The Weapon Shops of Isher

The Weapon Shops of Isher - A.E. van Vogt 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.