Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Book Review: 'Life With Lancelot', by John T. Phillifent

2/5 Stars

John T. Phillifent (1916 – 1973) was a British author who published a number of SF novels and short stories in the 1970s, some under the pen name of John Rackham. ‘Life With Lancelot’ (1973) is part of Ace Double No. 48245, with ‘Hunting on Kunderer’ by William Barton, serving as the other portion of the book. At 132 pp in length ‘Lancelot’ consists of three stories: ‘Stainless Knight’, ‘Logical Knight’, and ‘Arabian Knight’.

Lancelot Lake is a janitor on a space station in the Galactic Federation; Lake is prone to spending most of his waking hours engaged in Walter Mitty-style ruminations. His life gets a major turnaround when he foolishly commandeers control of a damaged spaceship, and fails to prevent it from crashing on the surface of the planet of the Shogleet, technologically advanced creatures who are able to shape-shift, and become invisible, among other useful traits. The Shogleet revive the dying Lancelot, and using his brain’s imagery as a guide, re-create him as the physical embodiment of the Lancelot of mythology: not too bright, but strong and handsome.

Lancelot returns to the Federation and enrolls as a trouble-shooter for worlds where the cultures are lodged in a feudal or medieval state. A ‘Prime Directive’ prohibits the overt intervention of the Federation, except as a covert operation cloaked in the guise of the existing technology.

Each of the three stories sees Lancelot dispatched to a different planet, where he must intervene to prevent rouge Federation agents, or their loosed technology, from disrupting the normal order of the host society. The main focus of ‘Lancelot’ is humor, as our witless hero blunders about the landscape, getting into various combats with medieval knights or dissolute Arabian caliphs. Phillifent tends to center each tale on sophomoric humor derived from encounters between Lancelot and a series of lubricious females. Overall, the book reads as a gently sarcastic take on SF and fantasy clichés, and owes more than a bit to Harry Harrison and his writings.

‘Life with Lancelot’ is mildly entertaining, but that’s about it. If readers stumble upon it, that’s fine, but I don’t believe it’s worth a deliberate search in the used bookstore catalogues.

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