme parks.
  • Phule Me Twice (2000). Robot doppelganger
  • No Phule Like an Old Phule (2004). Phule Sr. shows up
  • Phule's Errand (2006).

Phule's Company provides examples of:

  • All-Natural Gem Polish: Lampshaded and averted. One of the executives of the mining consortium shows Phule the gems being mined in the swamps in Phule's Company; they look like muddy gravel, and the miner states that they need to be both cut and polished before sale.
  • At Arm's Length: People do this to Super Gnat when she gets mad. It just makes things worse. It turns out that the only reason people get away with doing this to a multiple black belt is that she tends to forget how to fight properly when she loses her temper.
  • Berserk Button: Nearly everyone has one, Omega Company or not.
    • Super Gnat's height in her earlier characterization. When first introduced, Gnat would attack anyone who said anything even remotely related to "short", whether they were referring to her or not. She even attacked another legionnaire who had only asked the mess cook for a "short stack of pancakes".
    • Insult Escrima's cooking skills or mess with the ingredients of his menu. We'll wait. Though this turns out to be Justified: before Phule takes over the company, Escrima was subjected to a lot of insults because the company meals were so bad, and there was little he could do to improve matters, as the Space Legion food budget restricted them to the worst/cheapest available ingredients, edible or not. Once Phule starts funding the company, the food improves drastically, and Escrima is better able to control his temper when challenged on his cooking skills.
  • Briar Patching: The biker gang that Chocolate Harry joined the Legion to escape catches up with him. After hearing how CH had doublecrossed them, Phule orders C.H. to let them destroy his beloved hoverbike as punishment. Over C.H.'s impassioned protests, the gang takes their revenge. After they leave, we find that Phule and C.H. had planned the whole thing, and C.H. had exaggerated his grief to make sure they were satisfied. Regaining his peace of mind was worth the loss of his bike.
  • Bullethole Door: Averted. After pretty much completely obliterating the entire wall and everything in the room above waist level with full-automatic, belt-fed "Rolling Thunder" shotguns, the door is still standing and someone has to very cautiously stand up to let the assault squad in.
  • Camp Cook: Escrima. Cooks like a five-star chef, with an ego to match. Also qualifies as Chef of Iron, since he's a top-notch fighter, including teaching his namesake fighting style to other company members, and is capable of hospitalizing would-be food critics.
  • Cast Calculus: Or how most of the Omega Mob gets broken down into manageable pairs... as well as non-Legion characters, such as the two IRS agents from A Phule And His Money, General Blitzkrieg and his long-suffering assistant Sparrowhawk, etc.
  • Confusion Fu: Phule's logic for putting the Red Eagles' best fencer up against Escrima, a trained martial artist who had never fenced before in his life. It was mostly psychological on Phule's part; he knew that Escrima couldn't really win the match because Escrima didn't understand the rules of fencing, but he also knew that anyone watching would immediately understand that in a real fight Escrima's opponent would have been dead meat.
  • Corrupt Politician: Governor Wingas, in Phule's Company, licks his lips at the possibility of getting a "campaign contribution" from Phule when the possibility of extorting him for dropping the charges against the Omega Mob's resident kleptomaniacs comes up. Phule points out that they were caught breaking in to return something they'd already stolen, and that while he'd never use them to pressure Wingas for favors, if a trial proceeded against his men he'd have no choice but to share the nasty details of the photos they'd snatched.
  • Corrupt Quartermaster: Captain Jester asks his new supply sergeant Chocolate Harry point blank at their first meeting what company gear he's been selling on the Black Market. Harry indignantly denies the accusation until Jester threatens to lock down his inventory and bring in an outside auditor to check everything over. After he owns up, Jester then explains that he doesn't want to lower the boom, just to have some oversight about what gets sold. He also has a shopping list of what he wants from the black marketeers in return.
  • Dating Catwoman: In Phule's Paradise Beeker and Laverna strike up a pleasant relationship despite—in fact, somewhat because of—being aides de camp to the leaders of the enemy groups.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Former white collar crook Sushi's primary objection to street rat Do-Wop isn't the fact that Do-Wop steals, it's that all his thefts are high-risk and low-reward.
    • See also Corrupt Quartermaster above.
  • Dungeon Bypass: In the competition with the Regular Army, the Army group goes through the obstacle course quickly, cleanly, and precisely, setting an excellent time despite the obstacle course being fairly brutal and the requirement of performing it wearing full combat gear. By contrast, the Omega Mob used their full combat gear, more or less demolished half of the obstacles on the course in various ways, and blew the Army's time out of the water. The army guys didn't know it, but this was the way Omega normally runs the obstacle course, and they had rebuilt it several times.
  • Earth That Was: Although Earth and its history are often indirectly mentioned, it is always in the past tense. During the very few times the Earth is directly mentioned, it's referred to as Old Earth.
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Tuskanini. He speaks English poorly, which contributes to his Dumb Muscle appearance, but it's revealed that this is because he chose to learn it the hard way, rather than taking advantage of the Translator Microbes most non-human species use. The microbes avert this for the Gambolts and Sinthians, but not so much for Leftenant Qual.
  • Elvis Impersonators: Converts to the Church of the King have plastic surgery to take on his features. This leads to a certain amount of confusion, which the Legionnaires eventually use to their advantage.
  • Exact Words: Used in the Dungeon Bypass example above. Phule requested the obstacle course runs be in "full combat conditions" which most of the Army members took to mean in full gear. When they try to complain, it is pointed out that in combat, you wouldn't climb a wall if there was no reason not to just blow it up and get it out of your way.
  • Fiction 500: Captain Jester, aka Willard Phule, is one of the richest men in the galaxy, which is why he was reassigned to the Omega company instead of being sent to the stockade.
  • First Contact: At the end of the first book. Phule has taken on the responsibilities (and the profits) for dealing with the aliens.
  • Framing Device: Supposedly, the books are Beeker's recounting of events; the story is interspersed with his personal comments, and occasionally he will explain that he's just inferring scenes he wasn't there for from the things he does know.
  • Future Imperfect: The founders of Wild West-theme tourist planet Cut'n'Shoot, while aware that "Injuns" were a necessary component of the motif, weren't clear on which sort of Indians this historical term actually referred to. Therefore, its attractions include outlying villages based on Old Earth's West Indians, Native Americans, and the inhabitants of India.
  • Gentle Giant: The pacifistic Volton Tuskanini, a seven-foot-tall warthog who wouldn't fire a gun at the start of the series. Over time he picks up a strong protective instinct for his friends, picking a fight with Brandy to protect Super Gnat and insisting that he be allowed to carry one of the Rolling Thunder automatic shotguns when Phule is kidnapped.
  • Gung Holier Than Thou: Armstrong starts out as this; Phule tells him to knock it off. Thumper's attitude and performance gets him shunned by his fellow-recruits for showing them up in Basic Training before his transfer to Omega.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Colonel Battleax was the one who decided to assign Phule as the CO of Omega Company, under the pretense that dealing with a group of the Legion's unassignables would force him to resign. It only took one book for her to be one of the company's biggest supporters, even going up against General Blitzkrieg, her superior officer.
  • Hover Board: Spartacus, the Synthian, rides one of these. The board proved so useful for him that he and Louis, the squad's other Synthian, teamed up to bring them to their homeworld.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Tuskanini and Super Gnat. He stands over seven feet tall (and looks rather like a bipedal warthog, to boot). She's about 5 feet tall.
  • Intelligent Gerbil: Cat, slug, warthog, allosaurus, rabbit. Phule considers all of these racial slurs and discourages their use.
  • The Jeeves: Beeker, Phule's butler. And that's just Beeker. Additional titles are neither wanted nor required.
  • Kicked Upstairs: Phule, and how the series gets its start.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Omega Mob finds itself in a competition against the elite Red Eagles to see who can make it through an obstacle course fastest. Phule specifies that the race will be with "full combat gear and conditions," and the Red Eagles quickly complete it despite carrying a full infantry loadout. However, Phule's company finishes even faster since "full combat conditions" means they can blow up or destroy every obstacle in their way, and take prisoner the Army troops manning the obstacles something the Red Eagles hadn't considered. Rather unusually for this trope, the Red Eagles don't object, once their Captain points out that they could have done the same thing.
  • Martial Arts Staff: Escrima named himself after the Filipino stick-fighting style he's highly adept in.
  • Meaningful Name: Legionnaires are generally known by their Legion names, names they chose upon enlisting or are later given by comrades. Some examples include Escrima, for his fighting style, and the Sinthians Spartacus & Louie, who come from opposite social classes and named themselves after the famous rebel slave and Louis the XIV, respectively. One character goes by "Rose", though the others call her Shrinking Violet, since she's horribly shy, then becomes "Mother" as the company communication specialist who is a lot more confident over the radio, and tends to get maternal with her colleagues.
  • Mildly Military: The Omega Company, though it's used for good once Phule takes over. After Phule takes over it's actually unusually regimented by Legion standards; the uniforms are even standardised.
  • Military Brat: Lieutenant Armstrong, apparently; he's one of the more militarily formal Legionnaires as a result.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment:
    • The first in the series is either the obstacle course or the massing-of-Mob-members-at-the-airstrip moment, both in the first book. First, when the Mob demonstrated that they (and their leader's methods) weren't completely worthless; second when they fully demonstrate their solidarity/loyalty to their new captain.
    • They also get off a good one in the second book when Max kidnaps Phule but neglects to do anything to neutralize the Legionnaires. As Beeker comments, this essentially removes every brake they had.
  • Mission Control: Mother.
  • Mundane Solution: Grenades + Combat Conditions = What Obstacle Course?
  • Over-the-Top Roller Coaster: One of the books takes place in a world whose hat is really liking rollercoasters, with an unfriendly competition between theme parks to build the one with the highest drop. Corrupt Politicians pass a law that no coaster can go higher than x off the ground (allegedly for safety reasons but really to preserve one park's claim on being the highest). Phule & co. build one bigger anyway - Ain't No Rule that the bottom of the rollercoaster's drop has to be above ground, so they build one where the drop ends in an underground tunnel.
  • Private Military Contractors: Sort of what the Legion is.
  • Punny Name: Phule's Errand introduces Jester's uncle in Italy, Pitti da Phule.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The Omega Company.
  • Reassignment Backfire: Every. Single. Book.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni:
    • Do-Wop and Sushi, for one, the former being hot-blooded, short-tempered, easy-going (when not being Hot Blooded), and impulsive, while the latter starts out like The Stoic (becoming The Smart Guy), is technically adept, and good enough to talk his way out of a riot and into the Yakuza. Of course, they initially dislike each other and attempt to get re-assigned to new pairs, but by the end of the book they're breaking and entering for the good of the Mob. To varying degrees, most of the rest of The Squad is like this as well.
    • In fact, some of the Omega Company was paired off like this with this trope in mind. Tusk-anini and Super Gnat, for instance; Tusk-anini's peaceful tendencies help mellow out Gnat at the same time that he picks up a couple of Berserk Buttons of his own. Do-Wop and Sushi were paired off because they were the squad's resident kleptomaniacs; Phule explicitly tells them that he hoped Sushi would learn to loosen up a bit and Do-Wop would drop the petty theft in favor of thinking big. Even Lieutenants Armstrong and Rembrandt show shades of this.
  • Scary Black Man: Chocolate Harry, although only to non-Legionnaires. Well, he is a Badass Biker in addition to being one of the two main big guys.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: One of the extremely rare occurrences where this is done by the good guys, for good reasons, usually to get around an Obstructive Bureaucrat.
  • Servile Snarker: Beeker has been known to crack wise on occasion. A good example from Phule's Paradise after Phule accepted Rembrandt's choices of actors without looking her files over and telling her to make her strongest instinct her final decision:
    Phule: "What you're trying to say, in your traditionally subtle way of course, is that you think I was a little hard on Rembrandt just now. Right?"
    Beeker: "I suppose from your point of view, sir, you were being quite tolerant. I mean, you could have had her stood up against a wall and shot."
  • The Show Must Go On: In Phule's Paradise, Phule hires a number of actors to impersonate Legionnaires. When two of the actors are badly beaten, he wants to immediately end the masquerade and send the rest of the actors away. This trope is basically their response.
  • Shown Their Work: Book 2 could easily have been called A Phule's Guide to Fleecing a Casino.
  • Shrinking Violet: Rose/Violet/Mother off-radio; her first Legion name (Violet) directly references this trope.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Chocolate Harry... convinces... the tailor that Phule hires that his custom-designed uniform does not need to have sleeves.
  • Supreme Chef: Escrima. And he will beat you down if you question it.
  • Take a Third Option: The Omega Mob's typical method of operation.
  • Take That!: After Asprin ran into Real Life trouble with the IRS, an absolutely vicious tax-agency subplot appeared in A Phule and His Money.
  • Terra Deforming: Phule's Errand introduces the planet Ron'n'art which is totally roofed over, up to a mile from the surface, making it an extreme example of a Planet City. Ron'n'art is noted as having a richly deserved reputation for decadence, corruption, and paralysis of every agency. If it weren't for the robots and automated systems, nothing would get done and everyone would starve.
  • Translator Microbes: Translator boxes, with audio output that can be set to the user's preference. Qual's translated speech is the only time the translator boxes have trouble, though.
  • Vibroweapon
  • The Voice: Mother. A mild subversion since the person exists but is cripplingly shy and will talk freely only when she's on the radio.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Phule himself.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Tuskanini. When he picks a fight with Brandy because of remarks toward Super Gnat, he actually gets beaten. When Super Gnat hears of this, she comments that simply being big and tough isn't enough against someone like Brandy, who is also big and tough but is also an excellent brawler.
  • Vocal Dissonance: Spartacus's translator renders his voice in a baritone. Picture a three-foot-tall slug speaking in Keith David's voice for a good idea of what this might seem like.
  • Workaholic: Phule. Seemed to have reached a major point in Phule's Paradise, to a point where he'd spent so much time focusing on both preparing the Fat Chance for its opening as well as handing company-related issues that he made the best of his kidnapping by getting some much needed sleep.
  • You No Take Candle: Subverted. Tuskanini learned the language manually instead of relying on Translator Microbes, and Phule realizes that even speaking stilted English is a sign of exceptional intelligence.