3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
M. W. Stone
- Published on Amazon.com
"Wasp" is yet another of that enormous sf library which I first encountered round about age eleven - and find myself still going back to in my sixties. Hope that says something about the books rather than about me. Be that as it may, it is a list to which the late Eric Frank Russell has contributed more than his fair share.
When things military come into Russell's tales, they tend to draw upon his personal experience from WW2, and "Wasp" is no exception. Based on proposals from Russell's time with British Intelligence in the Pacific theatre, it is the story of one man against an Empire - a solitary agent sent into the heart of enemy territory to cause chaos and mayhem out of all proportion to his resources.
James Mowry is the typical Russell hero, a solitary type not over-fond of authority, but who would, in his own words "rather walk into something than be frogmarched into it" and will, if absolutely cornered, acknowledge that some kinds of authority are a good deal nastier than others. He finds himself cordially invited to take part in just such a conflict to "defend the bad against the worse", between Terra and the Sirian Combine, a futuristic version of the Japanese Empire of 1942, which it resembles right down to the name of its secret police. He is dropped in (surgically disguised to resemble a Sirian) entirely on his ownsome, his assignment being to create, single-handed, the appearance of a powerful resistance movement. This he does to spectacular effect, causing the enemy to tie up whole shiploads of troops and agents to suppress a movement that in fact is only one man.
There is room for a quibble or two. Considering that "Wasp" is supposed to be several centuries in the future, the technology, save for the existence of spaceships, is remarkably little advanced on 1957. About the only other innovations seem to be broadcast power and visual telephones. However, this does not impinge unduly on the story, which does not depend on technical marvels to any extent. Most of Mowry's weapons - crayons, window stickers, rumours spread verbally in parks, threatening letters, and the occasional mail bomb - seem pretty low-tech even for the time of writing. When he wants anyone killed, he hires local thugs to do it by the usual methods, rather than resorting to super-science. This indeed was perhaps the whole point of the story, that it was possible to cause major disruption without the need for super weapons and suchlike, rather as the wasp of the title was able to cause a car crash by frightening the driver without even needing to use its sting.
Less excusable is the total absence of any female characters. This sort of misogyny was common in early sf, and perhaps acceptable, given contemporary assumptions, where the characters were space pilots and the like. However, for what is essentially a "resistance fighter" novel it was anachronistic even for WW2, let alone a decade later.
I have less sympathy for the criticism I have run into in a number of places, which dislikes the novel because it somehow takes the wrong side in the "war on terror", making the terrorist the Good Guy. To my mind, anyone thinking like that suffers from myopia bordering on cataract. There have been plenty of instances in my lifetime, and even more in Russell's, where the Good Guys were defined by their enemies as "terrorists". Mowry's "victims" were typically secret policemen and other official types, surely fair game when there's a war on. Nor is it likely that his tactics would have been all that effective among a loyal population which still had confidence in its leaders. Basically, I think it's fair to say that any society which can be brought down, or even seriously undermined, by "Wasp" methods probably deserves to be. If anything in it makes us uneasy, perhaps we ought to be taking a hard look at ourselves rather than at the book.
In short, another "must read" for anyone already fond of Russell, and a good place to start for anyone who hasn't encountered him. Go out and get it.