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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones
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Mr. Gleason
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Stanley F. Gleason
Gleason is Dr. Stevens’s boss at North American Power-Air. He is the first to contact Waldo in regard to the problems with the ‘‘infallible’’ deKalb receptors which are causing air-cars to crash.

See Gramps Schneider

Doc Grimes
Doc Grimes is a somewhat eccentric doctor who delivered Waldo despite his concerns that something was wrong with the infant. Only Grimes has the audacity to speak plainly to the adult Waldo. He treats Waldo like the bright, but spoiled man that Waldo has become. He believes that humankind is gradually becoming weaker as they are continually exposed to low levels of radiation. He thus convinces Waldo to not only take on the problem of the failing deKalb receptors, but to find a solution that would also solve the problem of radiation exposure.

Dr. Augustus Grimes
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Dr. Gus Grimes
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Uncle Gus
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Waldo F. Jones
Waldo F. Jones is an eccentric genius who has a serious muscle disorder that renders him physically weak. To compensate for this physical handicap, Waldo has developed his mental capabilities. Moreover, Waldo invented a device to act as a strong hand for him. Though this device requires little strength to properly function, it demands the user’s complete control. Waldo lives in an isolated space station of his own design, orbiting Earth. With his muscle disorder, Waldo is convinced that he is intellectually superior to the ‘‘smooth apes’’ that inhabit the Earth and perform physical labor for him.

See Hugh Donald MacLeod

Hugh Donald MacLeod
Dr. Stevens’s assistant, Hugh introduces the hex doctor, Gramps Schneider.

Gramps Schneider
A ‘‘hex doctor’’ who ultimately shows Waldo how to fix the balky deKalb receptors and his own body by reaching into the ‘‘Other World’’ for energy, Gramps Schneider is a childhood acquaintance of Hugh MacLeod. Gramps Schneider dislikes machines and technology, yet agrees to fix the broken deKalbs that Hugh brings him because he likes to help ‘‘boys.’’

James Stevens
As the Chief Traffic Engineer for North American Power-Air, Dr. James Stevens must find a solution for the failing power in the ‘‘infallible’’ deKalb receptors. Dr. Stevens is a practical man looking for a practical solution where none exists. He decides to consult Waldo to help him solve the problem. He solicits his friend, Doc Grimes, to help him convince Waldo to solve the problem of the failing deKalbs.

Jim Stevens
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Jimmie Stevens
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Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567

Throughout this short novel, and many of his novels, Heinlein touched repeatedly upon technology. The theme of technology dominates Waldo, and it dominated his writing as a recurring character can dominate a series of books. He focused on many aspects of technology: the fact that effective technology uses the natural properties of resources available in particular times and places, the observation that technology which makes a noticeable and positive change in people's lives will be quickly adopted, and the opinion that people ought to use good tools. There is no point to a fascinating gadget, in this or any Heinlein novel, if somebody is miserable.

When the story introduces Waldo Jones, the man is as skilled with tools and inventing as he is unskilled with people. One would pity Waldo, feeble and isolated in his orbital home, except that he is contemptuous of mere ordinary intellects. As the story progresses, he refines his studies so that he not only answers a scientific query but changes tools and techniques to meet the needs of people using the tools. Waldo begins the story as a gross figure, obese and weak from myasthenia gravis. He ends it lithe and agile as a tap dancer, displaying how his inventions and deductions have improved his own life and health as they have revolutionized industry.

Waldo is a quintessential Heinlein character, first of all because he understands technology, and secondly because he applies it more effectively as he learns to meet people's needs instead of using technology just to make interesting gadgets. Lastly, he is improved by using his knowledge and skill, thus helping himself at the same time as he helps others. He becomes a healthier and happier man who interacts with people, even if mostly to show off his superior abilities.

There are other characters in this short novel, of course. The chief traffic engineer for the power transmitter company is James Stevens, who has to find a reason why power receptors are failing all over the world. He contacts Dr. Gus Grimes for an introduction to the eccentric inventor Waldo. Grimes has his own worry to bring to Waldo—he believes that the atmospheric power transmissions are damaging people's long-term health. When Waldo takes on both these problems, believing them linked, he learns of an old farmer who has been able to repair a power receptor, apparently by magic. While the first two men came to Waldo's satellite home, it is necessary for Waldo to return to Earth to learn from the old man.

The other characters in the story exist only as foils for the character Waldo, including people who bring him technical dilemmas to solve, people who interact with him instead of just going away when he sneers, and people who admire him for his inventions and restored health. In this novel, Waldo becomes a better and happier man as he learns to treat people kindly instead of scorning them as a lesser breed. This is a bit ironic because the author definitely treats Waldo as the "real" character, well-rounded and with a personality which grows and changes, while the other characters are sketchy, ill-defined and one-dimensional. However, it was a common writing fault in pulp science fiction of the 1940s and 1950s for authors to focus on one character and make the secondary characters less complete, or ignorant in some area in which primary character was competent.

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Critical Essays