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Wasp    by Eric Frank Russell order for
by Eric Frank Russell
Order:  USA  Can
Orion, 2000 (1958)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Eric Frank Russell's pens tongue in cheek tales of strong individualists and this is a prime example. James Mowry is recruited as a wasp in the war between Terra (superior in technology) and the Sirians (who have a big advantage in numbers). The role requires fluency in Sirian, and a 'shorty who can walk slightly bandy-legged with his ears pinned back and his face dyed purple'. The job is explained to the unenthusiastic Mowry via a newspaper article describing a nasty auto accident that happened when a driver was distracted by a buzzing wasp.

After a crash course in sabotage, propaganda, psychological warfare, and weaponry, the reluctant recruit is dropped on Jaimec, ninety-fourth planet of the Sirian Empire. There he stirs up all kinds of trouble amongst the alien populace, while keeping a wary eye open for the dreaded Sirian security force, the Kaitempi, whom he succeeds in dodging, though with close calls. Mowry begins by dreaming up a mythical organization, Dirac Angestun Gesept - the Sirian Freedom Party, appointing himself president, secretary, treasurer and field-director. Then he starts stinging the poor Sirians.

The wasp uses Terran tech - like propaganda stickers activated by water to etch their messages deeply onto glass; selective assassinations of the Nazi-like Kaitempi, funded by counterfeit currency; ticking parcels containing paper threats along with a couple of real bombs; intensive rumor-mongering of bacteriological warfare; and periboobs which strike nautical fear in enemy merchant vessels. It's a romp of a futuristic spy story, though some of the similarities between Terran terrorism on Sirian worlds and recent events were a little disturbing on re-reading, especially the success of fear tactics against a civilian population.

That aside, it's an entertaining read, recently re-printed, with a twisty ending that is typical of early SF. Another that I recommend by Russell is Three To Conquer - about Earth invasion by parasitic, telepathic aliens - if you can find a copy in libraries or second-hand stores.

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