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.
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