Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

Home / Wasp by Eric Frank Russell - 14th January 2019 , by lancastersteve
Wasp Book Cover Wasp
Eric Frank Russell
Science Fiction

James Mowry has signed up as a spy, and agreed to be transported deep into enemy territory onto a Sirian world. His recruiter says he is to be wasp, and relates the story of four tough men in a large, well built car. A wasp gets in the car. It doesn't directly do anything to them, but by its presence it causes the car to crash and be destroyed, with all four men being killed. A very small thing can have a big impact if done in the right way. Mowry is to be that Wasp, to get behind enemy lines and cause mayhem by sowing discord and making it seem that his small actions are the work of a much larger organisation. This is the story of how he goes about it.

I’d never heard of the book or the author before receiving this as a Christmas present so I didn’t know what to expect, except that it was one of the Gollancz ‘SF Masterworks’ series which gives some indication of quality. In this novel, there is an interstellar war going on between humanity (Terrans) and the alien Sirians. This war has been going on a long time over many star systems. All of that is background scene setting that has almost nothing to do with the story.

Wasp is a fascinating read, very different to anything else I’ve read. While the setting and backplot make this science fiction, the Sirians are basically the same as humans except for some superficial cosmetic differences. It is clever, and quite funny in places too. It is also, quite a short – approx 180 pages – easy read.

This is quite a little known book outside of SF fandom. In the book’s introduction it is suggested that it would have been more popular (including nearly being turned into a film) but for the fact that it could be argued that it promotes terrorism because of the mayhem – and yes, some killing – Mowry causes behind enemy lines. I get the point, but there is no mindless bombing of innocent people, gunning down of pedestrians or anything like that. Most of what he does is as physically harmless as spreading propaganda, and the killing he does do is generally criminals and secret police. I can see why in the current climate it isn’t going to be hugely popular, but it is a funny and enjoyable read nonetheless.

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