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TPG reviews: Wasp, by Eric Frank Russell

August 30, 2013

Well-written, witty, intelligent and thrilling. What’s not to like?

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 unuspecting 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. 



My rating: 5/5

I have one real criticism for this book: compared to the rest of it, the book’s ending is kinda underwhelming. It’s not bad – nowhere near, in fact – and it’s understandable under the circumstances of the book’s setting, but it still felt a tad anticlimactic. After everything that comes before it, the ending will come across to some as a little disappointing.

That is, however, my sole criticism. You can probably guess, then, that I rather enjoyed this book.

The book opens to our hero, a certain James Mowry, being briefed on his upcoming solo mission into enemy space. Mowry is a slightly offbeat individual and has been judged to be the perfect man for the mission in question: namely, to land on an enemy world and cause as much chaos as possible in order to tie up resources. Astute readers may notice a few similarities with this book’s opening and that of Next Of Kin, though these similarities more-or-less evaporate once Mowry reaches his destination. From that point on, the novel provides an amusing and thilling – and also occasionally chilling – account of how a one-man planetary war could potentially be operated.

As a protagonist, Mowry is very effective. Russell does an excellent job was letting the reader get into his head, and he was easily to emphasize with despite the nature of his duties. I suppose the argument could be made that he’s a little too perfect: he has no major character flaws and proves to be excellent at his job despite having only received minimal training. While I was reading the book, however, I was too engrossed to notice or care. Mowry’s primary enemies, the secret police force known as the Kaitempi, are suitably competent and menacing to keep the tension high throughout. Besides Mowry, individual characters were fairly one-note, though this is largely because of how much time Mowry spends on the move; thus, this does very little to detract from the book.

The base quality of writing was splendid, with seamless descriptions and good pacing. A slightly odd quirk is that Mowry runs through conversations in his head quite often, which are written in the same way as ordinary dialogue; so long as the reader is paying the slightest bit of attention, however, I can’t see this being a problem.

At various points, hints are offered of the wider conflict taking place throughout the galaxy. Despite what one may expect, it soon becomes clear that humanity is winning the war and will probably continue to do so regardless of how Mowry performs. As a result, much of the book’s conflict is focused around Mowry’s survival rather than that of humanity as a whole. This might seem like a bit of strange choice on the part of the author, but ultimately it helps the novel rather than hinders it: given the scale of the conflict presented, having Mowry be anything more than a cog in humanity’s machine would have been rather difficult to swallow.

In today’s world, Wasp can be more than a little wince-inducing at at times. That should not, however, stop people from reading it. The bulk of the novel is sufficiently realistic that even non-fans of science fiction should enjoy it. SF fans meanwhile, will utterly adore it. If you fall into the latter category, I would very strongly recommend that you give this ago. Afterwards, consider giving Next of Kin a try as well.

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