website statistics The Weapon Shops of Isher - PDF Books Online
Hot Best Seller

The Weapon Shops of Isher

Availability: Ready to download

With the publication, in the July 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, of the story Seesaw, van Vogt began unfolding the complex tale of the oppressive Empire of Isher and the mysterious Weapon Shops. This volume, The Weapon Shops of Isher, includes the first three parts of the saga and introduces perhaps the most famous political slogan of science fiction: T With the publication, in the July 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, of the story Seesaw, van Vogt began unfolding the complex tale of the oppressive Empire of Isher and the mysterious Weapon Shops. This volume, The Weapon Shops of Isher, includes the first three parts of the saga and introduces perhaps the most famous political slogan of science fiction: The Right to Buy Weapons is the Right to Be Free. Born at the height of Nazi conquest, the Isher stories suggested that an oppressive government could never completely subjugate its own citizens if they were well armed. The audience appeal was immediate and has endured long beyond other stories of alien invasion, global conflict and post war nuclear angst.


Compare

With the publication, in the July 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, of the story Seesaw, van Vogt began unfolding the complex tale of the oppressive Empire of Isher and the mysterious Weapon Shops. This volume, The Weapon Shops of Isher, includes the first three parts of the saga and introduces perhaps the most famous political slogan of science fiction: T With the publication, in the July 1941 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, of the story Seesaw, van Vogt began unfolding the complex tale of the oppressive Empire of Isher and the mysterious Weapon Shops. This volume, The Weapon Shops of Isher, includes the first three parts of the saga and introduces perhaps the most famous political slogan of science fiction: The Right to Buy Weapons is the Right to Be Free. Born at the height of Nazi conquest, the Isher stories suggested that an oppressive government could never completely subjugate its own citizens if they were well armed. The audience appeal was immediate and has endured long beyond other stories of alien invasion, global conflict and post war nuclear angst.

30 review for The Weapon Shops of Isher

  1. 5 out of 5

    Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽

    A science fiction classic from 1951, or from the 1940s, depending on how you slice it. :) Review first posted on Fantasy Literature: I first came across the 1942 short story “The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964, a fantastic collection of some of the best short fiction from the pre-Nebula years that was instrumental in shaping my taste for science fiction when I was an impressionable teen. A few years later I came across the full-length nove A science fiction classic from 1951, or from the 1940s, depending on how you slice it. :) Review first posted on Fantasy Literature: I first came across the 1942 short story “The Weapon Shop” by A.E. van Vogt in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame: Volume One, 1929-1964, a fantastic collection of some of the best short fiction from the pre-Nebula years that was instrumental in shaping my taste for science fiction when I was an impressionable teen. A few years later I came across the full-length novel The Weapon Shops of Isher in the two-volume collection A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, edited by Anthony Boucher, and was surprised to see that the short story I’d enjoyed was actually part of a much longer work that was far more complex and appealing to me. What had actually happened, though I didn’t know it at the time, was that van Vogt had taken three of his shorter works that had been published in science fiction magazines in the 1940s ― the above-mentioned “The Weapon Shop,” “The Seesaw” from 1941, and “The Weapon Shops of Isher” from 1949 ― and combined them into the “fix-up” novel The Weapon Shops of Isher. (Reportedly, van Vogt even coined the term “fix-up”; certainly he was enthusiastic about the process of combining and reworking his earlier stories.) As a result, The Weapon Shops of Isher is a wide-ranging novel with multiple plot threads and characters. Seven thousand years in the future, Earth is ruled by the Empress Innelda, an intelligent, rather despotic young ruler who is the latest descendant of the long-reigning House of Isher. For the last couple of thousand years, the monarchy’s tendency toward tyranny has been checked by the Weapon Shops, where anyone (except government agents) can get a super-high-tech weapon to use for self-defense. In this setting there are three interlocking plotlines, logically enough, since this novel is composed of three shorter works. In the first, Chris McAllister, a reporter, enters a weapon shop that suddenly appeared in his town in the year 1951 and is instantly transported to the time period that the shop came from, some 7,000 years in the future. The weapon shop’s owner and his daughter soon realize that McAllister and the shop are seesawing in time because of an energy weapon being turned on the shop by the Empress. Because of the huge mass differential, McAllister is swinging back and forth far further in time than the shop … and it’s only getting worse. Not to mention he’s building up a massive charge of energy in his body, with no safe way to discharge it. The second plot thread follows Fara Clark, an older man who’s extremely set in his authoritarian attitudes toward his family and his devotion to the Empress. His harshness has alienated his 23-year-old son Cayle. Fara despises the weapon shops and their philosophical views that set them in opposition to the Empress, but when Fara’s repair shop business and livelihood are ruined by a ruthless corporation, he may have nowhere else to turn. The third (and most interesting, at least to me) plotline follows Cayle Clark as he escapes his village, intent on making it in the big city, Imperial City. He’s hampered by his small-town habits and lack of sophistication, but on the plus side he has immense “callidetic” (PSI) mental powers and has gained the interest of Lucy Rall, a young woman who works at the weapon shop and has Connections. But Cayle’s mental powers may cause him trouble as well as helping him out, especially when he gets carried away with his lucky streak and wins far too much money in a gambling palace. The owners of the establishment are not at all amused, and they have ways of making people like him pay. One of the secondary characters is a man named Robert Hedrock who, through an accident of some kind about 2500 years earlier, is now Earth’s sole immortal man (something he keeps secret), and who is a key executive within the weapon shops organization. Hedrock’s immortality is oddly handwaved in The Weapon Shops of Isher, but he takes center stage in its sequel, The Weapon Makers, which was first published in serialized form in Astounding magazine in 1943, but is set several years later than this novel. I originally read back The Weapon Shops of Isher in the 80s and enjoyed it hugely. It has some strikingly imaginative ideas and ― what is more surprising ― characters who are actually memorable (something that can’t be taken for granted in classic SF). On reread, I can see that some aspects of it are dated: Fara Clark’s dismissive treatment of his wife and adult son seem very mid-20th century, though arguably it could remain a small-town attitude in the far future. Though most of the power players in this world are men, the Empress wields impressive power and Lucy Rall takes a fairly active role in directing her own and Cayle’s lives. Van Vogt is also patently enthused about the Second Amendment; the weapon shops’ slogan is “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.” It’s a measured take on the right to bear arms, however: the shops’ high-tech weapons can only be used only by the buyer, and only for self-defense and approved hunting. You can see the seams where van Vogt melded together the three novellas, but the plot threads all weave together fairly well in the end. The Weapon Shops of Isher is one of the better science fiction novels from its era; I recommend it to readers who are fond of Golden Age SF. Both this novel and its sequel, the Retro Hugo-nominated The Weapon Makers, are available on Kindle for a reasonable price (currently $3.99 each).

  2. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

    Now i first read this book, some time back in the late 70s when I was on a big A.E. van Vogt kick. I thoroughly enjoyed it then, thoroughly enjoyed it over the intervening years, and thoroughly enjoyed it again over the last few days. Its a great story, in the golden age style. Hey you've probably gathered I really liked it, and yes I did. I love van Vogt's writing style and this book epitomises his mastery of the classic space opera tale. Given the chance I would love to rekindle my love affair Now i first read this book, some time back in the late 70s when I was on a big A.E. van Vogt kick. I thoroughly enjoyed it then, thoroughly enjoyed it over the intervening years, and thoroughly enjoyed it again over the last few days. Its a great story, in the golden age style. Hey you've probably gathered I really liked it, and yes I did. I love van Vogt's writing style and this book epitomises his mastery of the classic space opera tale. Given the chance I would love to rekindle my love affair with vV and head off on another vV book fest, maybe soon eh ?

  3. 4 out of 5

    J.G. Keely

    Another dystopian outing by Van Vogt, and one which demonstrates moments of depth and subtlety surpassing his other work. Yet, at its heart, it suffers from the same ridiculous problems as most of his stories. What may be most interesting about this book is how it feels like a prototype for the dark, socio-political sci fi of Philip K. Dick and the Cyberpunk authors. The characters try to move through complex, corrupt bureaucratic systems, and often end up beaten and weaker for it as they seek to Another dystopian outing by Van Vogt, and one which demonstrates moments of depth and subtlety surpassing his other work. Yet, at its heart, it suffers from the same ridiculous problems as most of his stories. What may be most interesting about this book is how it feels like a prototype for the dark, socio-political sci fi of Philip K. Dick and the Cyberpunk authors. The characters try to move through complex, corrupt bureaucratic systems, and often end up beaten and weaker for it as they seek to uncover some obscure conspiracy. In this regard, the book takes as many cues from noir as it does from dystopian sci fi. And occasionally, this noir sentiment results in moments of wry introspection, or in terse, almost existential conversation. There are some moments of dialogue which begin to uncover the sort of small, vivid pain which was so central to Chekhov's masterful exploration of the human condition. But there is also much in the book which is overblown and rather silly. As usual, the technology is absurdly powerful, held by a privileged few, and obeys somewhat inexplicable rules. There are the guns which can only be shot in self-defense, the impermeable energy walls, and a side-plot about time travel which grows rather obscure. Yet these strange, almost magical scientific concepts are at least interesting, and begin to foreshadow the hallucinogenic technology of Dick or Vonnegut. As usual, our 'hero' is a man of many unique talents so powerful that they elevate him above any problem, so that no single plot conflict is able to withstand him for more than a chapter. In fact we have two such characters, as we do in Slan--one the hero and the other working behind the scenes to create the plot, itself. And in the vein of such characters, they are so morally upright that they resolve never to use these powers for any nefarious purpose, instead making it their goal to better all of mankind--which is lucky, since they could clearly take over the whole government tomorrow, if they so desired. This irresistible force tends to undermine the story's conflict, but of the Van Vogt stories I have read, it is least problematic here, since at least the hero suffers the robberies, cheating, and kidnapping which any good noir hero must survive. There is a similar kind of personal hardship in Voyage of the Space Beagle (the prototype for 'Star Trek'), but most of that is just the result of the hero deciding not to use his full force, rather than actually ever being helpless. In the end, his politics are not transformative, since they rely on an all-powerful beneficent organization and self-defense guns, so his dystopic message falls flat. The epilogue provides a rather amusing bit of time-travel paradox, tackling the same idea as Asimov's famous short story 'The Last Question', written a few years later. Van Vogt certainly had imagination, and several sources of inspiration to draw on, and it's undeniable that here, as elsewhere, his visions have proven very influential on later writers, but he has not aged all that well, himself. His plots and characters tended to be rather simple, particularly the conflicts that drove them, and yet his worlds and ideas were too unusual for him to write anything straightforward. His ideas have lived on, taken up by other authors, but his own flawed approach means that he tends to pale in comparison with his more polished followers.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mike (the Paladin)

    "The right to own weapons is the right to be free" I own an omnibus edition of The Weapons Shop of Isher and The Weapons Makers now as the old paper backs are long gone. The only thing that keeps these from 5 star ratings is that they are not quite as "enthralling" as some reads. Still these are wonderful books and of course they will provoke thought and debate. The weapons shops exist basically to keep the totalitarian government of the Empress Isher from being able to take the last step to comp "The right to own weapons is the right to be free" I own an omnibus edition of The Weapons Shop of Isher and The Weapons Makers now as the old paper backs are long gone. The only thing that keeps these from 5 star ratings is that they are not quite as "enthralling" as some reads. Still these are wonderful books and of course they will provoke thought and debate. The weapons shops exist basically to keep the totalitarian government of the Empress Isher from being able to take the last step to complete totalitarianism. That is they exist to provide individual citizens with weapons for self defense. The attitude behind the Weapons Shops is that of very minimalist government. They are not participating in trying to overthrow the oppressive government but to provide individuals the right to defend themselves. The idea is expressed that even a totalitarian government can't exist without at least the tacit consent of the people. The weapons allow individuals certain freedom. The Shops also provide an alternate court system for some things and prevent the complete domination of the despotic government. The weapons shops moto, repeated often in the book is: "The right to own weapons is the right to be free". No spoilers here but these are classic....classic books.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    4.0 to 4.5 stars. This is a great example of the "big idea" science fiction classic. Set thousands of years in the future, the story revolves around the struggle between a corrupt empire and the mysterious "weapon shops" that provide the population with a means to insure that the government can never become all powerful. Libertarian SF at its best and arguably Van Vogt's best book ever. 4.0 to 4.5 stars. This is a great example of the "big idea" science fiction classic. Set thousands of years in the future, the story revolves around the struggle between a corrupt empire and the mysterious "weapon shops" that provide the population with a means to insure that the government can never become all powerful. Libertarian SF at its best and arguably Van Vogt's best book ever.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    The core message; "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free" - it's no surprise that the NRA and gun enthusiasts will love this line but do they understand it? Certainly the Weapon Shop philosophy is pro-gun...yet it is also pro-gun control. Impossible? It's a SHORT novel so I'm going to attempt to minimize how much plot I actually mention here. The story itself is pretty familiar--future totalitarian dystopia ruled by a monarch with a government tainted by political/corporate collusion a The core message; "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free" - it's no surprise that the NRA and gun enthusiasts will love this line but do they understand it? Certainly the Weapon Shop philosophy is pro-gun...yet it is also pro-gun control. Impossible? It's a SHORT novel so I'm going to attempt to minimize how much plot I actually mention here. The story itself is pretty familiar--future totalitarian dystopia ruled by a monarch with a government tainted by political/corporate collusion and corrupt law enforcement. In this world is there anyone to stand up against them? Enter the Weapon Shops of Isher who hold that the right to buy guns is the right to be free. And yet.... The Weapon Shops won't sell guns to just *anyone* -- agents of the government are incapable of even getting in the front door. Men and Women who wish to buy guns are subject to psychology, intellectual and emotional evaluation. Their capacity for homicide is measured by a miraculous machine that determines your intent for a weapon. If you fail they won't sell to you. (There is a somewhat controversial stance on suicide in these books) In fact--the gun shop has about just as much control and surveillance into the lives of the people of Isher as the government does. This is because the crux philosophy of the story, the right to buy guns, has almost nothing to do with the modern day American fetishizing of weapons for the sake of blowing shit up, terrorizing people and looking cool. The Shop's core philosophy rather is not to pass judgement on the type government (fascist, capitalist, communist, socialist--who cares) but only to ensure that a government must never be able to fully oppress its people. So long as people are capable of purchasing a weapon with which to effectively defend themselves from aggressors (which could include government) they will never allow their government to reach peak totalitarian control. (The absence of weapon shops at one point unnerves a character who doesn't even own a gun but is looking for their presence) The Shop ultimately believes people have the kind of government they want/allow--the shop is not here to overthrow the system but rather to be the final line any system must not cross. Hence while the right to buy weapons is essential to their ideal society, the individual being subject to restrictions because he might go on a murder spree, be irresponsible with the gun etc, is acceptable. In Vogt's future a pPt machine can figure that out for us. Sadly that's a rather fantastical device we don't have today. Thus it's a libertarian fairytale. Whether that's something you enjoy or scoff at...well the right to read is the right to be free. The female characters (hey at least there's more than one!) are definitely female characters of this era for scifi so keep that in mind. To be fair it is such a short novel written in the pulp style that you don't get that much character development in general. It's definitely a quick read more focused on specific political thoughts meant to keep you thinking after the read rather than during with a rather explosive plot point I'm not going to touch on here.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    During my teen years, when I thought that A.E. van Vogt could do no wrong, I somehow missed reading The Weapon Shops of Isher. I have finally closed that particular gap on this rather odd book -- one that the National Rifle Association would heartily sanction. Isher is an incredibly corrupt empire ruled by a young empress whose heart is in the right place, though she is surrounded by cynical self-serving courtiers. Van Vogt writes:When a people lose the courage to resist encroachment on their rig During my teen years, when I thought that A.E. van Vogt could do no wrong, I somehow missed reading The Weapon Shops of Isher. I have finally closed that particular gap on this rather odd book -- one that the National Rifle Association would heartily sanction. Isher is an incredibly corrupt empire ruled by a young empress whose heart is in the right place, though she is surrounded by cynical self-serving courtiers. Van Vogt writes:When a people lose the courage to resist encroachment on their rights, then they can't be saved by an outside force. Our belief is that people always have the kind of government they want and that individuals must bear the risks of freedom, even to the extent of giving their lives.The force arrayed against the empire consists of weapon shops that make available to people low-cost, effective weapons that can be used for defensive purposes only. The weapon shops are able to divine intent, and law enforcers from the empire cannot even get past the front door. The hero of the novel is one Cayle Clark who is at the same time a protege of the empire and of the weapon shops, whose divergent aims he attempts to reconcile. He falls in love with a beautiful young woman of the weapon shops and seeks her hand in marriage. It took a while for the novel to get started, but once it did, it manged its way around the rather intricate plot rather well. I still don't quite get the character of McAllister, a journalist from 1951 who is stuck in some sort of time pendulum stretching from the past to the future -- but he does provide a rather striking image.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Roddy Williams

    ‘In the year 4784, the Universe is contained within the empire of Isher ruled by the Empress Innelda. ‘Dedicated to pleasure, Innelda’s dictatorship has driven Isher to the brink of cosmic disaster. For against her stand the impregnable Weapon Shops, their immortal leader Robert Hedrock and a man from the 20th century with terrifying power.’ Blurb from the 1974 New English Library paperback edition Van Vogt had a definite talent for writing narratives which had that David Lynch quality of abstracte ‘In the year 4784, the Universe is contained within the empire of Isher ruled by the Empress Innelda. ‘Dedicated to pleasure, Innelda’s dictatorship has driven Isher to the brink of cosmic disaster. For against her stand the impregnable Weapon Shops, their immortal leader Robert Hedrock and a man from the 20th century with terrifying power.’ Blurb from the 1974 New English Library paperback edition Van Vogt had a definite talent for writing narratives which had that David Lynch quality of abstracted weirdness; elements which didn’t really belong but seemed to fit nevertheless. Here we are in the year 4784 AD. Humanity is under the control of the Empress Illenda, a young girl in charge of an Empire which covers Earth, Mars and Venus. However, an organisation exists independently of the Empress’ control; the Weapon Shops. The shops appear at random and offer extraordinary personally-attuned weapons which can only be used defensively and which will leap into the hand when needed. the shops all sport a 3D display sign which reads:- FINE WEAPONS THE RIGHT TO BUY WEAPONS IS THE RIGHT TO BE FREE The Weapon Shops are engaged in an ongoing battle with the Empress’ authorities who are seeking to shut them down. Part of The Weapon Shops’ plan (masterminded by an immortal human named Robert Hedrock) is to send a man through time as a kind of temporal counterweight to a vast building which is swinging back and forward in time and destined to appear beside the Empress’ home at a certain point, where it will explode. The luckless human is McAllister, a reporter who entered a Weapon Shop in ‘Middle City’. He was taken to the far future, ‘charged’ with the energy picked up by travelling through time in such a manner, and was sent on his pendulum journey to the far past. Meanwhile in 4784 AD, the Weapon Shop scientists have discovered Cayle Clark, a young man with an exceptionally high ‘callidity’ rating (van Vogt is vague about what callidity actually is, although we get the idea that it’s Very Important), and have assigned Lucy, a female Weapons Shop agent, to make his acquaintance and keep an eye on him. Cayle discovers he has a talent for gambling but after getting too greedy, is held by the gambling house and sent to a ‘House of Illusion’ where men become slave playthings for female clients in a virtual reality environment. The House is consequently raided and Cayle ends up on Mars. This seems to be the point where Cayle’s callidity kicks in. he manages to return to Earth where he enrols in The Empire’s armed forces and gains access to the time-swinging building-bomb of the Weapon Shops. He hitches a lift back in time and helps ‘himself’ to amass a fortune, an action which forces the Empress to halt her war against the Weapon Shops for fear of a similar incident wrecking the financial stability of the Empire. This explanation, it has to be said, does not bear close examination. The familiar van Vogt hallmarks are here; the giant building, the logical alpha male (Robert Hedrock), the feudalistic society existing alongside fantastic technology, the esoteric organisation operating inside exoteric society, the young man with superior powers. One can almost pick out the elements which Philip K Dick (self-confessedly influenced by Van Vogt) employed in his own work. The Shops themselves are almost a pure Dickism; incongruous elements appearing in a normal suburban setting, in this case a Weapon Shop with a Dick-esque cheesy cheerful sign with slogan which can be viewed from all angles without distortion, a slogan which of course echoes the American constitution on the right to bear arms.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mouldy Squid

    A blast from the past, literally. The Weapon Shops of Isher is classic golden age adventure science fiction the likes of which is no longer seen today. Van Vogt fills the work with catchy prose, sly humour and understated profundity. Reduced to its most basic essence, The Weapon Shops… is a somewhat tongue in cheek libertarian critique masquerading as serious libertarian literature. While the philosophies on display are commonly read as totalitarianism versus personal freedom, the more complex s A blast from the past, literally. The Weapon Shops of Isher is classic golden age adventure science fiction the likes of which is no longer seen today. Van Vogt fills the work with catchy prose, sly humour and understated profundity. Reduced to its most basic essence, The Weapon Shops… is a somewhat tongue in cheek libertarian critique masquerading as serious libertarian literature. While the philosophies on display are commonly read as totalitarianism versus personal freedom, the more complex subtext is often overlooked completely. But there is more going on than socio-political discussion; there is adventure, reversals of fortune, surprising turns of plot and good old fashioned fun. The text stands up fairly well, considering its age, but the reader must always keep in mind the book's context. The only bit that stands out as really dated is the role of women. Like all golden age science fiction, they are limited to being wives, harpies or damsels in distress. Hard core feminists will declare misogyny, but that is not actually the case; Van Vogt was writing in a time when the role of women was never seen as something that would change, or if it did, change only in ways that complemented the wife/housemaker/mother paradigm. If one can overlook the flaws The Weapon Shops of Isher provides a fairly pleasant and strangely exciting distraction and puts on display Van Vogt's considerable talent at prose. This is a book that should be added to Literature of Science Fiction courses. It outshines even Asimov's work from this particular period.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Poling

    This is '40s vintage pulp science fiction at its best. The plot is something of a mess with threads going off in all directions. But darned if I don't love it as much today as when I was a kid. Could Van Vogt have done better? Probably. But think of the times and what was expected of him. Besides, if it wasn't for the writers of the Golden Age, I would neither read nor write SF today. So, three cheers for A. E. Van Vogt and this wonderful little gem of writing. This is '40s vintage pulp science fiction at its best. The plot is something of a mess with threads going off in all directions. But darned if I don't love it as much today as when I was a kid. Could Van Vogt have done better? Probably. But think of the times and what was expected of him. Besides, if it wasn't for the writers of the Golden Age, I would neither read nor write SF today. So, three cheers for A. E. Van Vogt and this wonderful little gem of writing.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Gary

    I first read “The Weapon Shops of Isher” as a teenager, fifty-odd year's ago, and I have remembered it all this time. It's as good now as it was then, too; it's unforgettable. I first read “The Weapon Shops of Isher” as a teenager, fifty-odd year's ago, and I have remembered it all this time. It's as good now as it was then, too; it's unforgettable.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Toviel

    Big ideas and big philosophies: THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER provides a rich, if dated, reading experience from the heart of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Even so, it is a difficult book to recommend. Of the three stories interwoven into the novel's narrative, Fara Clark's story is easily the best. As father with unwavering government loyalty, his life is turned completely upside-down when an ominous "Weapon Shop" appears within his small town. His story is of disillusionment and discovery, an Big ideas and big philosophies: THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER provides a rich, if dated, reading experience from the heart of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Even so, it is a difficult book to recommend. Of the three stories interwoven into the novel's narrative, Fara Clark's story is easily the best. As father with unwavering government loyalty, his life is turned completely upside-down when an ominous "Weapon Shop" appears within his small town. His story is of disillusionment and discovery, and contains the fewest pacing problems and incomprehensible plot twists. At the same time, the pro-gun philosophies that he's supposed to embrace are hard to swallow in an era where gun violence is a hot button issue. It's one of the few instances in the story where the 1940s sensibilities and the futuristic scifi setting hampers the enjoyment of the novel; there are so many technological and cultural differences between the world Isher and ours that the Weapon Shops and their message cannot feasibly apply to real life. As a significant amount time is spent explaining the Weapon Shops and their purpose, it's impossible to overlook. Fara's son, Cayle Clark, thankfully abandons the questionable logic of the Weapon Shops very early on. His story is also one of disillusionment, and provides an interesting parallel to his father's story. Unlike Fara, whose experiences with crime are very white-collar, Cayle manages to stumble into just about every shady and corrupt situation in the solar system. His narrative also provides one of the few well-written female characters in classic science fiction, in the form of Lucy. While her characterization is a bit dated and sexist, the narrative genuinely explores her struggles, thoughts, and feelings far better than I would have expected from a book written over fifty years ago. Unfortunately, the pacing of Cayle's story suffers towards the end, and the conclusion is a little too convoluted for my liking. There is one other minor problem Cayle's story, which is only exacerbated in the final story: the over-explanation of futuristic concepts. McAllister's tale is about a poor schmuck forced into a terrible situation. He is the pinnacle of van Vogt's "big idea" storytelling, where the idea behind the plot is more impressive than the actual execution. Between McAllister's unique situation and the war brewing war between the Queen of Isher and the Weapon Shops, very little time is devoted to the character himself. I frequently forgot what was going on whenever the narrative switched back to him, because he is such a minor character within his own story. Furthermore, it wrecks the pacing of the already complicated stories of Fara and Cayle. Despite its flaws and questionable philosophies, THE WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER is a solid book, and definitely one of the most approachable of high-concept classic science fiction. Recommended to anyone looking for an easy entrance to the world of classic scifi, but keep in mind that it is far from perfect.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    Another of his fix-up novels, like The Voyage of the Space Beagle although unlike that book, why the short stories were brought together and reworked into this novel is a mystery to me. There just seems to be two unrelated story lines spliced together in order to bulk out and produce a novel. In "The Voyage of the Space Beagle", the stories fitted together in sequence well in an episodic way. In this book they are essentially parallel narrative strands that are never brought together. Still only Another of his fix-up novels, like The Voyage of the Space Beagle although unlike that book, why the short stories were brought together and reworked into this novel is a mystery to me. There just seems to be two unrelated story lines spliced together in order to bulk out and produce a novel. In "The Voyage of the Space Beagle", the stories fitted together in sequence well in an episodic way. In this book they are essentially parallel narrative strands that are never brought together. Still only a short novel, the plot lurches from scene to scene, the characters are picked up and dropped haphazardly along the way giving the reader little chance to engage with them in any way. Infact, the most important character of the story, the one whom you end up feeling the book is really about (and who I understand the sequel is about) is only really introduced quite late in the story. As usual, A.E. Van Vogt has many interesting ideas, such as a future uptopian/dystopian society in which a tyrannical regime is held in check by an independent organisation of weapon shops that are intent on supplying the populace with weapons (that can only be used defensively) and an alternative justice system (for those failed by the regime's justice). The problem though is the kinds of technology that Van Vogt envisages to exist in order to sustain this idealistic social setup are quite far fetched to say the least. Drawn from pure fantasy in order to do the job he needs it to do. And then we have the crackpot idea that comes from the story "The Seesaw" which just sounds like pure nonsense although the solution to the problem it poses throughout the book is quite interesting. I haven't read the short stories on which this novel is based but I get the feeling that I would have preferred reading them to the novel. Infact, that is precisely what I want to do next with this author, find a short story collection. A form in which this author will undoubtedly excel.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    4.5 stars. Whoa. Not at all what I was expecting from my Golden Age era sci-fi. This is some weird, topsy turvy stuff. And I like it! Yet I can see how some might not. It's confusing, and like an old jigsaw puzzle the pieces don't always fit together seamlessly. There are plot holes, characters with weird psychological motivations, time travel, and a smattering of odd psychic abilities (which seems to be one of van Vogt's go-to sci-fi motifs). All this adds up to something refreshing and wholly 4.5 stars. Whoa. Not at all what I was expecting from my Golden Age era sci-fi. This is some weird, topsy turvy stuff. And I like it! Yet I can see how some might not. It's confusing, and like an old jigsaw puzzle the pieces don't always fit together seamlessly. There are plot holes, characters with weird psychological motivations, time travel, and a smattering of odd psychic abilities (which seems to be one of van Vogt's go-to sci-fi motifs). All this adds up to something refreshing and wholly original that was a blast, despite the frequent need to go back and re-read sections that just didn't want to settle into place neatly the first time through.

  15. 5 out of 5

    SciFiOne

    1980 grade A 2015 grade A Series book WS2 The book has odd POV transitions in that it is not always obvious that the POV has changed. Content wise, in the beginning chapters, all the characters seem to be losers. But stick with it. It is a pretty easy but intelligent read and gets immensely better. (Note: My edition is the 1973 fourth printing of the Ace edition pictured above - condition "Very Good." That edition is not listed in the owned books section and I do not feel like dealing with Goodreads 1980 grade A 2015 grade A Series book WS2 The book has odd POV transitions in that it is not always obvious that the POV has changed. Content wise, in the beginning chapters, all the characters seem to be losers. But stick with it. It is a pretty easy but intelligent read and gets immensely better. (Note: My edition is the 1973 fourth printing of the Ace edition pictured above - condition "Very Good." That edition is not listed in the owned books section and I do not feel like dealing with Goodreads problematic edition editor.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Matt Parker

    Wish I had abandoned this one, but I kept waiting for it to turn around. The whole story is predicated on a series of inventions of incredible power that somehow haven't affected any other part of society. Guns with AI so sophisticated that they only fire in self-defense, but somehow there are still office buildings full of clerks? A machine that unerringly identifies morally upstanding people but the world government is run by a hereditary monarchy? It's entirely too ludicrous. Wish I had abandoned this one, but I kept waiting for it to turn around. The whole story is predicated on a series of inventions of incredible power that somehow haven't affected any other part of society. Guns with AI so sophisticated that they only fire in self-defense, but somehow there are still office buildings full of clerks? A machine that unerringly identifies morally upstanding people but the world government is run by a hereditary monarchy? It's entirely too ludicrous.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rindis

    Overall, The Weapon Shops of Isher was enjoyable, but it has a number of problems. Some of this is structural leftovers from being a combination of three short stories, but some run deeper. The novel starts with a prologue that's as long as any three chapters of the book put together. In it a 1951 reporter is transported approximately 7000 years into the future as an accidental side effect of a struggle happening there. From there, the rest of the novel is concerned with events in that far-distan Overall, The Weapon Shops of Isher was enjoyable, but it has a number of problems. Some of this is structural leftovers from being a combination of three short stories, but some run deeper. The novel starts with a prologue that's as long as any three chapters of the book put together. In it a 1951 reporter is transported approximately 7000 years into the future as an accidental side effect of a struggle happening there. From there, the rest of the novel is concerned with events in that far-distant date, and our reporter doesn't even come up again for half the book. He becomes a background element for bits of the second half, before getting resolved in a one-page epilogue. That, at least, is big idea SF at its best, and the original consolidated story might have had a lot more punch. The bulk of the novel actually has three different viewpoint characters, two of which have complete arcs. The third is a typical plot-destroying superman, and is thus immune to having any real character development. He is 'Earth's one immortal man', and has the usual bevy of abilities that a millennias-long life might be expected to convey. Of course, how or why he's immortal is not gone into at all, nor any real background on him. Overall, the central conceit of the book is the necessity of an armed (or at least potentially armed) populace to resist tyrannical governmental power. However, it undermines its own message by the use of near-magic guns. They are also themselves capable of protecting their possessor from most things, and can only be used in self-defense (the psionic technology needed for such a feat is not gone into, nor if you could use one to blast open the door of a room you've been locked into; not being able to just shoot up the countryside seems to be assumed). But still, the actual writing is fairly good, and while the main plot has a twist that's not hard to figure out as it happen at the end, it then has another nice twist to resolve the overall conflict.

  18. 5 out of 5

    astaliegurec

    A.E. van Vogt's "The Weapon Shops of Isher" is a 1951 book he formed from three of his 1940s era short stories. So, you have to keep several things in mind about it. First, since its source stories were initially published in the magazines of the time, the prose tends to be a bit terse and abrupt. There's no subtlety in what it's trying to get across or in how it does it. Second, since it's a story originating during the 1940s (The Golden Age of Science Fiction), it's old and the world has chang A.E. van Vogt's "The Weapon Shops of Isher" is a 1951 book he formed from three of his 1940s era short stories. So, you have to keep several things in mind about it. First, since its source stories were initially published in the magazines of the time, the prose tends to be a bit terse and abrupt. There's no subtlety in what it's trying to get across or in how it does it. Second, since it's a story originating during the 1940s (The Golden Age of Science Fiction), it's old and the world has changed drastically since then. The most obvious changes are probably the on-going World War II at the time the first two parts were published and the social roles of women during the time. With that in mind, van Vogt has done a pretty amazing job here. I first (and before this Kindle version, last) read this book darn near 40 years ago in my youth. Yet, as I re-read it today, I realized that I remembered almost everything about it. It made that much of an impression on me. If I were to rate the book solely by today's standards, I might say it was OK. But, because it seems to have weathered the intervening 60 or so years pretty decently, and because it's so memorable, I'm raising my rating to a Very Good 4 stars out of 5. The two novels in A.E. van Vogt's "Isher" series are: 1. The Weapon Shops of Isher 2. The Weapon Makers (Isher)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    So, I read this because I remember enjoying the short story on which it is based (The Weapon Shop). This expanded version adds several additional plot lines that, while interesting and not unenjoyable, ultimately just make it take longer to get to the punchline at the end. Certainly not as egregious in that respect as, say, the Gamearth books, those pissed me off. I'm not sorry I read The Weapon Shops of Isher, I enjoyed it, and it's quite a slim volume. But next time I'll probably just read the So, I read this because I remember enjoying the short story on which it is based (The Weapon Shop). This expanded version adds several additional plot lines that, while interesting and not unenjoyable, ultimately just make it take longer to get to the punchline at the end. Certainly not as egregious in that respect as, say, the Gamearth books, those pissed me off. I'm not sorry I read The Weapon Shops of Isher, I enjoyed it, and it's quite a slim volume. But next time I'll probably just read the short story again.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aria

    A decent idea that unfortunately wasn't developed into anything. The story started off well enough, but continuously lost momentum as it went along. By the end it was really just a hot mess. Disappointing. He's no Philip K. Dick, that's for sure. A decent idea that unfortunately wasn't developed into anything. The story started off well enough, but continuously lost momentum as it went along. By the end it was really just a hot mess. Disappointing. He's no Philip K. Dick, that's for sure.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Paul Beardsley

    Some interesting ideas but very clunky prose and characterisation.

  22. 5 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    Don't let the fact that the NRA loves this book deter you from reading it. It is not so much a pro-gun book as a political commentary on how to keep any form of government from getting too big for its pants. The guns available in the weapon shops of Isher are controlled - they are for defensive use only. In other words, not usable by to shoot up a school or a movie theatre. This book was published in 1951. It's a combination of three stories about the weapon shops and it is an interesting read. Don't let the fact that the NRA loves this book deter you from reading it. It is not so much a pro-gun book as a political commentary on how to keep any form of government from getting too big for its pants. The guns available in the weapon shops of Isher are controlled - they are for defensive use only. In other words, not usable by to shoot up a school or a movie theatre. This book was published in 1951. It's a combination of three stories about the weapon shops and it is an interesting read. There is also a bit of time travel here that is nicely done. The women are very 1950's, so don't expect them to be equal partners with the men.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom King

    A Sci-fi defense of the second amendment. As a staunch supporter of the second amendment I have to love this book. I read this back in my teens and it was considered a classic even then. If anything It's gotten better with age. A Sci-fi defense of the second amendment. As a staunch supporter of the second amendment I have to love this book. I read this back in my teens and it was considered a classic even then. If anything It's gotten better with age.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Pat Cummings

    The Right to Buy Weapons People always have the kind of government they want. When they want change, they must change it. —A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher When I was a youngster, I saved the money I made mowing lawns, shoveling snow and babysitting the neighbor's kids for a very special purpose: I bought books. Paperback books, almost exclusively. I went to the drugstore downtown, which had a rack of novels just inside the front door, and I scanned the wire shelves searching for the priz The Right to Buy Weapons People always have the kind of government they want. When they want change, they must change it. —A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher When I was a youngster, I saved the money I made mowing lawns, shoveling snow and babysitting the neighbor's kids for a very special purpose: I bought books. Paperback books, almost exclusively. I went to the drugstore downtown, which had a rack of novels just inside the front door, and I scanned the wire shelves searching for the prize. Usually I found nothing, but every so often they would have one: an Ace Double. I never knew doubles came in mysteries and westerns, I only saw the science fiction. I almost didn't care who the author was: I read Asimov and Leinster and Brackett and Tubb, and when they were in Ace Doubles, I got two books for the price of one! The first I bought with my own earnings was an Ace Double by A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher. At this remove, I did not remember what was on the flip side of the tête-bêche book; I had to look it up. (It was Murray Leinster's Gateway to Elsewhere. Leinster's opus is apparently only available as the Ace Double, used, for $8–$14 now.) I was pleased to notice that Van Vogt's novel is available on Kindle, so I downloaded it and read it again in one gulp. This was the story I remembered, with the poor hapless reporter swinging helplessly from past to future, the doppelganger of the rebellious son making it big in the stock market (because he had transported himself several months into the past, and had records of the market's performance), and the weapon shops themselves. When a people lose the courage to resist encroachment on their rights, then they can’t be saved by an outside force. Our belief is that people always have the kind of government they want. —A.E. Van Vogt, The Weapon Shops of Isher For a child of the fifties, the motto of the weapon shops, THE RIGHT TO BUY WEAPONS IS THE RIGHT TO BE FREE, resonated. And today, the position of the weapon shops in opposition to the government—whether tyrannical or benevolent—and their capability to provide each individual with the means to resist aggression, accords well with my own mostly-libertarian philosophy. Van Vogt's science was radical for the time, and not very well explained by the novel, but his political stance was obvious. His weapons were defensive technology only: they could not be used to murder, but could be used to kill an aggressor. They could also benefit the criminal in evading arrest, and not just because Isher was a culture where the laws and police were organized to suit the rulers more than the citizens. Van Vogt foresaw a time where majority rule would be so powerful that the opposed individual (however moral or immoral) would have no recourse against it, without the Weapon Shops. Yes, he said, guns can be used in support of crime, even configured not to be used in aggression. And that's all right, when laws can be used in support of aggression against the individual who is opposed to the majority. Because the right to buy weapons is the right to be free.

  25. 5 out of 5

    John Battle

    One of the Best SF only surpassed by "The World of Null-A” by the same author Y enjoyed every minute of this book. I only regret there are no more AEVanVogt books left for me. He is truly the greatest SF suthor, period. One of the Best SF only surpassed by "The World of Null-A” by the same author Y enjoyed every minute of this book. I only regret there are no more AEVanVogt books left for me. He is truly the greatest SF suthor, period.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul Weiss

    Confusing and disjointed! In The Weapon Shops of Isher, AE van Vogt deals with libertarian philosophy that is best summarized by the slogan he attributes to the weapon shops, "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free". Unlike what many potential readers might imagine, this is not a manifesto for the National Rifle Association. It's a much more soft pedalled carefully considered cautionary tale that is a warning to citizens to be sure they retain the ability to limit the potential power of Confusing and disjointed! In The Weapon Shops of Isher, AE van Vogt deals with libertarian philosophy that is best summarized by the slogan he attributes to the weapon shops, "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free". Unlike what many potential readers might imagine, this is not a manifesto for the National Rifle Association. It's a much more soft pedalled carefully considered cautionary tale that is a warning to citizens to be sure they retain the ability to limit the potential power of any government regardless of the form it might take. Time travel, immortality, the limitation of government power, corruption, invisibility, loyalty, naivete, love, courage, freedom, rebellion, powerful weaponry - all these themes and more are touched on in what many people call a fine example of the golden age of science fiction. But - and I'm willing to admit that perhaps the shortcoming is my own - I frankly failed to understand the charm and I didn't really catch the message. It bothers me to no end when I get to the end of a story and my sole reaction is "Huh ... what just happened?" Certainly I understood the basic themes but I felt that van Vogt missed the mark. The story line was difficult to follow and consisted of a hodge-podge of disconnected outrageous scientific conjectures, stilted dialogue far worse than sub-title translations of Japanese B-movies, blinding plot jumps and the use of plot devices that seemed arbitrary and pointless (Hedrock's immortality and a gambler with luck that defies all imagination, for example). In Voyage of the Space Beagle, van Vogt wrote a series of stories that were clearly the predecessors of today's much loved Star Trek series. As a fan of classic science fiction, a lover of Star Trek in all its incarnations and a reader who has enjoyed van Vogt's other works, I wanted very much to like The Weapon Shops of Isher. A cynical world-weary friend of mine put it well, "Vast ideas, but only half-vast execution!" Four stars for the ideas, two stars for the writing and the story to support it - call it three stars and suggest that this is a book which would be enjoyed only by hard core classic sci-fi lovers. Paul Weiss

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Proffitt

    As a lifelong reader of science fiction I can’t believe that I have never read any A E Van Vogt until now. Regarded by many as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the mid twentieth century, he was still writing into the 1980s. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in 1951, and with the exception of a few references to “atomic energy” typical of the era, it stands up pretty well. Like most good science fiction, the technology and scientific projections are only a small part o As a lifelong reader of science fiction I can’t believe that I have never read any A E Van Vogt until now. Regarded by many as one of the most influential science fiction writers of the mid twentieth century, he was still writing into the 1980s. The Weapon Shops of Isher was published in 1951, and with the exception of a few references to “atomic energy” typical of the era, it stands up pretty well. Like most good science fiction, the technology and scientific projections are only a small part of the whole. In this book, set on Earth several thousand years in the future, Van Vogt has created a world in which corruption and greed have become endemic and the power of the empire not necessarily where it should be. In the world ruled by the house of Isher, there is an uneasy balance between the ruling dictatorship and the Weapon Shops, who offer freedom in the shape of firearms. Thrust into this unstable world is Chris McAllister, a news reporter from the twentieth century, who becomes pivotal in the conflict to come, in more ways than one. Whilst Empress Innelda rules with absolute authority, she is uneasy about the level of corruption within her government. But changing a system that has become embedded over generations will not be easy. Alongside the political shenanigans is the story of Cayle Clarke, a young man from a poor background who finds himself shifting through time. In a plot linked to the twentieth century journalist, Cayle becomes close to the Empress and central to the shifting balances of power. Despite being just over 120 pages long, The Weapon Shops of Isher has great depth of plot and characterisation. The book has great pace and is extremely well written; it is a great example of the best if mid-twentieth century science fiction. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long before reading Van Vogt.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Will

    A classic from the Golden Age of SF. The society envisioned rests on an unusual concept... "His idea was nothing less than that whatever government was in power should not be overthrown. But that an organization should be set up which would have one principal purpose: to insure that no government ever again obtained complete power over its people." So we have the Weapon Shops, in their strange buildings none of the Empress' soldiers or policeman can enter, offering ultra high tech "smart" guns w A classic from the Golden Age of SF. The society envisioned rests on an unusual concept... "His idea was nothing less than that whatever government was in power should not be overthrown. But that an organization should be set up which would have one principal purpose: to insure that no government ever again obtained complete power over its people." So we have the Weapon Shops, in their strange buildings none of the Empress' soldiers or policeman can enter, offering ultra high tech "smart" guns which can ONLY be fired in self-defense.... but refusing to do for people what they should be able to do for themselves. And a 20th century man who finds that the Empress' ill-considered scheme has hurled him into the Isher Era-- until something even worse happens. Political concepts are implicit rather than thrown at us. Will a Weapon Shop-armed society really be a polite (or free) one? How much do the details of government matter? Or do people ultimately get the government they REALLY want? At this distance in time, we can see the warts. "Energy" is continually used as handwaving without saying what KIND of energy, only loosely connected to what energy really is. (The "energy guns" would now have to be "laser guns".) And there is carelessness in continuity. In one late chapter, the time traveler is stranded "quadrillions of years" in the past, but a few later it is a mere "five million". Recently, John C. Wright was excoriated for saying that Heinlein could not win awards today. I thought of that again while reading this work of a once-acknowledge master. "The right to buy weapons is the right to be free" would send the Political Correctors into hysterics, if it turned up on a Hugo ballot!

  29. 4 out of 5

    Charles Haywood

    The right to be armed is the right to be free! This call, like the battle cry of the Archangel Michael, Who is like God?!, echoes down the ages of Man. If you are not armed, you are always wholly at the mercy of tyrants. Who can argue with such a truism? A lot of people, actually. For the phrase does not, in fact, echo down the ages of Man. It dates only to 1941, when this book, a now obscure science fiction classic, was first published—and the principle itself is not much older. So, rather than The right to be armed is the right to be free! This call, like the battle cry of the Archangel Michael, Who is like God?!, echoes down the ages of Man. If you are not armed, you are always wholly at the mercy of tyrants. Who can argue with such a truism? A lot of people, actually. For the phrase does not, in fact, echo down the ages of Man. It dates only to 1941, when this book, a now obscure science fiction classic, was first published—and the principle itself is not much older. So, rather than making this review the pro-weapons screed my (few) readers doubtless expect, I will explore the principle itself—in particular its limitations within a conservative philosophical framework. Of course, regardless of how new or valid it is, this principle is a core principle, perhaps the core principle, of the American system. It is the reason for the Second Amendment. Naturally, the arguments for the principle would be the same without any constitutional provision, but the Amendment’s existence keeps in our minds something many would rather ignore about the American Founding. And that is that the Second Amendment does not exist so that we can better defend ourselves against burglars, robbers, and mobs, and even less so that we can hunt, but rather so that the agents of the government may be more easily slain and the government overthrown by brute force if it ever becomes necessary. In the philosophy behind the United States Constitution, it is this, ultimately, that is the sole bulwark of our freedom and of our children’s freedom. Some think that this is a contradiction in terms—how can our founding document contain within itself an admission that the government can, in certain circumstances, be violently overthrown, especially when that document itself defines treason as “levying war . . . against the United States”? Liberal historian Gary Wills is the best-known advocate of this view, which he promulgated originally in 1995, at the beginning of the modern renaissance of the Second Amendment, since then given substantial effect by the Supreme Court. Among other dubious efforts, Wills attempts to void Madison’s arguments in Federalist No. 46 as irrelevant to the Second Amendment, and labels the anti-tyranny arguments for the Second Amendment themselves “absurd.” This despite their obvious origin and applicability—for example, Madison noted that a tyrannical government “would be opposed [by] a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands.” But, whatever what Wills and his allies would like, the idea that the Second Amendment is designed to effectuate rebellion is not a contradiction at all. The Amendment merely recognizes that a government that becomes tyrannical, and therefore deserving of overthrow, is not going to announce that “tyranny begins today.” It will likely pretend that everything is normal and the Constitution is the still the law of the land. Thus, the Second Amendment is meant to structurally make it possible for the necessary to happen, by both preventing a non-tyrannical present government from undermining the ability of the citizens to overthrow a future tyrannical government, and also by allowing the citizenry to identify that tyranny has arrived, since, like all tyrannies, one of its first acts will be to confiscate or sharply limit the rights of citizens to own weapons, in contravention of the Amendment. (Whether any government that does so is necessarily a tyranny is another question; but it cannot be historically disputed that any new tyranny always quickly confiscates weapons as a threat to itself.) Wills errs by not separating now, which is when the Amendment is needed, from the possible future, when the Amendment itself is not needed, and in fact is irrelevant, but rather what is then needed and relevant is what the Amendment made possible. This conception of the role of weapons is perhaps the real dividing line in America today, dividing those who recognize the reason for the Second Amendment from those who don’t. Between them is fixed a gulf as deep and wide as that dividing Lazarus and the rich man. But, leaving aside the American framework and the Constitution, is it true that “the right to be armed is the right to be free”? Or, phrased another way, is it true that justice, natural law, or political philosophy require that the people be armed against the government? But first, the story. I read this book as a small child, and perhaps it was formative. I actually remembered the key phrase wrong—it is actually “The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.” This book, by A.E. van Vogt, takes place around 9000 A.D. For a very long time, the Empire of Man (consisting of Earth and colonized planets) has been ruled by the hereditary House of Isher, and is now ruled by the young Empress Innelda Isher. The Empire is subject to the usual strains and struggles of any large empire, but is generally regarded favorably by its citizens, even if most prefer to gloss over its less-pleasant aspects. What keeps the Empire of Man stable, however, is the Weapon Shops. For two thousand years, a shadowy group of people have operated a chain of literal Weapon Shops. Found all across the Empire, indestructible, and not open to anyone who serves the Empire, they sell guns to everyone else, of every variety, for extremely low prices (which also shield the wielder against most offensive weapons directed at him). Emblazoned across each shop is the lit, giant banner “Fine Weapons. The Right to Buy Weapons is the Right to Be Free.” The operators of the Weapon Shops are in essence a parallel government that keeps a check and a brake on whatever government Earth has. It is a form of division of powers. (We can ignore that a real, wholly parallel, government with as much power as the Weapons Shops, who also operate a parallel judicial system, and have superior technology, would actually be a very unstable system, for after all this is allegory.) “[The idea of the founder of the Weapon Shops] was nothing less than that whatever government was in power should not be overthrown. But that an organization should be set up which would have one principal purpose—to ensure that no government ever again obtained complete power over its people. . . . What counts is that many millions of people have the knowledge that they can go to a weapon shop if they want to protect themselves and their families. And, even more important, the forces that would normally try to enslave them are restrained by the conviction that it is dangerous to press people too far. And so a great balance has been struck between those who govern and those who are governed.” But the Weapon Shops and their organizers are not there to fight for any particular form of government, or for anything at all, themselves. “When a people lose the courage to resist encroachment on their rights, then they can’t be saved by an outside force. Our belief is that people always have the kind of government they want and that individuals must bear the risks of freedom, even to the extent of giving their lives.” The story itself (actually three short stories linked to each other) revolves around a surprise attack mounted by Empress Innelda against the Weapon Shops. It involves the accidental appearance of a Weapon Shop in 1951 as a result of the energies released by the attack, and the response of the Weapon Shops to the attack by the Empress. The story examines the constraints upon the Empress, heading a giant and unwieldy organization containing many people working at cross-purposes; the impact of the Weapon Shops on the inhabitants of a small town; and the ultimate restoration of the balance of power. It’s not a bad story, actually, though a bit didactic in spots. And, as I say, it’s really an allegory, not Shakespeare. OK, back to the philosophical question. A brief historical survey is in order. The idea of the right to keep and bear arms as a general right of the citizenry originated in political thought not long before the American Revolution. It originated only in England and not in a way that Americans would really recognize—more as a right, around the time of the Glorious Revolution, for law-abiding men to maintain weapons such that public order could be defended, from foreign or domestic enemies, when so commanded by the King or local men with authority. This was not much of a departure from past English law, the structure of which (as many writers have explored) developed as a system in which neither the monarchy nor the nobility was supreme. This split of power implied that no single locus of power was great enough to wholly forbid weapons to the majority of people, with the result that the citizenry tended to hold weapons, which also reduced the need for a standing army, perceived as a desirable end. That’s somewhat of an oversimplification, of course, and on the Continent, there was even less of a “right” to own weapons, and none in Asia or the Middle East. But long past the Renaissance, no political thinker, and no political system, suggested that there was an inherent right for men to own weapons to use wholly as they chose, including against the government, or some benefit to the polis for them to do so. That is, no earlier political thinker thought in terms of justice or natural law requiring that men be armed against the government. Certainly, any writer in the Classical Age in the West would have thought that free men were to have arms, but not to defend themselves against the government, rather to be able to place them in service of the state when called. For example, as M.I. Finley pointed out, in ancient Athens, in crisis situations involving organized opposition to the state, given the total absence of any kind of regular police force, and given that a high percentage of men had military experience, armed men could be summoned as volunteers to enforce the will of the state. Christian writers thought much the same; there is little sanction in the Bible, and not much more in tradition, for armed self-defense of the individual against marauders, and none for defense against the state itself. Yes, self-defense against individuals, or groups of individuals, was always recognized as a natural right in Classical and often recognized in Christian thinking (although with limitations in the Christian context, given the admonition to turn the other cheek). But that is conceptually wholly a different thing than defense against the government, meaning armed resistance to the government’s wishes. In all earlier Western thinking, defense against tyranny consisted of seeking a just state or convincing the rulers of the state to act justly, not overturning the state or acting otherwise contrary to law. Socrates did not dig his AR-15 out of his floor, summon his followers and overthrow the government of Athens. Those who overturned the state did so for their own reasons, sometimes personal, sometimes claiming larger justice. But if they succeeded, they did not distribute weapons to the citizenry to make it easier next time. And one state might attack another claiming the abstract dictates of justice, such as in the Crusades. Nobody advocated that citizens should, by right, attack the government if it acted unjustly enough. After the Renaissance, modern political thinkers would have denied the right to own personal weapons as contrary to the posited social contract, whereby individuals gave power to Leviathan in order that they be protected from harm from others (Hobbes), or delegated their rights of self-defense to the government (Locke). Certainly, the right to individual self-defense against robbers and cutthroats was recognized by Hobbes, Locke, Burke, and others, but crucially, not generally against the state, and to the extent a right to rebellion was recognized, it was not to be effectuated by an ongoing right to own weapons. And, of course, outside the West, where the rule of law was nearly always non-existent, there was no thought whatsoever of any right to be armed. The idea that a Chinese free peasant or a Persian merchant could demand that the state allow him weapons such that he could rebel against the state would have earned, if expressed, both peasant and merchant a swift death. So the idea that all free men should own weapons, in order to maintain freedom, was mostly an American idea, formed immediately prior to the Revolution. It found its expression in the Second Amendment (and similar provisions in state constitutions), with its call for a “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” At the time, of course, “regulated” meant “well-equipped and trained,” not regulated in the modern sense of “subject to government dictates,” which would have been entirely contrary to the Amendment. Similarly, the “militia,” as under British law, was all free men—but in America, they were to come together on their own initiative when necessary, or at the initiative of local authorities, not under the direction of the federal government (as Madison noted in Federalist No. 46). We can conclude that the right to own weapons is relatively new, or relatively recently recognized. This makes it difficult for conservatives who recognize natural rights to claim that it is based in natural law—that is, it is something that we can conclude, through reason, is a basic moral principle. This is because the idea of a newly discovered natural right is nearly a contradiction in terms. Even to the extent that natural law can be combined with Lockean liberalism, as C.S. Lewis held, neither Locke nor natural law seem to suggest an absolute right to own weapons. You can certainly argue that there is a natural law right to own weapons and to use them against the government. One possible argument is that if there is a natural law right to self-defense against individuals, there is necessarily one against the state. While plausible on the surface, this is contrary to all, or almost all, traditional natural law theory, which, following Aristotle and others, treats the state as wholly different from the individual. Here, again, the classic example is Socrates and his response to unjust treatment by the state. Another possible argument is that the natural law right has only become evident through reason in modern times, for it is only in recent times that we have seen tyrannies with the power and scope of modern governments, which can dominate and interfere with all aspects of life to a degree impossible to comprehend to earlier generations (both totalitarian governments, and our own current government, although the latter is not a tyranny). Their existence could be taken to imply a right to resist, of self-defense, that does not exist with milder, less powerful forms of government. Moreover, and buttressing this, it is only in relatively modern times that weapons can be widely distributed enough to make coherent rebellion with a decent chance of success possible—although, perhaps, it is a question of balance, not just the quality of the arms. (It is frequently argued that modern high-end military capabilities make rebellion impossible. That is, of course, silly. The point of having small arms in civilian hands is not just to shoot the agents of the government; it is also to enable the seizure of heavier weapons—once cannon, now rockets, but it is all the same in the end.) Thus, perhaps, the right to own weapons is now a clearer natural right, one that always existed but was in shadow. But let’s assume that the natural law argument is rejected. We can more easily and accurately place the right to own weapons within a post-Enlightenment, liberty-focused framework. That fits into the Second Amendment and the political philosophies that formed America. For conservatives, though, this creates a dilemma. Increasingly in today’s America, as the conservative movement fragments, there are two main bodies of conservative thought. One, roughly describable as classical liberals, wants to return America to that Founding post-Enlightenment, liberty-focused framework, believing it destroyed by left-liberals. There is no dilemma about weapons for these thinkers, and they merely complement Peter Thiel’s techno-libertarian paradise. The other body of thinkers, newly rising to prominence, believes that the it is the unbridled autonomy and individualism, that is at the core of that liberty-focused framework, which itself necessarily ultimately brings us to the same place to which left-liberals want us to arrive, of untrammeled vice backed by government force. They believe that ever-expanding liberty necessarily becomes defined as unrestrained appetite, rather than Aristotle’s measured liberty and self-governance. Moreover, they believe that acquiring such liberty then dictates an ever-expanding and ever-more powerful State to effectuate that liberty, and to remove the limitations that human nature, society, and even reality place upon humans. And, ultimately, this is no different than the vision of the progressive Left, and is a form of tyranny, in which the only enemy is any who would deny autonomy or hold to objective moral principles. Perhaps such unbridled autonomy is thus the necessary consequence of the principles of America’s Founding. Yes, our society held strong for a few centuries—but when the moral fiber and cohesion of the populace decays, along with the intermediary institutions that made coherent national life aside from the state possible, society itself decays. (Of course, this is when tyranny looms, whether the soft tyranny of Tocqueville and Huxley, or the hard tyrannies exemplified by the 20th Century, but with better and more intrusive technology). In this view, Peter Thiel’s techno-libertarian paradise is a pernicious fantasy. How can a conservative who believes this, that is, not a classical liberal but rather something from before the age of Locke, harmonize limited autonomy with weapons whose rationale is to maximize, or at least ensure, autonomy? This strikes me as a real problem for that increasing number of conservatives who identify an excessive focus on unbridled liberty and individual autonomy as the original sin of the modern world. Maybe for those conservatives the exemplar should be Socrates, or Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, not the Minutemen. One possible response, it seems to me, is that such conservatives can recognize that there should generally be limits on autonomy, but they should not be originated by the state, or to benefit the state. Instead, they should be organic, arising from society and benefitting society, maybe largely originating from local associations that used to make up society, but have been destroyed as sources of power and virtue in the modern world. These include churches, labor unions, bowling leagues, and many, many more. A virtuous society has to be self-limiting; a society that relies on the state to limit us has already arrived at tyranny. In such a world, weapons would not be an aspect of unbridled autonomy, but rather, similar to a limited form of the Enlightenment vision, a form of protection. Perhaps, in fact, local associations could weave weapons training into their regular routine, thus making weapons less of an individual activity and focus, and more of a binder for society, while at the same time serving the function of a hedge against tyranny. [Review finished as first comment.)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mkfs

    What starts off as a Second Amendment thought experiment veers off into speculation on time travel and political corruption. Thousands of years in the future, an empire declares war on an underground society that supplies defensive weaponry to honest individuals. The outcome is to be decided by two people: your standard Immortal With Advanced Technology, and a typical Chosen One who is out seeking his fortune. Van Vogt is a clumsy wordsmith, making for a tedious (though occasionally amusing) read What starts off as a Second Amendment thought experiment veers off into speculation on time travel and political corruption. Thousands of years in the future, an empire declares war on an underground society that supplies defensive weaponry to honest individuals. The outcome is to be decided by two people: your standard Immortal With Advanced Technology, and a typical Chosen One who is out seeking his fortune. Van Vogt is a clumsy wordsmith, making for a tedious (though occasionally amusing) read. "He watched the slender woman-shape move off into the shadows." "Green lights directly in front of him flashed unscintillatingly into red.". Stuff like that. What does work is the sheer cynicism of the world that he has imagined. The Akira moment of the epilogue is a nice finish, but hardly a surprise.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...