My old pal Sourdough Jackson just gifted me with her five new books: That Old Science Fiction -- her history of early SciFi, Torpedo Junction -- alternate-history World War Two, and Wurst Contact -- a trilogy about future space exploration, all three of which I found with their covers torn off because the stupid delivery man put them not into or on top of the mailbox but on the ground inside the fence where our tenant's dogs could get at them. *Sigh*. So far, I've almost finished That Old Science Fiction, which is a brilliant and concise history of pre-1970 Science Fiction, its perpetrators and its fandom.
I particularly liked hers chapter on Eric Frank Russell, one of my favorite authors who has been undeservedly forgotten in recent years. Yes, I recognized --with much fond amusement -- all the stories mentioned, all these years later, for Russell was a very memorable writer. What I mourned is all of Russell's books that Sourdough didn't mention, such as Sinister Barrier, Sentinels From Space, and above all Wasp -- possibly Russell's greatest novel.
Terry Pratchett once called Wasp the world's funniest terrorist handbook, and wished that he had written it. When I first read it I was involved up to my eyebrows in the antiwar movement, Women's Lib, radical Labor -- via the Wobblies -- and associated reform movements, so I fully agreed with Pratchett, and did indeed use it as a tactical handbook. Basically it's a tale of an Earth secret agent, planted on an enemy planet, and all the tools and tricks he uses to disrupt (successfully!) that planet's government. The sheer detail of those tools and tactics were enough to make me wonder if Russell himself had ever been such an agent, or at least in contact with those who were.
Wasp's popularity took a sudden downturn after 9/11/01, as readers noted how (from Tor's Alan Brown) "In portraying many of the tactics of irregular warfare...the book also takes us into morally dubious territory -- a fact made even more clear in the wake of recent events". That's quite true; Russell's hero disrupts the local enemy government by not only creating a fake protest movement -- to keep the secret police distracted and looking incompetent -- but by subtle economic warfare, suborning local organized crime into performing assassinations and sabotage, which are then blamed on the fake protest movement, and other questionable tactics. As Brown notes, the hero of Wasp "may be fighting for 'our' side, but he does so in ways that make us deeply uncomfortable". So the book sank into Out-Of-Print obscurity.
That, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a serious mistake. If Wasp were commonly read today, a lot of people would recognize the agent's tactics as social phenomena being practiced right now, right here, and in US allied societies. There's nothing paranoid in admitting that the US and friends do have enemies out there in the world, some of whom certainly do use tactics like these. Yes, we are currently being "wasped", "gaslighted" and disrupted in subtle ways. Likely perpetrators are obvious enough. The government of China has been obsessed with conquering the world (often by economic warfare, regardless of its disastrous consequences to China itself) ever since the Ming dynasty. Communist Russia, on Lenin's orders, infiltrated and began corrupting our educational system a century ago, and certainly hasn't given up its hold on such a handy tool. The Caliphate -- the quiet and otherwise unlabeled association of the ambitious Muslim governments and organizations -- is certainly not displeased with the current fashion for denigrating the Christian and Jewish religions in the western countries. All of them are busy pushing their own agendas, and only the effects are visible.
Knowing who's to blame is less important than knowing what to do about it, and that has to start with recognizing that: A) our society is under attack, and B) how. Each individual tactic can be thwarted once we realize that it's happening. When it comes to recognizing the tactics, I can't think of a better guide than Eric Frank Russell's Wasp, not to mention his other books. So I want to thank Sourdough for that particular chapter in That Old Science Fiction, not to mention the rest of the book. I can't wait to read the rest of them.