On My Bookshelf: The Weapon Shops of Isher

My libertarian and anarchist friends might be interested in the concept in this novel. American Second Amendment folks might enjoy the most quoted line in the book, as advocated by the mysterious weapon shops:

The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.

The author posits a situation in which (let’s say it) magical guns are offered for sale, much to the consternation of the governing empire of a far future Earth. The idea is intriguing and probably outpaces the material van Vogt gives it in this book, which is a patched-together novelization of three distinct short stories. The short stories are better, if you have access to them, by the way.

A weapon shop appears out of nowhere. Police and military personnel cannot enter the shop. But any other citizen can. Once inside, a merchant describes the nature of the guns they sell. They may be used only for self-defense. They extend a protective shield around the owner impervious to energy weapons, but not bullets, spears, or presumably, punches. The guns are amazingly inexpensive. They are not for passive individuals. When one client finds himself swindled by a bank in collusion with a corrupt rival company, the weapon shop folks counsel him to be polite but to resist the actions taken against him.

If you want to use a weapon shop product for hunting, there is an approved list of animals. Newbies to gun purchasing are amazed there is nearly a perfect implementation of gun ethics. One guy tries to turn a hunting rifle on a weapon shop merchant–the psychological profile drawn from the aggressor when he entered the shop prevents the gun from working. He is easily subdued without injury, and turned out into the street.

Another sf author, Arthur C. Clarke once posited:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

The weapon shops of Isher are a magical counterweight to the cruelties and indifference of a ruling empire. There is no hard science behind them in the books. Nothing explained, that is. I suspect many people around the world would wish they had such a fantasy come true for them. One of the interesting aspects of weapon shop ideology is that they do not interfere in the larger picture of politics. They tolerate a corrupt government, knowing that the rulers cannot take the final step toward totalitarianism because of the access citizens have to their weapons.

One of the things I look for in science fiction is an intriguing idea. I can overlook (especially in a 160-page book) an author’s ideology (van Vogt is reported to have been a monarchist, though the emergence of 20th century totalitarianism was extremely distressing to him). I can pass on concepts like sexism or things happening with little apparent reason (like why on Earth did the weapon shop woman marry the country rube?) because a good idea will latch on, and I’ll be thinking about it days later.

As for my next book, it’s back to non-fiction for me. I’ll take my ideas straight with no ideology for the next few books. But if any of you conservatives out there want a quick read that spins you back to the 50’s, and want to chime in on the weapon shops, knock yourself out.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in On My Bookshelf, Politics, science fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to On My Bookshelf: The Weapon Shops of Isher

  1. crystal says:

    I think people always believe that writers of science fiction are liberals, but not always – I recently re-read Starship Troopers and I finally stopped halfway through because the pro-military fascist stuff was getting to me :)

  2. Todd says:

    It takes more stomach to read Heinlein; at least it does for me. My favorite story of his was “The Menace From Earth,” which is utterly charming and sentimental.

    • crystal says:

      I do like him mostly. I haven’t read the one you mention but I do remember one I liked that had a cat – The Door into Summer :) I just re-read Stranger in a Strange a few months ago …. it was interesting.

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