The Weapon Shops of Isher

I must have been around 14 when I decided that if I didn’t want to change my name to Nostril, I’d better work on… if not winning fights, making them at least painful and unpleasant for anyone who decided to beat up the littlest guy (which, at that time, was me). Within a month or two of more or less a fight a day, then one every two days, and gradually less… and black eyes and a nose that remains very skew, and a fair number of bruises, I had acquired something of a reputation that took me from being the kicking-boy to someone you really didn’t want to mess with just for fun. I got a little better at it too. It didn’t stop me getting my clock cleaned a few more times later and getting my nose broken again… because weight and size differentials meant that I was going to lose, and sometimes bigger people wanted me to lose badly enough (or were sure enough of themselves) to take it to me. It was a learning process for everyone. I learned that some opponents were just too big. They learned that there were easier, softer targets. Life at boarding school went from tough to just something you had to do, with elements of STALKY & CO outside the tedium of classes.

Curiously, what sparked the end to the Dave-getting-thumped era was a book of my brother’s. I had a cheerfully communist attitude to my older brother’s books –which, oddly, as he bought the books, was an attitude he did not share. I think one of the intrinsic flaws of the theory of communism is explained by this! Like in writing, point-of-view is important. Anyway, the book I had ‘shared’ from his collection was AE Van Vogt’s WEAPON SHOPS OF ISHER. Now, honestly the book didn’t blow me away.

But the concept of the Weapon Shops did, because whether Van Vogt realized it or not, the customers of the Weapon Shops were always going to be people like me.Edited addition for clarity for those who haven’t read it. For me the concept in the book that changed my behavior pattern from trying to avoid fights to making sure the other guy regretted it was that Van Vogt illustrated to me that winning wasn’t necessary to deter an oppressive foe. All that was necessary was making it ‘cost’ your foe, and them know it. At this point it becomes — mostly — easier for them to pick on someone else. Which is why the argument about armed citizens not being able to defeat the army of an oppressive government becomes moot. It’s not about if they can defeat them. It’s about making it ‘cost’ too much to worthwhile.

Van Vogt plainly thought the sort of people I got thumped by were destined to rule the world, and that this was a good thing. Once again, it’s a point of view thing. Van Vogt thought dictatorships could be potentially benign. He did have the perception that existence of Weapon Shops would keep them benign.

I had a slightly different point of view: the weapons of the Weapons Shops would make me at least equal to the guys whose size and weight differential means that they’re probably going to win most of the time, who would do exactly what they pleased, otherwise. That was a point that got firmly imprinted with another misadventure.

Now, at that time there was a scummy dive of ‘beer-garden’ in the town my boarding school was in – Fonteine – where waiters circulated in a large, run-down, ill-lit ‘garden’ – of bench seats and trees with lights strung in them. The waiters of that time and place were poor and black, and for a tip, didn’t give a rip if you were underage and buying beer. It was a place the various bad boys of my school used to venture – in groups – when they bunked out. It was also the local gay pick-up place. There was smelly pisser (calling it anything like ‘bathroom’ is taking euphemism to the ridiculous) where… if you were a school-boy sneaking illegal beers you definitely went into in large groups, unless you had something else in mind besides getting rid of the now improved beer you had just rented.

Only – in some ways I was a rather innocent young bad boy, and none of my companions had actually spelled this out to me. And their attention being on something else, and as I needed to go, I went.

Which, as it proved, was a mistake. I was, as I mentioned, small. And while this may seem odd now, quite ‘pretty’. And the two guys in the pisser were a lot bigger than me, assumed I was there for an entirely different reason, and were not prepared to take no for an answer. Now, luckily for me, one of my buddies worked out I was missing and three of them came looking for me – and I managed to get the hell out of there. But the Weapon Shops of Isher would definitely have had a customer in me.

It’s kind of odd product of Van Vogt, who favored monarchy as a system of politics, an autocratic and often totalitarian (hereditary ‘monarchs’ spring out of totalitarian rulers – See North Korea as a current example) system, where those in power… are, well, the ones with power — the ones who are supposed to see their subjects do as they are told and punish wrongdoers. Yet: what this reader got out of it was the idea of some kind of force equalizer which made size much less relevant, and the enormous value of that, to the individual, particularly to the small, weak and threatened individual. Think about it: if you’re 6’8’’ 350 pounds of muscle, and your unarmed threat is 5’2’’ 128 pounds soaking wet – they’re no threat. The other way around… you’re in trouble. You may not always be as lucky as I was. Equalizers suddenly look very attractive – to the vulnerable. Not at all to the big and powerful – especially if they control who has ‘equalizers’ and see it’s only their people. Likewise authoritarian-totalitarians who like to have things their way, and will control the enforcers to see to it… hate the very idea of a concept like the weapon shops.

I took this idea into the latest of the HEIRS OF ALEXANDRIA books – I wrote it several years back, and turned it over to Eric (who has been ill. It’ll come out. It’s been paid for) Where I have a peasant girl and her miller’s son lover, fleeing from their Feudal lord. She’s an attractive young girl – a peasant, unlettered and at the very bottom of the autocratic social order. Her lord decided he wanted her, and the boy tried to stop it – and succeeded – but now they are both fleeing his men. The Lord’s men are the de facto police of the time and place – because the autocrat was the law, they obey the autocrat, and the kids are thus criminals. The boy will be killed, probably slowly, if they take him alive, as an example. The girl will be raped and, when the autocrat tires of her, given to his men. This is autocracy – history is full of it. Perhaps it was evolved and such power given to the lord to protect them from the same, but in the fashion of these things, this what they always evolved towards. This what our young couple assume is the norm of the world. The only way to escape it is as outlaws –hunted by all, or to find the protection of a more powerful autocrat.

This is what they do: and offer themselves eagerly in servitude to a magician, Count Mindaug, whose power considerably outweighs their old lord… only, as the young, and now pregnant woman finds out, that, and the strong arm of her husband, are still not enough against might, and things happening faster than their master can respond. She becomes a firm convert to the wheel-lock pistol, for defense of herself, her man, and her master.

Count Mindaug, though owing his life to her determination and skill with it… is very disapproving and worried by this development. After all, the order of society depends on the peasantry, and especially the weakest of the weak, the peasant women, having no choice by force majeure but to submit to their masters. He can see nothing but trouble coming out of this (it’s a point of view thing again. He is an aristocrat. That’s why point of view is so relevant in stories).

Now: I’m anti-authoritarian, and extremely anti-totalitarian and thus feel autocrats are a poor idea – and Van Vogt was pro-autocracy. Yet we’re writing more-or-less about the same thing. What I got out of his book –and what others will get out of mine… are probably not what either of us intended, or thought we were communicating about.

And that is always the true. Once the idea leaves your head and you set it down on paper (or electronic form) it’s rather over to the reader. There’s no point in arguing with them: you simply can’t. What they got out of it is over to them. That’s how you end up with people thinking George Orwell was writing instruction manuals, and sf convention runners reading of Philip K Dick’s MINORITY REPORT got the idea that banning people for pre-crime was a good idea.

As a tangential aside: it’s pretty hard to resist a bit of “I told you so” so I won’t resist. Keep in mind this is essentially doublespeak –what is meant is not that publishers have discovered that there is a vast audience of Trump voters who want books that do not paint them as toothless meth-head hillbillies (something the author and most of their sources seem to have trouble understanding, although they get that these people exist). What it really means is that readers aren’t buying books from authors who despise them and have let them know, and whose values, worldview and interest do not reflect their own. It’s an interesting read – but even the sharper pencils in NY publishing elite plainly don’t get it. SF-fantasy is even further behind the curve and will fall even harder.


56 thoughts on “The Weapon Shops of Isher

  1. In typical van Vogtian fashion, the Weapon Shop stories read like fragments of a larger story, mashed together with pieces missing. Which is almost literally true, since the longer stories are based on combinations of his shorter ones.

    The Seesaw (1941) short story
    The Weapon Shop (1942) short story
    The Weapon Makers (1943) serial
    The Weapon Makers (1947) novel
    The Weapon Shops of Isher (1949) serial
    The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) novel

    That’s just the ones I’ve found and kept track of. As with most of van Vogt’s stories, the early shorts and serials were much better reads than the novels.

    van Vogt is a good example of a writer who *really* needed an editor. Or an agent. Or a friend to read his stuff and whack him over the head with a clue-by-four. He actually *could* write, but he seldom finished anything before the next squirrel diverted his attention.

  2. Interesting that this came out the day after the Mayor of London announced that no one could possibly have a reason to carry a knife on their person and that the London security people would be doing stop-n-frisk (not his exact terminology). I have a feeling that they will not be checking over the aggressive “Asian Youths” who seem to have been on the handle ends of the knives recently.

    1. It’s worse:

      From the comments:

      Just telling you this, On the 1st of September 2017 it became Legal to carry a sword in the state of Texas.


      in July of 2014 it became legal in Tennessee to carry ANY bladed weapon, openly or concealed. There are no longer any illegal blades in TN. You wanna wear a sword? Strap it on and get to it. Want a switchblade? Go get it. Wanna carry a gun? Well… you can, but ya gotta pay a tax for that “right”.

    2. The local hospital has a free-fire gun-free zone sign, and they say “no other weapons” allowed. I use my pocket knife mostly for opening letters and packages, so I don’t consider it a weapon. OTOH, I don’t ask for their opinion. 🙂

    3. Britain’s transformation into Airstrip One continues at an accelerating pace.

    4. Comes on the heels of the announcement that last month for the first time ever London had more murders than New York City. The two are roughly equal in population.

    5. Hrm. I’m of nearly the *opposite* opinion. Only I can think of times when carrying a knife on your person would not be a good idea. A few. Rare ones.

      In younger, rougher times, on the road, I carried a pocketknife on a loop even in the shower. It is an object of a thousand and one uses, and I’m constantlu surprised that there exist people who *don’t* carry one as often as they do their wallet or cell phone. There are times I’d rather be naked but have a knife than be clothed without one.

      1. Dan, I’m with you on that one. I don’t have my knife with me in bed or in the shower… but that’s the only time. I use it several times every day, more than I use a cell phone or a wallet (Ok that’s my wallet. I don’t open it easily ;-))

      2. Arkansas didn’t dump its antiquated knife laws until a few years ago. Before, I could carry as many guns as I wanted, but I could go to jail for a 2-3/4″ Schrade penknife. Now I can carry a Scottish claith mhor of Klingon bat’leth anywhere except Federal areas.

        I have a perfectly good Leatherman I need to start carrying again, and I’ve been looking for a nice fixed-blade knife that doesn’t look like it was designed by HR Giger or some manga comic artist. The closest I’ve found are some “dive knives” aimed at the scuba people; just a plain blade with a plastic handle, and no laser-engraved skulls or whatever.

    6. TXred – I have a feeling a lot of elderly grandmas will have their purses searched. To show there is not ‘profiling’ ;-/

          1. Dave, it’s all about the Russian Conspiracy now. At least til they come up with a new conspiracy scandal thing. Maybe they’ll blame Chinese hackers next. Or Intel.

            (More seriously and less joking/tongue in cheek though, huge in what way, and where is this being mentioned?? The last I heard about the vote fraud was it coming up with more fraud for Clinton votes…and it quietly slipping into the memory hole from there.)

  3. Well, the autocrats in California certainly don’t like the idea of there being weapon shops…

  4. “Within these times, however, Howard believes that a fictional counterpart to Hillbilly Elegy—a gripping, social-realist take on the Trump voter—would be an entirely new kind of phenomenon.”

    Wait, they’ve discovered that average readers (which, judging by the relative proliferation of libraries and bookstores, are mostly in flyover country) are tired of reading about dysfunctional left-coasters, and would rather read about normal people for a change??!

      1. Nah. A proverbially very warm place will freeze over before that happens, and I’m not referring to the equatorial regions of Earth, either.

        Next you’ll be saying that the Hugos will be judged purely on readability and fantastic story this year.

        1. Well, I will. Can’t say about everyone else, though. (I don’t think Ursula Vernon is on the ballot this year. Pity. Her acceptance speech was worth reading, since it had nothing to do with anything other than a cool science fact that she knew and wanted to share.)

      2. TXRed has it. They’ve got as far as realizing their sales are cratering, but they’re still waffling on down the same path.

  5. I was struck by this line in the linked article:

    “the exact voices that Trump’s victory silenced—the foreigner, the disabled person or the transsexual.”

    Do these people seriously think “the foreigner, the disabled person or the transsexual” are “silenced”? From where I’m sitting, they seem more like the voices that never shut up.

    Beyond that line, it struck me as a whole lot of “we don’t get it.” There were the obviously clueless ones who’re claiming that “the white perspective” is adequately covered in literature, apparently failing to recognize that sharing a skin color doesn’t give those like Lena Dunham a good perspective on what it’s like to grow up in a small town in Ohio. But even those who recognize that this is a perspective that they don’t have seem to think that by buying boring-as-all-get-out…er, I mean “literary” novels about working-class whites, they can get said working-class whites to read their novels. Newsflash: people aren’t reading your “great works of literature” not because they’re about coastal elites, but because they’re boring. They’ll still be boring if you replace those guys with Southerners or Texans or Rust Belt factory workers. If you want to “reach the rest of the country,” for Heaven’s sake write books where something happens!

    1. I dunno about ‘never shut up’. I don’t hear many voices in media that sound like Pete Grant. So the loud collection of voices is curated.

      And weren’t we just freaking out about Russian foreigners having a voice in our politics? Shouldn’t, say, Mexican voices be exactly as problematic? Anyone have some numbers on what Univision and Telemundo spend broadcasting in the US?

      1. Tell you what, if Canadian orgs messed with American elections the way American orgs mess with ours, nobody would be talking about Russia or Mexico.

        1. That’s different. You’re not really a country up there, you just haven’t been annexed yet.;)

    2. They count the way that suits them. If you point out that trad publishing has two women for every male author… they’ll say but men get more newspaper reviews. If you point out that at age/number of publications/sales women get reviews far younger/at less publications/sales than the generally elderly men, and that this means that they’re simply inverting the problem and making it worse, down the track – they say it’s the number right now that counts. And sexist! They’ll say they’re enabling the transsexual etc. what they won’t say is that when you’ve got say 5 publishing slots -and you give one to each of the PC requirements – each representing a tiny percentage of the population… something has to go -and that is a vast proportion of writers and audience. When they say that white perspective is over-curated, they don’t count the fact that that ‘white’ sector is the perspective of one SMALL sub-sector of that population.

      1. Cyclic goal posts. Football on a merry-go-round. Better to play a different game, one where the rules are not theirs to make. Let ’em whine like turbojets. All they are is hot air anyway.

  6. What van Vogt actually believed I’ve never seriously looked at, but WEAPON SHOPS, in its various incarnations, was a bit more nuanced than you’re describing.

    IIRC, the immortal man (embodied *deus ex machina* does seem to be a thing of his) founded both the House of Isher *and* the Weapon Shops. Isher provided stability, while the Weapon Shops made sure things never got *too* stable.

    His thesis was, people got the government they wanted, up to a point. Unless they wanted Daddy to take care of them and then, a generation later, changed their mind. The Weapon Shops were his way of making sure they had the right to change their minds.

    He mentioned that in some eras (like the book’s present) the Emperor/Empress pretty much ran wild, with not much to hold him/her back. Other times, the Empire was almost a constitutional monarchy. The only constant was that there was always an Isher monarch, and the Weapons Shops were always there to keep the monarch from becoming a dictator. Even when nobody wanted guns, the shops never went out of business; and even when the Emperor controlled *everything,* he couldn’t make the d*** shops go away.

    As a discussion of political philosophy, it was kinda neat.

    1. Terry, you illustrate my point for me: what the author intended, and the reader got are not the same. What two readers got is not the same. I was 14, and probably missed a great deal of nuance 🙂

      1. I’m guessing that I was about ten when I read it (danged copy of Boucher’s Treasury of Great Science Fiction doesn’t have a print history).

        What I remember thinking was how cool the “court of last resort” was – it could fix an injustice just like that!

        Of course, when I was somewhat older, I came across “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” – and realized it wasn’t quite so cool. There is nothing that I remember to keep the proprietors of the weapon shops incorruptible.

        1. In the sequel, THE WEAPON MAKERS, that question comes up. It turned out the Immortal Man who founded both the House of Isher and the Weapon Shops was still hanging around, policing both of them.

          In particular, he ends up bringing the hammer down on the Weapon Shop Council because they were considering an alliance with the Empress about some particularly idealistic thing. He told them in no uncertain terms that they existed to be the House of Isher’s opposition, and they were to sell their guns and stay out of Imperial politics.

          Amusingly enough, he also made sure they knew there was an “oversight committee” organization policing them, and that they DIDN’T know it was made up of him, him, and himself…

          1. Maybe I’ll poke around the next time I’m in the used bookstore for the rest of the stories. I’m not a big fan of the man’s writing myself (although I know that it was the Null-A bit that turned me off).

            Still begs the question to me, though – I wouldn’t trust myself with such power, to be honest. Leaving the world alone is very difficult.

            1. It’s been so long since I’ve read anything in the Weapons Shop universe that almost all details escape me, but I remember them as being the most virulent anti-gun control, pro Second Amendment stories as can be imagined. I cannot IMAGINE any publishing house today printing them, up to and including the organization that handles the NRA books. The SJWs would go CRAZY. I was amazed (pleasantly) to see Amazon still had copies for sale. I guess with a first release in 1951, it no longer is a blip on the on the gun-controller radar. I pity the poor kid that writes a positive book report on it.

      2. Know the feeling. When I was a little boy, my favorite song was “We’ll Sing In the Sunshine.” I thought she was singing to a bunch of little kids about all the fun we’d have before she had to leave…

  7. I love how that article starts out with them claiming “Oh, we’re so ashamed, we’re so disconnected from the working class/rural poor”…and then in the very next breath doubles down on the usual garbage about minorities whose voices were ‘silenced’ by Trump winning the election.

    If that’s ‘silence’ I’d hate to see what ‘not silenced’ is! And this is why I find myself increasingly trying not to lose my crap with people I otherwise like just fine–their wittering on and on about how oppressive/silencing/evil dictator Trump is…and I’m like “I don’t see internment camps. I don’t see people being arrested for speaking out (unless, y’know, they’re threatening violence–and sometimes not even then!). I’m not seeing women losing their jobs in droves, or suddenly facing pay cuts. I don’t see homosexuals being shot in the streets.

    The hysteria, I do not understand it…

    And going by that article, I’m fairly certain that the NYC publishing industry’s moment of ‘aha!’ isn’t going to last very long. Even their big bestseller–Hillbilly Elegy–is still something they’re trying to use to paint the ‘rural poor’…ie, that save for an outlier like the writer, those of us who live in the sticks are all violent, drug addicted lunatics…which is hardly the case.

    I find articles like this fascinating, because it’s like reading a report from one supposedly-alien mind (them) trying and failing to understand a different supposedly-alien mind (ours). Maybe that’s the problem: the ‘elites’ (and it irks me no end that they ACTUALLY REFER TO THEMSELVES AS THE ELITES) were all taken over by aliens from another world?

    1. Sarared – it’s newspeak/doubletalk. What they mean by ‘silenced’ is that a few other people who were NOT their ‘minorities’ actually were emboldened to speak, and that they were not able to silence or crush them as they had done previously. It’s not them being ‘silenced’ that upsets them. It’s anyone else being heard. I suspect that ‘anyone else’ outnumbers them 3:1, but they had been so effective at silencing any dissent that that majority assumed that no-one else thought like them. I’ve hit it myself – when I’ve voiced an ‘unpopular’ opinion – and been attacked by screeching harpies. It’s not just my opinion that they hated. Far worse was the idea that actually their ‘popular’ opinion wasn’t. It was just loud and they had intimidated the majority into silence, into assuming only they held that opinion.

      And in their heads they are elites, and deserving of our adulation and eager imitation ;-/

      1. I think this is part of the reason why they still can’t get over Trump winning. They thought they had it in the bag. They thought they were the popular group. They thought they had everyone on their side…

        Except what they accomplished instead was having the other side that opposed them, except for a vocal minority, go quiet and read the vocal minority, take assurance that they were not alone, and let their voices be heard where it really counted, at the ballot booth.

        I’m still surprised that Trump won; because I expected a lot of cheating to happen on Clinton’s side (I noticed that the investigations dropped after it was showing that Clinton’s side was the one getting more cheat reveals, then they moved onto RUSSIA COLLUSION RAWR) – but my surprise is pleasant, and the fact that they’re still howling and screaming to the sky is more ‘…do they not have anything better to do with their lives?’

  8. I read the Weapon Shops stories yearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs ago, and don’t remember even a little of them. I recall only one book (Fury) I gave up on, which I remembered as one of his books, but now find it wasn’t. I wasn’t a fan of his.

        1. Your fu is better than my fu…

          Sounds about right – from what I can tell, Sam has similar tastes to mine – and I could never stand Kuttner either. Even his Cthulhu stories were rather weak, to me.

          One good thing, though, is that I found a new book for the wish list – “Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany, 1942-1945.” Looks interesting, and the writer is apparently getting a boost from the anti-Trump pack of lies – obviously people buying that title to put on the coffee table when their “woke” friends are over for cocktails. I would like to see the looks on their faces when they open the package…

  9. The Weapons Shops of Isher is one of my favorites from when I was a kid. It had everything. Space guns, space ships, good guys win, bad guys lose. Lefties always hate it when anyone brings it up, which is another great reason to still like it.

    Apropos the topic, Lefties of the rank-and-file variety are morons, as evidenced by the type of thing their leaders keep palming off on them as “Doing Something To Male London Safe!!!”

    The Lord Mayor of London proposes knife control to reduce the rate at which his constituents are killing each other. For real. They’re doing the thing we used to say as a joke.

    So it is no wonder that the Utter Morons who run the Big 5 New York publishing houses don’t get it. They’re not very bright, poor things. They have been demanding knife control along with their gun control for ages now.

    That’s why the Whatsit Awards are doing pre-crime too. Those imbeciles are genuinely terrified some Conservative will run amok in their happy-happy-joy-joy convention.

  10. “I read the Weapon Shops stories yearrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs ago, and don’t remember even a little of them.”

    Sam, does this phrase ring any bells? “The right to own weapons is the right to be free.” Been a long time since I’ve read it, but that motto inscribed over the entry to every shop, I still remember like it was yesterday. (‘Course, that might be a paraphrase rather than a quote, human recollection being faulty. 🙂 )

    1. Yes, I think I’ve run across that recently, but not where. I thought it was maybe in Dave’s post., but couldn’t find it. Maybe it was in the Wiki when I looked up Van Vogt.

    2. Very close. It’s “The right to *buy* weapons is the right to be free.” Presumably you are allowed to own them after you buy them. 🙂

      1. Close enough for “Gov’t work.” 🙂 That’s what I get for being too lazy to Google it. Thanks much for the correction. Surprised more “molon labe” groups have not co-opted the phrase.

      2. And naturally, Leslie Fish wrote a filk about it; it’s on the album she recorded for the NRA, “Lock and Load”.

  11. The Mayor of London is an elected politician who, along with the London Assembly of 25 members, is accountable for the strategic government of Greater London. The current Mayor is Sadiq Khan,

    The Lord Mayor of London is the City of London’s mayor and leader of the City of London Corporation. Within the City, the Lord Mayor is accorded precedence over all individuals except the sovereign and retains various traditional powers, rights and privileges, including the title and style The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor of London.
    Currently serving is the 690th Lord Mayor Charles Bowman (for 2017–18)[1].

    Britain has all the knife control laws they could want but our local BLM got upset about street enforcement and the police were told to cool it. Hence, possibly, the current mess.

  12. Also inspired the name of Abe’s illegal gun shop in the Repairman Jack stories.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: