Originally published in 1942 in the magazine Astounding, ‘‘Waldo’’ is one of the few stories in which Heinlein tackles magic rather than concentrating on hard science. In this story, humanity’s refusal to sufficiently test new technologies leads to a debilitating exhaustion in humans which in turn causes a series of power failures in a ‘‘fail-safe’’ system. Waldo, a crippled genius who lives in a house that orbits the earth, discovers that the only way to cure the power failures is to treat the affected power receptors with magic. Waldo reaches into the ‘‘Other World’’ and grasps power from that other dimension. Accordingly, the broken parts work again, but in an unexpected way: they no longer use radiant energy and, even though they are made of a rigid metal alloy, they begin waving like the tentacles of a sea anemone.
While Heinlein utilizes his favorite themes in this piece (self-reliance and independence), his warning about hidden dangers in new technology seems somewhat unusual. Heinlein, and the other authors of the ‘‘Golden Age’’ of science fiction (notably Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov), generally glorify technology as a kind of savior of the human race. However, in several of the main characters, Heinlein reiterates his insistence on the independence of the individual. Waldo tries to live his own life without any reliance on others; Dr. Grimes and Gramps Schneider live in their own ways and are not concerned with how other people see them. The ultimate concentration of the story, then, continues Heinlein’s theme of self-reliance.
The mechanical ‘‘hands’’ or series of mechanical joints used today in engineering and mechanical puppetry are now called ‘‘waldoes’’ after this Heinlein story, demonstrating the significant impact that Heinlein’s works have enjoyed over the years.
The novel's frame introduces an extraordinary man who is both a professional dancer and a brain surgeon. During an interview with a reporter, the man has a flashback which forms the rest of the novel. On Earth, wireless distribution of power is the standard, but the power receptors are failing unexpectedly all over the world. At the same time, the long-term health of many people is deteriorating. Some scientists believe that this may be related to the problems with power receptors, but are unsure of the relation and do not have the ability to solve the problem themselves.
Concerned experts consult Waldo Jones, who is a wealthy, eccentric inventor suffering from myasthenia gravis, a disease that causes its patients to suffer from degenerative muscle weakness. Living in an orbital satellite where his obese, weak body is weightless, he is not a happy man. He has limited contact with other people, considering them below his superior intellect. Only at the end of the novel does he realize his need for others as well as their need for him. His technical inventions and deductions eventually have applications to improve the lives of many people and his own life as well. At the end of the story, the frame reveals him as the talented surgeon and dancer.
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...
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