Waldo & Magic, Inc is a collection of two seemingly unrelated stories by Robert A. Heinlein (though both involve magic “lose in the world”). I listened to the recent audio version produced by Brilliance Audio. MacLeod Andrews, who I always like, narrates. William H. Patterson Jr provides an introduction to the stories and Tim Powers provides an afterword.
The first story, “Waldo,” was originally published in Astounding Magazine in 1942 under Heinlein’s penname, Anson MacDonald. The titular character is a man who has myasthenia gravis, a disease which leaves him physically very weak. Waldo’s brain, however, is in fine working order. He has been able to compensate somewhat for his unusable body by developing remote manipulators to do his work for him. In fact, he’s known on Earth as a mechanical genius and has become rich because of his inventions. (Interesting tidbit: Today we call these types of remote arms “Waldos” because of this story.)
Because he’s been ill-treated since he was a child, Waldo chooses to live as a recluse in a house he built in orbit. He hates people and doesn’t want to be bothered to help them. In fact, he thinks himself far above (literally and figuratively) the “smooth apes” who live on Earth. But when an engineer and his family doctor come seeking help for a problem that has stumped them, Waldo is reluctantly persuaded and it turns out that he benefits from experience.
“Waldo” is a fine little story about faith in technology and magic. Waldo’s orbital home is interesting, his dog is cute, and his personal development is uplifting.
“Magic, Inc” was originally published in 1940 in Unknown Fantasy Fiction. While in “Waldo” magic was a new force for humans to contend with, in “Magic, Inc” it is part of everyday society. Those who are able to practice some form of magic sell their services to others.
All is going well for Archie Fraser, who owns a building supply company, until a mobster attempts to shake him down. When Archie doesn’t give in, bad things start happening to his business. Meanwhile a man named Ditworth starts unionizing practitioners of magic. His company — Magic, Inc — essentially becomes a block-busting monopoly which manages to pass all sorts of laws and regulations for magic use. Archie and his friends go to the state capitol to lobby against this.
“Magic, Inc” moves fast and is full of weird little elements that sometimes seem random, but the plot gives Heinlein a chance to get in some of his favorite gripes about taxes, lawyers, unions, regulations, legislative sessions, pork, red tape and gun control. He also stresses the importance of knowing what’s going on in politics and who your legislators are.
I wouldn’t call Waldo & Magic, Inc a must-read, but it’s a collection of two pleasant stories that showcase Heinlein’s earlier work. Fans will want to check this out. I recommend the audio version.