The novella “Magic, Inc.” by Robert A. Heinlein was published for the first time in 1940 in the September issue of the magazine “Unknown” with the title “The Devil Makes the Law”. It’s often published as a book together with “Waldo“.
Archie Fraser works as a building contractor and in his field the use of magic is limited. When a representative of an association never heard called Magic, Inc. f him the services of its members, Archie immediately realizes that it’s a racket and forces him to leave. Not being sure about what to do, he consults with Joe Jedson, a friend who has more experience in the field of magic.
Archie and Joe manage to find and trap the gangster but they get little information about the racket behind him. When the Archie’s activity becomes the target of attacks based on magic, it becomes necessary to hire someone who’s with a really deep knowledge of magic but the danger is more extended than expected.
“Magic, Inc.” was written when Robert A. Heinlein’s career as a writer had just passed its beginning but there are already some elements later used with some variations in many of his works. The protagonist doesn’t bend to a threat and is helped by a more experienced person. There’s also a beautiful woman with red hair.
Robert A. Heinlein was one of the greatest masters of science fiction but occasionally wrote fantasy stories. However, forget “The Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones” because “Magic, Inc.” is set in a fictional universe very similar to ours where magic exists and is used in a very practical way, including many workplaces.
Wizards and witches are officially recognized freelancers but someone has created a racket with the aim to monopolize their business. Again the spell fight isn’t intended to establish who’s the hero of the story but to fight an illegal activity that can bring serious damage because of an economic monopoly it wants to impose, a very serious fact in Heinlein’s vision.
A part of the battle takes place at the political level. In the ’30s Robert A. Heinlein worked for some time in the field of politics but after a failed bit at Assembly for a California State Assembly seat he abandoned it. You can see what he learned about the mechanisms of politics in a number of his works and in “Magic, Inc.” he’s really ruthless in describing dishonest political maneuvering.
“Magic, Inc.” isn’t specifically a political satire and there are even honest politicians but the impression is that according to Heinlein a monopolist racket that also includes demons usually mixes well with the category. At least, representatives of Magic, Inc. show they can work well with politicians.
“Magic, Inc.” is too short to have a real character development and even its pace sometimes seems too fast with some rushed bits. Today we happen to complain about the excessive length of some novels but at the time this novella was written the problem for these genre of stories was the opposite. The magazines they were published in had limits on the number of pages so the writers had to concentrate everything in them.
“Magic, Inc.” isn’t certainly part of the masterpieces written by Robert A. Heinlein. Due to its age and the fact that it’s a fantasy it’s not even among his works that everyone knows. However, despite its limitations, in my opinion it’s well written and it’s fun so it’s worth reading it.