Waldo and Magic, Inc. Analysis
by Robert A. Heinlein

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The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In “Waldo,” young genius Waldo F. Jones suffers from myasthenia gravis, a disease characterized by increasing weakness and exhaustibility of muscles. He builds a space habitat that he calls “Freehold” and his enemies call “Wheelchair.” Earth needs Waldo. On one hand, its “radiant power reactors” are failing; on the other, humanity is becoming physically weaker, possibly as a reaction to the radiation these reactors give off.

To solve his personal gravity disorder, Waldo becomes essentially a floating brain that must reach back to the physical world via prostheses, his famous “waldoes” that have become part of the jargon of science fiction. It is only when he sees that his problem can be solved not by separating mind and body but by uniting them that Waldo makes the parallel between his condition and that of humanity in general. He proceeds to rectify both.

Energy must be leaking into another world, but what is this place? In his inquiry, Waldo has two possible paths: reason and magic. Rambeau, a rationalist, goes mad when he cannot solve the problem, literally passing to the “other side,” where he reactivates the DeKalb generators. Gramps Schneider, a hex doctor, also engages the other world, but he joins the worlds instead of separating them. When Waldo goes to Earth to meet Gramps, the latter “lays hands” on both man and machine. Waldo feels his “fingers” reaching out to draw power from this other world, which Waldo sees not as a fantasy but as a physical location.

Able to aid magic with science, he posits a “coextensive alternate continuum,” an adjacent high-energy world to be tapped. The way to proceed is to create a continuous system, in this case of neurons. Tired brains lose energy, tired humans in turn cause machines to lose energy, and both succumb to gravity. Waldo proposes to repair this neuronal gap through microsurgery and successfully uses tiny waldoes to pass from a cat’s brain to the other world. He cannot, however, reverse his own energy loss this way. He has a dream in which he defeats Rambeau, and he awakes to find signs of the struggle. As energy flows from dream into life, dualism is bested, and Waldo the brain reintegrates his body, becoming a functioning man.

“Magic, Inc.” is less complex. Robert Heinlein again reintegrates magic and physical law, making magic part of mundane existence in a middle American city in which monopolistic practices are literally the devil’s work.

Archie Frazer, Heinlein’s typical Everyman-narrator, is a contractor who routinely uses white magic. One day, Archie is threatened, then offered “protection,” by a shadowy group called Magic, Inc. Archie learns that Magic, Inc. is lobbying the state legislature for a bill to require all magicians to be licensed. Archie’s friend Joe Jedson has powerful contacts at the capitol and tries unsuccessfully to fight within the legal establishment. Archie and Joe then seek more efficient help outside the system from Amanda Jennings, a witch; Royce Worth-ington, an old-fashioned Congo witch doctor; and Jack Bodie, a freelance magician. They descend into Hell, find the mastermind behind Magic, Inc., and defeat the devil to end the interference in earthly affairs.

Bibliography

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

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