Like several British SF authors working half a century ago, Eric Frank Russell developed a slick, wisecracking American narrative style for the US market. Wasp is an enjoyable example dating from 1957, whose engaging central idea is that--just as one tiny wasp distracting a driver can cause a fatal car crash--one carefully placed agent might spread enough chaos and misinformation to cripple a whole enemy world's war effort. Our reluctant hero James Mowry is told: "We want you to become a wasp."
The Sirian hordes who outnumber plucky little Earth by 12 to one are barely disguised German stereotypes from World War Two adventure fiction: beer-swilling or rather zith-swilling yokels, pompous bureaucrats and sadistic secret-police heavies. (The Sirian for "Yes" is, subtly, "Yar".) Secretly dumped on Jaimec--94th world of the Sirian empire--Mowry builds up the illusion of a non-existent anti-war resistance party. His weapons are fear, surprise, graffiti, stickers, bribes, anonymous letters, slanted gossip, judicious killings and little parcels that tick. Before long Jaimec's authorities are running in crazed circles, swiping blindly at this phantom army of traitors. It's a classic piece of SF wish-fulfilment.
Neatly comic turns of phrase provide needed relief as Sirian panic reaches hysteria level, their ponderous but efficient police machinery steps up its momentum, and Mowry's desperate ruses to avoid capture and torture become steadily more hair-raising. His story hits a satisfying climax followed by one last wry smile. A lightweight, unpretentious, pacy read. --David Langford