Review of “WASP” by Erik Frank Russell

I would like to consider this my first review proper, and as such I will share with you, my trusted reader, what these “reviews” are intended to be.  There is a reason for those pesky quotation marks as these are reviews not in the modern interpretation of the word, but more so a re-viewing, or a look back at what has been read. I will not try to tell you what to buy, or what not to buy, instead I will look at each story through an angle of my choosing in an attempt to glean interesting information and bring it to light in a way that will hopefully, at the very least, be entertaining. With all that being said I will, for the most part, not be reviewing new books. Instead I will seek out works that are obscure, forgotten, or perhaps classics that have escaped my reader’s eyes. At the end of each review I will offer up the title of the next book I am to read and review so that if one were so inclined they could read along. Sort of like a book club. Unfortunately as this is my first real review (that other one down there can be considered a test case) you will not be given any head start.  The name of the book is “WASP” by Erik Frank Russell. So if your life permits it stop reading this right now and read that, then keep reading this. Again I’m not telling you to buy anything, but you have been forewarned.

This book was published perhaps ahead of its time in 1957, and its concept is simple yet terrifying. Imagine a wasp trapped in a car. He is quiet, trying to get through the sinister barrier that separates him from the green of the outside world. There are four men in the car, four bad men. They are on the run from the law and every resource available is set to hunting them. But it is this wasp, this tiny creature, without a horse in the race, who will get all the glory. The back window tires him so he moves to the front. He does not know what this means to the world, neither do the four men, but this small decision makes his presence known. Moments later a car leaves the road, and four men leave the realm of the living.

So if a lone and unguided wasp can achieve from the inside what an army of policemen and technology couldn’t do from the outside, then what could a man do? What if he was well trained and guided? What if it wasn’t a car full of bad men but a planet occupied by alien enemies? This is the set-up for “WASP.” Send one man in, and you could shift an entire civilization into chaos. James Mowry is that man.  A full synopsis can be read elsewhere, but it is largely unnecessary, as it is not the things contained within a synopsis that I would find interesting in this case.

A book lives or dies by its story, but quiet often in its reading we forget just how important the things that lie outside the story are. So many stories, especially in the speculative fiction genres, tend to bog themselves down with the weight of needless story fixtures. “WASP,” in this regard, finds itself unburdened. There is no romance, James Mowry doesn’t have a change of heart, there are no real sub-plots, and there are no grand revelations. The book is simple, but not in a bad way. It tells exactly the story it wants to tell, it tells the story of a human wasp, and all the terror he can cause. It was so refreshing to not have any of those ideas waiting to be sprung.

The scope of the story is so tight. It is written in the third person, but the reader rarely leaves Mowry, and even when the reader does it is done so as if in a vision from Mowry’s mind. We don’t see what happens elsewhere, we see what Mowry assumes happens elsewhere. In doing so the entire tale becomes beautifully tinged with Mowry’s sense of humor. “The more he had to dodge authority’s frantic fly-swattings, the harder it was to behave like a wasp and get a laugh out of it.” Even surrounded by enemies and certain death Mowry is hunting for a joke in it all. We may not see this if we were concerned with the Terran fleet or political war struggles back on Earth.  The periphery in this story may be an attractive place to go, but it would kill the mood.

Such trappings are easier to avoid in a short story, but a novel without any sexual tension or multiple sub-plots and characters that all build into one major climax is rare in the modern era.  Even his writing is simple; he doesn’t get hung up on things like metaphor and simile. No wordy descriptions or hidden subtext. Granted writing like this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and it’s not always mine even, but it is a testament to his story premise. If you can write an interesting novel without relying on anything else but the story in its most base form, and have it still turn out so well, then it must be one hell of a story.

Next up I will finally be diving into Terry Pratchett’s, sorry, I mean Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and I will start at the very beginning (where else would I start?) with “The Color of Magic.” Wish me luck.

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