By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by Brilliance Audio
Read by MacLeod Andrew
Waldo, in this unabridged edition, was published, as it frequently has been, in conjunction with another of Heinlein’s stories, Magic, Inc. The two stories are not connected and aside from both dealing with forms of something you might call magic, they have nothing in common, so I plan to review them separately.
Okay, right from the start, let’s admit this is hardly one of Heinlein’s better works. Technically, I suppose one could say it displays very nice ABA symmetry since it starts and ends, pretty much in the same place, mostly because the majority of the story is told as a flashback.
Waldo Farthingwaite-Jones is a super genius suffering from myasthenia gravis. He was born weak. As a child he was unable to lift his head up to drink or to even hold a spoon or a fork. However, using his own intellect and his family’s money he was able to invent a collection of servo-like mechanisms (called Synchronous Replicating Pantographs) so that by wearing a glove and harness his own feeble muscles could be used to control a far more powerful mechanical hand. This with other inventions made him amazingly rich and he used that money to build a home for himself in space where life in free-fall was comfortable for a person with his infirmity.
These manipulating devices came to be called “waldoes” in the story and, in fact it was this story that coined the word, not only in SF stories in the 1950’s and 60’s but in real life when remote manipulators were invented. I think it is fair to say that not only did Heinlein predict such a technology, but inspired it as well.
Another bit in which Heinlein was ahead of most of us back when this was written in 1942 was his concern about the long-term effects of low levels of radio-waves and other forms of electro-magnetic radiation. His predictions might not have come true as he envisioned them and for the same causes, but we must keep in mind that this was written before the invention of the atomic bomb, and even longer before there were victims of those devices to study. In a day when many people thought that any radiation you could survive would leave no long-lasting effects (assuming they thought of radiation at all), in a day when most thought it was possible to evolve to eventually be resist any form of radiation, Robert Heinlein was speculating about the effects of long-term exposure to tiny amounts of radiation, a concern that is being closely studied today.
Waldo is an extreme misanthrope, he hates mankind, and assumes that humans are mere “smooth apes” and that he represents the next stage of evolution. Over the course of the story, however, Waldo discovers a source of power that allows him to physically do anything any other person can and he eventually overcomes his misanthropy, replacing with whatever its opposite is.
The story itself might have been an excellent one, but it just kind of fizzles out at the end. Things just fall together and the former cripple becomes a famous dancer. I think this is a short story that should have been a novel so that rather than watching a relatively fast jump from grumpy, crippled Waldo to friendly, out-going athletic Waldo there really should have been far more tension building up with some big problems to be solved than mere science and mysticism could not solve easily. As it stands, Waldo might just have waved a magic wand and everything was better. The story really should have been the beginning of a much longer one. But it is what it is.
Macleod Andrew’s reading held me throughout the story. He managed to make the exciting parts sound exciting and added just enough individuality to each person’s voice so that the listener has no trouble telling one voice from another and each vocal choice seems correct for the characters. So all in all I think this is a good reading, though it has a sort of old-fashioned feel to it, but for the life of me I cannot say why.
Even so it was fun to listen to and certainly more interesting to listen to than when I read the story for myself some years ago. So while I think the story is a must for SF fans for the ground-breaking speculation, as a story it’s really not a great one, but Mister Andrew’s reading makes it worth listening to.