Book: Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

Entertaining 1950s military science fiction

Eric Frank Russell
Gollancz, 2000 (originally published in 1957)
ISBN: 0 57507 095 1
175 pages
Out of print; as of this writing used editions seem to run above $20.00

The reader of Wasp, will find it unsurprising that its author, Eric Frank Russell, served in the British air force during the second world war. Apart form the existence of spaceships, there isn't much that's science-fiction-y about the book. It's really about a single (well-supplied) commando who is landed behind enemy lines -- er, on an enemy planet -- to create as much trouble as possible in civilian areas. That is, to act like an annoying wasp.

Conveniently, the aliens differ in appearance from humans mostly in that they're purple and bow-legged. Our main character, James Mowry, was born on one of their planets and so speaks the language fluently. Adding to the similarities to the second world war, the enemy Sirians have an authoritarian government and a somewhat northern-European-flavored culture.

Neil Gaiman finds the book somewhat prescient because James Mowry does very little actual damage and instead maddens the authoritarian government sufficiently that they do most of the damage to their society themselves. But James Mowry is a wasp, not a terrorist. He is interested in discomfiting the authoritarian government, not creating abundant civilian casualties.

If you're in the mood to read a story from the 1950s about a clever commando, this short book should do nicely.

Posted: Mon - August 16, 2010 at 07:37   Main   Category: