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    WASP by Eric Frank Russell

    Avalon, 1957/Orion 2000

    James Mowry is a wasp. Earth is fighting and losing a war against a despotic civilization and reaching for desperate chances. One of these is to send underground sabateurs to destabilize the Sirians in their home planets. Alone on a planet among the billions of Sirians, Mowry has to create enough damage, enough panic, to pave the way for a Terran counterattack. Of course he has to stay alive long enough for it to matter. He is a wasp--if he is effective, maybe he can get the Sirians to destroy themselves in their efforts to eradicate him.

    There is a limit to what one man can do, even if equipped with advanced technology. Mowry compensates for his weakness by attacking the confidence of his enemies rather than their materials. Assasination, misdirected sabotage where it will create a panic, creating the impression of an active resistance, these are his tools. Yet with every success, the Sirians close their noose around him. For Terra, Mowry is expendable--expended. Somehow, though, he won't give up.

    This short novel is a thrilling classic. Like many novels of the 1950s, it appeals to the notion of ranged superpowers battling for survival. Unlike most, it makes the plot intensely personal. Mowry works the psychological angle, but does so at a sociological level. He isn't playing head games against an enemy leader, he is attempting to undermine the confidence of a people, and force them to replace the rule of law with terror.

    Neither Mowry nor author Eric Frank Russell takes the easy approach of demonizing the aliens. Instead, they are presented as a diverse and ethically complex race. Mowry is fighting for Terra because that is who he is, not because Terra's cause equates to a fight for good against evil. The writing is fast-paced and gut churning. The conclusion fully points out the moral ambiguity of war.

    Four Stars

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