Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club


WASP
by
ERIC FRANK RUSSELL
Wasp trade paperback cover Wasp (1957)

Gollancz SF trade paperback
cover art by Jim Burns
175 pages

1959 Permabook first paperback edition
cover art by Art Sussman
170 pages - 35 cover price!
Wasp 50s cover

From the back cover of the trade paperback:
       The war had been going on for nearly a year and the Sirian Empire had a huge advantage in personnel and equipment.  Earth needed an edge.  Which was where James Mowry came in.
       If a small insect buzzing around in a car could so distract the driver as to cause that vehicle to crash, think what havoc one properly trained operative could wreak on an unsuspecting enemy.
       Intensively trained, his appearance surgically altered, James Mowry is landed on Jaimec, the ninety-fourth planet of the Sirian Empire.  His mission is simple: sap morale, cause mayhem, tie up resources, wage a one-man war on a planet of eighty million.  In short, be a wasp.

From the back cover of the 1980s paperback (below):
       The Lonely Warrior. Earth's War with the Sirian Combine stretched on and on, and the Terrans were fed up. To win, they needed an edge, so they set about to create one.
       Soon agent James Mowry had been surgically altered to resemble a Sirian -- and trained in the arts of espionage, subversion, and propaganda. Then they sent him to Jaimec, one of the planets of Sirius.
      James Mowry's mission was to divert the attention of the Jaimec government from the war with Terra, weakening the Sirian Combine. All he had to do was shake up an entire world. By himself!

From the back cover of the 1970s paperback (below):
       The great classic novel about intergalactic guerilla warfare
       The war was a standoff - Terran technology was outnumbered 12 to 1 in men and material.  Maverick James Mowry was dropped on Jaimec to do what no man had ever done - sabotage Sirian complacency and prove to the citizens that Goliath could be felled.

Read for group discussion on February 26, 2003

Wasp 80s cover More book covers:

Wasp


first unabridged U.S. publication, 1986
contains introduction by Jack L. Chalker
Del Rey books paperback, 196 pages
cover art by Barclay Shaw (left)

1971 Bantam books paperback
154 pages (right)
Wasp 1970s cover

RATINGS:
How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 7.5 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 9 Barb -
Aaron 6 Cynthia 7
Jackie - Ron 7
Christine 7 Mitch 9
Amelia 7    

Aaron's Commentary  Eric Frank Russell - Wasp

This is an entertaining spy yarn, placed in a science fictional setting.  It’s the familiar story of a fugitive on the run from justice, but with a nice twist – even as the authorities close in on James Mowry, he is always actually the aggressor.  Russell’s writing is understated, but with occasional clever touches, such as when a hotel clerk wishes his customer a long life, "obviously not caring if the customer expired on the spot."  I particularly liked the last few pages, when Russell slips in a little bit on the military mentality that calls to mind Catch-22, which Wasp predates.

I was disappointed at the lack of imagination in the science fiction elements of the story.  We are told that humans enjoy technological superiority over Sirians, yet Mowry employs remarkably low-tech, albeit often ingenious, methods for his one-man campaign of espionage and sabotage.  More importantly, the Sirians and their planet are not alien enough.  In an early scene, Mowry decides to follow a Sirian official home.  So he jumps in a taxi, has the driver follow the official’s car, pays the driver and tips him 25%, waits in the lobby of the official’s apartment for him to emerge from his parking garage, observes him get in the elevator, watches the numbers above the elevator doors to see what floor the official lives on, gets the guy’s name from the apartment’s switchboard operator, telephones and gets no answer, figures that the guy most have left again because he didn’t have time to run a bath, goes up and knocks on the door, picks the lock, goes in and begins ransacking the guy’s closet and file drawers.  By the end of this scene, I was wondering if there are any differences between Sirian culture and our own.  This shortcoming is surprising coming from Russell, whose short stories of space exploration such as "Symbiotica" always featured very imaginative space aliens.

It is a bit creepy to read Wasp right now.  This is a book written in 1957, in which our hero infiltrates a foreign land using arguably terrorist tactics to undermine the enemy.  I had no trouble accepting Mowry as the good guy, and yet a story about a Muslim in our present-day society using Mowry’s tactics would draw an entirely different reaction.  Perhaps Russell intended the book to have this unsettling edge – a 1957 reader might have been just as disturbed comparing Mowry to the communist infiltrators our society then feared.  Science fictional visions of the future often serve only to remind us how little things have changed.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to vanaaron@excite.com

Bibliography:
Eric Frank Russell (1905-1978) was a UK writer of science fiction stories and books. For short fiction he also used pseudonyms Duncan H. Munro and Webster Craig.

Awards:
1955 Hugo Award for short story "Allamagoosa"
1985 Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for The Great Explosion
2000 Posthumous Inductee Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame

Novels by Eric frank Russell are Sinister Barrier (1939 Unknown magazine, 1943 UK, revised 1948 USA); Dreadful Sanctuary (serialized in Astounding 1948, revised 1951); Sentinels from Space (1953, earlier in 1951 as "The Star Watchers"); Three to Conquer (1956, earlier in 1956 as "Call Him Dead"); The Space Willies (revision of 1957 Astounding magazine novella "Plus-X", 1958 USA); Wasp (1957 USA, 1958 UK); Next of Kin (1959 UK, expanded version of The Space Willies); The Great Explosion (fixup 1962); and With a Strange Device (1964, alternate title The Mindwarpers 1965).

Story collections by Eric Frank Russell are Deep Space (1954, 9 stories); Men, Martians and Machines (1955, collection of four linked stories); Six Worlds Yonder (1958, 6 stories); Far Stars (1961, 6 stories); Dark Tides (1962, 12 stories); Somewhere a Voice (1965, 7 stories); Like Nothing on Earth (1975, 7 stories); and The Best of Eric Frank Russell (1978, 13 stories).

Nonfiction books are Great World Mysteries (1957, essays), and The Rabble Rousers (1963, articles).

Design for Great-Day (1995) by Alan Dean Foster and Eric Frank Russell is based on story by Eric Frank Russell.


Links:
Shadow Man - The Life and Works of Eric Frank Russell
Wikipedia - Eric Frank Russell
Eric Frank Russell: Wasp - an infinity plus review
The SF Site Featured Review: Wasp
Next of Kin by Eric Frank Russell - an infinity plus review
Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews PS#10: Eric Frank Russell
The SF Site Featured Review: Next of Kin
Free Speculative Fiction Online: "...And Then There Were None" by EF Russell

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