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Literature / Waldo

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Waldo is a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, originally published in 1942.

Waldo (after whom remote-control manipulatory machines are named IRL) is an expert technologist and problem solver who is called in when remote power receptors are failing mysteriously. But for all his technological prowess, Waldo finds that something more ethereal is the key to fixing them, and possibly himself.

Has nothing to do with Where's Waldo?.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Waldo might be seen this way unless you know he is afflicted with myasthenia gravis.
  • Famous, Famous, Fictional: Waldo contemplates the great scientists who led to the current technological society: Galileo, Newton, Edison, Einstein, Steinmetz, Jeans.
  • Genius Cripple: He might be the inspiration for most of the later versions. He was a super-genius with myasthenia gravis that left him 1/10 as strong as an average human. He invented many incredible devices and is best known for the actual devices known as Waldos and named for the invention of the book.
  • Jerkass: Waldo, who dislikes people so much he only counts a single man among his friends and is quite happy to live off of Earth where he can't be bothered with people.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Waldo is an expert technologist and problem solver who is called in when remote power receptors are failing mysteriously. He finds that someone is fixing broken receptors by magic, and is told that magic can do anything — no rules. He disbelieves this and proceeds to discover the rules of magic and applies them, including to himself to fix his myasthenia; becoming a very successful magician as well as technologist.
  • Neologism: Author Robert A. Heinlein coined 'waldo' as a term for remotely controlled robotic arms. Specifically, a "waldo" is a device which is controlled by moving a model of the device; usually a pair of robotic hands that are controlled by sensors in a pair of gloves. This allows things to be worked on remotely or for someone to control a much larger/smaller version of their own hands.
  • Plug 'n' Play Prosthetics: Inverted; Waldo has spent quite some time on a space station in high orbit where he can move about in space due to the lack of gravity in spite of his myasthenia gravis. When his waldoes start malfunctioning due to the failing of the deKalb receptors, one of Stevens' fellow engineers encounters Gramps Schneider, an Amish folk medicine practitioner who examines the deKalbs antenna, and they start working again. Waldo reluctantly returns to Earth; Schneider tells him that the other world is close by and full of power, and that all Waldo has to do is reach out for the power. After gradually recovering his abilities from the "other world", Waldo comes up with a "Jones-Schneider-deKalb" device which appears to draw power out of nowhere and has the potential to put NAPA out of business. In the end, Waldo is dancing on stage with great agility.
  • Prefers Going Barefoot: Waldo doesn't like shoes because he has lived his entire life being unable to walk, so when he finally is able to do so, he avoids them as they make his feet feel dead. He only makes himself wear them when he has to.
  • We Will All Fly in the Future: Dr. Grimes' "car" is "a big-bodied, old-fashioned Boeing family landau"; more than just a Flying Car, Grimes says his "car" has "an auxiliary space drive" and could "fly to the Moon and back". His friend Stevens' "car" is a type nicknamed a "broomstick", consisting of a transparent plastic bubble enclosing a metal shaft on which are mounted the seats for the driver and passenger. This contraption is nonetheless also a fully functional spaceship, used to fly to an orbital habitat 25,000 miles up. When a character complains about the state of roads (having been forced to resort to ground travel by a skycar breakdown) another character replies "Why waste taxes on roads when 90 percent of the traffic is in the air?"
  • Zeerust: We have beamed power to aircraft and spaceships supplied by nuclear power plants (including hydrogen fusion plants) but Dr. Grimes is worried that a sick child he is caring for might have polio.