Wasp is a 1957 science fiction novel by English author Eric Frank Russell. Since its latest edition, published through Gollancz Science Fiction in 2000, Wasp has become controversial because the protagonist commits acts of terrorism in often humorous fashion. Notable author of the Discworld series of fantasy books, Terry Pratchett, stated that he "can't imagine a funnier terrorists' handbook." Despite this, Wasp is generally considered Russell's best novel.
The title of Wasp comes from the idea that the main character's actions and central purpose mimic that particular insect; just as a wasp that buzzes around in front of a car windshield distracts its driver and may cause it to crash, the protagonist's disruption of his enemy via psychological and guerrilla warfare is a distraction intended to lead to their downfall.
Set in an unspecified time in the future, the plot centers on protagonist James Mowry and an inter-planetary war between humans (collectively referred to as Terra) and the Sirians (collectively referred to as the Sirian Empire, from Sirius). The war has been in effect for nearly a year as the story begins. The Terrans, while technologically more advanced in most respects than the Sirians, are outnumbered and out-equipped twelve to one.
The Sirians are a humanoid species that share many of the same physical characteristics as their Terran enemies. Some of the more noticeable differences are their purple-faced complexions, pinned-back ears, and bow-legged walk. In terms of government, the Sirian Empire is reminiscent of fascist states that fought in the Second World War; they frequently employ a much-feared secret police force (called the Kaitempi, in an obvious pun on the Japanese Kempeitai, or Kaimina Tempiti), they censor much of their media, and they actively seek to quell any opposition to the government or the war through violent means.
The novel starts by introducing James Mowry while he is being recruited by the Terran government to infiltrate the enemy; to become a "wasp," in essence. After extensive training and surgery, he is sent to the Sirian outpost world of Jaimec to begin his mission. The first phase of this mission involves placing subversive stickers all over the Jaimecan towns in hopes of creating confusion and concern in the Sirians.
Completing his first objective, Mowry begins the second: sending letters to various people of importance informing them of several deaths by his hand. These threats are always signed by a mythical rebel organization Mowry devised, called Dirac Angestun Gesept (Sirian Freedom Party).
Mowry moves on to phase three, the hiring of Sirian civilians as contract killers to take down prominent members of the Kaitempi and other government officials. With the Sirians becoming more and more concerned about the disruption they believe the D.A.G. is causing, Mowry has an elevated chance of producing results with phase four.
The fourth phase involves Mowry planting fake wire tapping devices on several buildings (including the Kaitempi headquarters) in order to amass more confusion and false paranoia. He also spreads rumors via Sirian civilians to plant a seed of doubt among the populace.
With a Terran invasion on its way, Mowry is told to jump to phase nine of his operation: the sabotaging of Jaimecan sea-ships in another effort to divert the Sirians' concern away from the real threat. This time, the real threat strikes and begins invading. Mowry is captured by a Terran spaceship and is held for a few days before a government man recognizes that he is not Sirian, but Terran. The novel ends with the government man informing Mowry that a wasp on another world has been captured, and that he is to replace that wasp.
Another point of interest is the seemingly anti-authoritarian attitude the novel takes. It portrays the Sirian Empire's censorship, suppression, and police state as folly and oppressive. Wasp frequently employs wry, black humor when dealing with these ideas and themes.
Title of organization: Dirac Angestun Gesept.
Purpose of organization: Destruction of present government and termination of war against Terra.
Customary meeting place: Wherever Kaitempi can't find us.
Names and address of elected officers: You'll find out when it's too late.
Attach hereto complete list of members: Nar.
The novel has also been praised for its gritty realism. Along with the alien culture being more believable by including slang (such as "yar" for yes and "nar" for no), Mowry's creative disruption is seen as astute. As Rupert Neethling of infinity plus states:
One has to wonder whether Eric Frank Russell applied firsthand knowledge of espionage or sabotage when writing his 1957 classic, Wasp. At the very least, he seems to have had access to some kind of saboteur's checklist.
As Russell was in the Royal Air Force during World War Two he may well have had first hand experience of the operations of the British Special Operations Executive agents who were trained to disrupt the Nazis in occupied Europe in much the same way as Mowry does in Wasp.