Robert A. Heinlein,
Waldo & Magic Inc.
(Del Rey, 1950; Pan, 1969)

Here's something a little different from Heinlein: two extended stories from the early 1940s that incorporate significant helpings of fantasy.

"Waldo" is by far the better of the two selections. Waldo F. Jones is a brilliant engineer and all-around genius, but he doesn't get along well with people. Born with essentially no muscle control, he began inventing gadgets to help him perform common tasks as a child, and his inventions soon translated into commercial products. He considers his fellow men to be rather ignorant "apes" who rely on him to continue living out their frivolous existences; only one man, Grimes, the doctor who delivered him, has direct contact with him in his free-floating home in space.

Away from the curse of gravity, Waldo is able to move around comfortably and make use of all sorts of gizmos of his own design to help him carry out his work. He is a problem-solver of last resort; he always gets results, but his cold manner and contemptible attitude make him a hard man to deal with. Power plant engineer James Stevens has little choice but to come to Waldo -- the whole power supply of the country could fail at any time, and no one can figure out why the infallible power sources are failing. Grimes talks him into working on another problem in conjunction with the project -- getting rid of radiated energy that he deems harmful to mankind. With a little help from a mysterious old man, Waldo discovers not only a solution to both problems but an entirely new way to understand reality.

"Magic Inc." is pure fantasy. Virtually all businesses rely on magic to some degree, but there is a mysterious effort afoot to form a magic regulatory council, one capable of monopolizing magic, running out of business any magicians who refuse to join and inflating the prices of magical services rendered.

Archie finds his hardware store threatened and then trashed when he refuses to sign up for magical protection. Just as the citizens begin examining the danger posed by such regulation of magic, the government seeks to ratify the plan and make it the law of the land. Archie and his magically inclined friend Jenson team up with an ancient, benign witch and an African witch doctor to put an end to the danger by exposing the reality behind its conception, even if it means going to hell to confront the very demon responsible for the trouble.

Both stories fall below Heinlein's normal standards, but "Waldo" proves fairly fascinating up until the closing pages when magic is turned loose in the world. "Magic Inc." is just rather uninspired. Still, it's interesting to see another side of Heinlein's work. Since both stories fall short of wowing the reader, I would recommend trying this book only after becoming acquainted with Heinlein's more famous, visionary and enjoyable work. This is fairly atypical, unimpressive storytelling from science fiction's greatest writer.

by Daniel Jolley
17 September 2005

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