Volume 16, Number 3, Summer, 1998


By Eric Frank Russell

Reviewed by Carol B. Low

How many people does it take to start a revolution??

According to Russell, just one, if the one is a trained wasp.

But, what can one person do in the face of such a big, powerful thing as government to actually effect change?

The premise of this novel is that given the right set of tools and appropriate knowledge of the psychology of the opposition, a single individual can, indeed, throw an entire totalitarian government into a chaos of paranoia and tail-chasing.

Does it matter if the “Sirian Freedom party” really exists, as long as the government is kept busy chasing its tail to eliminate the threat posed by the merest thought of a powerful opposition?

James Mowry has been hired by the government of Terra to be a wasp—you know, that tiny little creature which, buzzing around in an automobile, can cause a deadly crash, killing any number of larger, heavier creatures and ruining their powerful machines as well. Thoroughly trained in a “college” which looks not-so-coincidentally like something out of Ian Flemming (whom I gather knew Russell during the war) and armed with multiple identities, high-tech propaganda, and cleverly constructed decoys (again reminiscent of another James—Bond, that is), Mowry single-handedly creates the illusion of a well-organized and deadly opposition on the planet Jaimec to the totalitarian Sirian empire which has been using its war with Terra, 1984-style, to keep its subjects from complaining about the loss of their freedom and their funds.

Mowry begins his campaign with nothing more than sophisticated graffiti—the kind that etches itself in more deeply the more you try to remove it. The non-existent Sirian Freedom Party takes loud credit for a rash of assassinations and even appropriates a murder or two to expand the illusion of massive opposition. Progressing methodically to such demonstrations as bomb threats, actual bombings, and decoy armaments, all carefully, insistently, attributed to the Sirian Freedom Party, Mowry, the only “member” of the latter, wears away at the delusion of security of those in power. His efforts become the focus of an increasingly hysterical government which must pull back from its determined war effort to defend itself from the internal threat posed by—not a huge, armed, organized opposition, but—one man.

Reading this novel in the 80’s in my “How can the Libertarian Party possibly make a difference playing their game with their rules?” days, I was irrevocably attracted by the carefully thought-out notion that one does not beat the opposition by playing their game, but by knowing their rules, their goals, their tactics, better even than they do and forcing them to play your game. Russell offers something which not even my well-known favorites amongst a very impressive archive of libertarian fiction and science fiction have done: a clear vision of the weakness of the enemy—the smug sureness with which the stealers of your freedom KNOW that they cannot be thwarted because they have all the power, all the guns. Force them—by being smarter, by knowing more about psychology and economic reality, more about their real goals—power and control, versus their posted goals of peace and equality, etc.—force them to show their hand and turn it against themselves.

Wasp is fast-paced, creative, and thought-provoking. The high-tech war fought by Mowry will appeal to the technophile in each of us. What Wasp lacks—deliberately—in character development and interpersonal intrigue, it more than makes up for with a good, close look at the enemy: the one-sided construct that we call “government” and its collective partner-in-crime, the populace which sits idly by and lets its freedom be eroded at an accelerating pace. This novel sets up a barrage which shouts, “Check your premises,” to those who think winning an election—their game, their rules—and repealing a few laws—their game, their rules, or fighting a conventional war of revolution—their game, their rules, will make the big, bad government go away. Russell paints the enemy in stark detail and offers the vision that with better technology and consistent premises and the staunch refusal to be made part of the problem, the enemy can be defeated and the road to freedom embarked. To my mind, there is no novel which is more deserving of a place in the Prometheus Hall of Fame.

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