Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1369
James Stevens, the Chief Traffic Engineer of North American Power Air (NAPA), is summoned to his superior’s office because NAPA, the company that supplies power to air vehicles as well as the cities, suffers several unexplainable power breakdowns. ‘‘DeKalb receptors,’’ components that receive the radiant power, utilize the power for the aircars. Scientists proclaim the deKalbs infallible, and yet they have been failing in commercial freighters for some time. NAPA cannot figure out what causes the problem. The head physicist of NAPA, Dr. Rambeau, insists that the deKalbs cannot fail and that the engineers have somehow ‘‘operated them incorrectly’’ yet the engineering department cannot figure out just what they’re doing wrong.
NAPA is completely puzzled, so Dr. Stevens suggests that they contact Waldo, a bitter genius who is particularly hateful toward NAPA, to solve the problem for them. The suggestion is met with some dismay, but Gleason, Dr. Stevens’s superior, admits that he’s already contacted Waldo, but that Waldo is ‘‘still sore over the Hathaway patents’’ and doesn’t wish to help NAPA. The people at NAPA are worried about the failure of the deKalbs in the air vehicles because the same technology is used to power cities, and NAPA is afraid that while the power to the cities hasn’t yet failed, it’s only a matter of time until it does. Because of these worries, Gleason tells Stevens to use his connections to contact Waldo.
Stevens meets with Doc Grimes, an eccentric doctor who dresses in anti-radiation suits and is Waldo’s only friend. Grimes berates Stevens for his out- of-shape condition and speculates that the reason for Stevens’s out-of-shape condition is not solely overwork, as Stevens maintains, but that humanity cannot ‘‘pour every sort of radiant energy through the human system year after year and not pay for it.’’ Grimes’s thesis is that the radiant energy that NAPA uses for power is dangerous to humans. Grimes maintains that even though it was tested before being put into widespread use, the power source was not tested long enough to determine whether it would be dangerous to humans who were exposed to it every day, day in and day out. Grimes hypothesizes that this radiant energy is running down the human race—people act tired and thus don’t exercise enough. He has kept records for years, noting that in athletic events, the all-time records are no longer getting broken and the top athletes of the present day could not compete with athletes from previous times—humankind is getting weaker physically instead of continuing to strengthen and improve.
Stevens finally asks Grimes to introduce him to Waldo. Grimes considers Waldo’s disorder, myasthenia gravis, which affects the muscles. Essentially, Waldo is as relatively weak as a newborn baby—he cannot move in Earth’s gravity and so he has moved to his own space station and moves with relative ease in an anti-gravity environment. Grimes agrees to take Stevens up to Freehold, Waldo’s space station, to meet Waldo and attempt to convince him to take on the problem of the failing deKalb receptors. Once at Freehold, Grimes convinces Waldo not only to take on the NAPA problem, but also to devise a way to fix the problem that will do away with the radiant power that Grimes believes is causing the tired and rundown feeling in the human race.
Finding a Solution
Stevens returns to NAPA only to discover that one set of deKalbs has been miraculously fixed. Stevens’s assistant, Mac, had a failed set of deKalbs in his air-car. Since he was near his hometown, he went walking and came to the house of Gramps Schneider, who fixed the deKalbs by ‘‘thinking’’ them fixed. If that weren’t unscientific enough, the rigid metal ‘‘fingers’’ of the deKalbs now wiggle like fingers reaching for the power they need to operate.
The story then shifts back to Waldo’s attempt to discover the cause for the failing deKalbs. He tries to determine if the manufacturing or the operation of the deKalbs is at fault, but so far, Waldo has discovered no reason for the deKalbs to be faulty. He also has discovered that Doc Grimes’s theory on humankind becoming weaker is true, and is discovering that radiant energy is in fact the prime reason— humankind is slowly poisoning itself on the radiant energy technology. Meanwhile, Stevens has sent the deKalbs that Gramps Schneider fixed to Waldo. Dr. Rambeau, the physicist, calls Waldo to explain that he, too, can make the deKalbs work. He tells Waldo: ‘‘You are here and I am there. Or maybe not. Nothing is certain. Nothing, nothing, NOTHING is certain! Around and around the little ball goes, and where it stops nobody knows. Only I’ve learned how to do it.’’ He goes on to tell Waldo that ‘‘nothing is certain any more. . . . Chaos is King and Magic is loose in the world!’’ Rambeau disappears soon after his conversation with Waldo (before he is locked up as a lunatic) and Waldo must study the wiggling deKalbs (Rambeau has made a second set behave in the same way) and discover an answer to the problems on his own.
Waldo finally comes down to Earth in order to meet Gramps Schneider and hopefully learn how Gramps Schneider made the deKalbs work—and wiggle. Essentially, Gramps tells Waldo that he told the deKalbs to reach into the ‘‘Other World’’ for energy and implies that Waldo could do the same in order to be cured of his myasthenia gravis. Gramps Schneider also tells Waldo that the deKalbs seem to be failing not because of any mechanical problem— but because the operators of the deKalbs are ‘‘tired and fretting,’’ and essentially think their deKalbs into not working.
Waldo returns to Freehold interested, but puzzled by Gramps Schneider’s ideas about how the deKalbs and other machinery work. After Stevens calls Waldo and warns him that time is growing short and they need an answer quickly, Waldo reconsiders the ‘‘Other World’’ and begins researching magic and begins to accept that the ‘‘Other World’’ is a reality. Eventually, Waldo also makes a set of broken deKalbs wiggle and work. However, while visiting with Doc Grimes, they notice that the ‘‘fixed’’ deKalbs aren’t using the radiant energy. They are taking energy from somewhere else, and Waldo hypothesizes that they are taking energy from the ‘‘Other World.’’ Hence, by ‘‘hexing’’ all of the deKalbs (or simply building ‘‘Schneider-deKalbs’’), he has solved both problems: There will be no more need for the radiant energy that was causing humankind’s muscles to deteriorate, and he can create functioning deKalbs.
Waldo considers the nature of the ‘‘Other World’’ and its relation to our own:
Suppose Chaos were king and the order we thought we detected in the world about us a mere phantasm of the imagination; where would that lead us? In that case, Waldo decided, it was entirely possible that a tenpound weight did fall ten times as fast as a one-pound weight until the day the audacious Galileo decided in his mind that it was not so. Perhaps the whole meticulous science of ballistics derived from the convictions of a few firm-minded individuals who had sold the notion to the world. Perhaps the very stars were held firm in their courses by the unvarying faith of the astronomers. Orderly Cosmos, created out of Chaos— by Mind!. . .
More recently it had been different. A prevalent convention of materialistic and invariable causation had ruled the world; on it was based the whole involved technology of a machine-served civilization. The machines worked, the way they were designed to work, because everybody believed in them.
Until a few pilots, somewhat debilitated by overmuch exposure to radiation, had lost their confidence and infected their machines with uncertainty—and thereby let magic loose in the world. (Excerpt from ‘‘Waldo’’)
Waldo continues to study the phenomenon of the ‘‘Other World’’ and begins to apply what he has learned to his own condition, myasthenia gravis, until he can finally walk and endure in gravity again. He returns to Earth as a whole man—a brilliant mind and a vibrant body.
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