Book Review: Magic, Inc. by Robert A. Heinlein (Three Stars)


Book Review: Magic, Inc. by Robert A. Heinlein

Three Stars

“… not believe in magic? Perhaps he does not believe in the radio or television.”

You have to remember that this short novel was published in 1940 or nothing that follows will seem nearly so wondrous. The story itself is a pleasant bit of fantasy by the dean of science fiction about the (literal) Under World trying to monopolize the use of magic in California in the then-near-future.

“[Laws] can’t keep crooks from carrying guns and using them; they simply took guns out of the hands of honest people.”

The protagonist is an “everyman” building contractor, who uses occasional magic on his jobs. Magic is assumed to be a normal part of life. Taxis, for example, are essentially flying carpets.

“It would not be the first time that monopolists used goon squads with their left hands to get by coercion what their right hands could not touch.”

Heinlein gives a strikingly readable outline how laws are passed and the use of riders and line-item vetoes, etc. The context is showing how easily power and money can subvert the process.

“We white men in this country are inclined to underestimate the black man–I know I do. We see him out of his cultural context.

What is most striking, given the age, is Heinlein’s favorable representation of blacks and females, but not Jews. Readers may not recall that anti-Semitism was strong in America before World War Two. So were gender and racial discrimination. That Heinlein sheds most prejudices of his day, but perpetuates another is noticeable … and sad.

“[A Jewish character] could smell a profit even farther than I [a Scot] could.”

“Most women in the United States have a short-sighted, peasant individualism resulting from the male-created romantic traditions of the last century.”

Heinlein the iconoclastic and the master story teller is evident on every page of this short novel. Fortunately, the later, incest-fixated Heinlein is not. A fun read as well as a bit of cultural anthropology.

“We’ve got to have magic to stay in business.”

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Magic, Inc. by Robert A. Heinlein (Three Stars)

  1. Interesting. I’ve never read this book. Not surprising about the prejudice, although I agree it is sad. His was the era of white male supremacy. A narrow perspective that didn’t include Jews, or minorities which of course included women. He had a nimble mind and his later work was good.
    Thanks for the review.
    How about a review of Frank Herbert’s work? I loved those books. Would I still love them now?

  2. You misunderstand. For his day Heinlein was amazingly inclusive in this book, except for his stereotypical treatment of the Jewish character. His middle works were good; his later works were terrible.

    It’s been so long since I’ve read Dune that I’d have to read it again. I didn’t like the other books set in the same universe. He pulled a Robert Jordan: more books, but not more story.

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