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Vintage Treasures: Wasp by Eric Frank Russell

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Wasp 1959-small Wasp 1959 back-small

Eric Frank Russell is one of my favorite early SF writers. His prose sparkles, and his stories have genuine warmth and humor. His first novels, including Sinister Barrier (1939), Dreadful Sanctuary (1948), and Sentinels from Space (1953), made him instantly popular in the United States and his home country, the UK.

His fifth novel, Wasp (1957), is the story of a human saboteur, sent to the home planet of a hostile race during an interstellar war. All alone, he wages a campaign of terrorism to bring down a vast alien empire.

Like virtually all of Russell’s work, it remained in print for decades. Its first paperback appearance in the US was in February 1959, from Perma Books (above; click for bigger images). It was 170 pages, priced at 35 cents. The cover was by Art Sussman.

Wasp Avalon Books-small New Worlds Science Fiction 69 March 1958-small Wasp Panther-small

Wasp was first published in hardcover by Avalon Books in Nov 1957 (above left, cover by Ric Binkley). It was later serialized in three parts in the UK in New Worlds Science Fiction, starting in March 1958 (above middle, cover by Brian Lewis.) The first UK paperback edition was from Panther in March 1963 (above right, cover by Richard Powers).

Wasp was kept in print all through the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s — an amazing accomplishment in a field where novels typically remained in print for a matter of months. The editions shown here are only a few of the multiple reprintings.

Bantam Books picked it up in June 1971 (below left, cover by Gene Szafran), followed by Methuen in the UK in February 1986 (below middle, cover by Terry Oakes), and Del Rey (below right, cover by Barclay Shaw), also in February 1986.

Wasp Bantam-small Wasp Methuen-small Wasp Del Rey-small

Most recently, Wasp was selected by Gollancz for their highly-regarded SF Masterworks series, starting in April 2000. It has had several editions from Gollancz, including January 2002 (below left, cover by Jim Burns), and May 2013 (below right, cover by Dominic Harman.)

Wasp Gollancz Wasp SF Masterworks-small

Sadly, Wasp is no longer in print as a standalone novel, but there are so many editions that it’s not hard to get hold of a copy cheaply. Pollinger in Print published a digital edition in January 15, 2009.

For modern readers interested in finding a copy, your best bet is Entities: The Selected Novels of Eric Frank Russell, still in print in hardcover from NESFA Press. It contains five novels (Sentinels From SpaceWasp, Sinister Barrier, Next of Kin, and Call Him Dead), a smattering of short fiction, and an introduction by Jack L. Chalker. The cover art is by Bob Eggleton.

Entities eric frank russell

Our most recent Eric Frank Russell coverage includes:

Somewhere a Voice
Six Worlds Yonder / The Space Willies
Men, Martians, and Machines
Sentinels of Space
It’s A Small World After All
Creatures From Beyond, edited by Terry Carr
Robert Bloch on J. Francis McComas, Eric Frank Russell, and Leigh Brackett

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

12 Comments »

  1. Russell was a big favorite of mine, and WASP is my favorite of his novels. I read the 1959 edition pictured at the top and still have it. I’ve read it a couple of times in the intervening years, and it’s still as much fun as ever.

    Comment by Bill Crider - January 6, 2016 3:30 pm

  2. I read the snot out of EFR’s short stories as a teen, thanks to the Ballantine BEST OF collection and the 70s-era Ace double you covered in this series a year or two ago, with those great covers by Frank Kelly Freas.

    https://www.blackgate.com/2014/05/11/vintage-treasures-six-worlds-yonder-the-space-willies-by-eric-frank-russell/

    But for some reason I never read WASP until recently. That 70s-era Bantam cover bugged me, as it were. Somehow I got the impression the story was set in a hive society. I finally caught up with the book when reading through ENTITIES last year.

    WASP holds up pretty well, I think. There’s not much about the inner life of the hero–what le Carré calls “the lonely terror of the spy”–but the story is consistently interesting. It might film well. I wish I could go back and convince my teenage self to read it; I bet he would have loved it.

    Comment by James Enge - January 6, 2016 5:51 pm

  3. Few science fiction writers can consistently write humorous stories, but EFR could and did. WASP is my favorite among his novels. Love the NESFA editions of Eric Frank Russell’s work, too!

    Comment by kelleyg@ecc.edu - January 6, 2016 7:27 pm

  4. I loved it when I read it in high school and am glad to hear it holds up. Now I wonder where my copy is?

    Comment by Fletcher Vredenburgh - January 6, 2016 9:12 pm

  5. > I read the 1959 edition pictured at the top and still have it.

    Bill,

    I think the cover of the ’59 edition is one of the weakest of the lot… but I admit a nostalgic fondness for this edition anyway. Glad I’m not the only one!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 6, 2016 9:47 pm

  6. > I read the snot out of EFR’s short stories as a teen, thanks to the Ballantine BEST OF collection
    > and the 70s-era Ace double you covered in this series a year or two ago…

    James,

    Ah! I’m jealous. I wish I’d had the foresight to track down SIX WORLDS YONDER and THE SPACE WILLIES and read them as a teen. I could have been set on a righteous path decades sooner!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 6, 2016 9:50 pm

  7. > Few science fiction writers can consistently write humorous stories, but EFR could and did.

    Kelly,

    Indeed! And he made it look so easy!

    > WASP is my favorite among his novels. Love the NESFA editions of Eric Frank Russell’s work, too!

    In my first draft of this article, I completely forget about the NESFA book. I had to scramble to add it five minutes after it went live. If you want a new copy of WASP today, it’s the way to go!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 6, 2016 9:51 pm

  8. For those interested in finding out more about Russell and his works, a biography was published several years ago entitled “Into Your Tent” by John Ingham. A so-so biography with way too much detail, (over 50 pages just on his ancestors alone !), still I found it interesting since prior to reading the book I knew virtually nothing about Russell the individual. He does discuss his novels and shorter works though somewhat uncritically.

    Comment by Chuck Timpko - January 6, 2016 11:15 pm

  9. > I wonder where my copy is?

    Fletcher,

    It’s not hard to replace if it’s lost. While I was researching this article, I found several EFR lots on eBay at fabulously reasonable prices.

    Comment by John ONeill - January 6, 2016 11:47 pm

  10. > a biography was published several years ago entitled “Into Your Tent” by John Ingham.

    Sounds well worth tracking down. Thanks for the tip, Chuck!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 6, 2016 11:47 pm

  11. Count me as another person who loves Eric Frank Russell. I read his stories in ASTOUNDING when I was an almost teen and couldn’t get enough. I have the NESFA books and love ’em. WASP is still entertaining and enjoyable.

    Comment by R.K. Robinson - January 7, 2016 2:25 pm

  12. R.K,

    Ah! I envy you reading those stories when they first came out. I wish I’d discovered Russell when I was younger. I didn’t start reading him until I was in my 40s.

    Although, I did read “Dear Devil” (in Terry Carr’s magnificent Creatures From Beyond) when I was 11, and absolutely adored it. I should have paid a lot more attention to who wrote it!

    Comment by John ONeill - January 7, 2016 3:38 pm


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