Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Empire of Isher
A.E. van Vogt
Tor Orb Books, 352 pages

Vincent diFate
The Empire of Isher
A.E. van Vogt
A.E. van Vogt was born in 1912 on a farm was in Manitoba, south of Winnipeg, Canada. When he was 10, they moved to Morden, Manitoba, and then to Winnipeg, where his father became manager of the Holland-America steamship line. A.E. van Vogt worked as a truck driver, farmhand and statistical clerk. Between jobs he began to write. While in Ottawa, he took a course in writing. He wrote his first story and entered a contest in True Story magazine. His first SF story was inspired by John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? and his second story, "Black Destroyer," made the cover of the July 1939 issue of Astounding Science Fiction and won first place in the reader voting.

Turned down by the local draft board, he was able to get a job working for the Department of National Defense in Ottawa. In the evenings, he wrote Slan, published as a four-part serial in Astounding Science Fiction. Quitting in 1941 and moving to Farm Point, Quebec, he wrote several short stories and then The Weapon Shop.

He and his wife, Edna Mayne Hull, moved to Los Angeles in 1944, a hub of all kinds of religions, cults and sciences. He met L. Ron Hubbard in 1945. Dianetics was to influence both him and his wife for many years. A.E. van Vogt died in January 2000.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The War Against the Rull
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site
A.E. van Vogt Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

The National Rifle Association should give out a copy of The Empire of Isher with every new membership. Seriously. They're fools if they don't. I have never come across anything that more closely resembles an NRA-envisioned utopia than van Vogt's The Weapon Makers and The Weapon Shops of Isher, collected here in an omnibus volume. Before you roll your eyes and scoff at the absurdity of a future crafted by Charleton Heston and his inner circle, consider the backdrop of van Vogt's Isher universe. Even the Weapon Shops' credo could be adopted by the gun lobby today without much fuss: The right to buy weapons is the right to be free.

Thousands of years from now, humanity is locked into the solar system, having colonized the planets but able to get no farther without faster-than-light technology. The solar system is held tightly in the iron grip of the Empire of Isher, currently headed up by the young, arrogant and impulsive Empress Innelda. The Empire itself is, however, dysfunctional at best, riddled with graft and corruption. Corporations run rampant, pulling scams and illegal takeovers left and right, gouging the helpless citizenry and government agency alike -- no matter that most corporations are owned either wholly or in part by that same government. Enter the Weapon Shops. As old as the Empire of Isher itself, the Weapon Shops possess dazzling technology far beyond that of the Empire. The shops themselves move through extra-dimensional space, popping up in city and hamlet, ready and willing so sell all manner of destructive power dirt cheap to the people who want it. And what power it is! Guns that instantaneously teleport to the owner's hand with a thought, casting up defensive screens that protect the wielder from any and all power the Empire can bring to bear.

There's a catch, though. Soldiers, government agents and others in the service of the Empress are not allowed entrance to the shops, much less the ability to buy weapons. Likewise, no one with malice towards the shops and their makers are allowed access either. And just to make sure a "Saturday Night Special" factor never comes into play, the fantastic weapons can only be used for hunting, self-defense or suicide. When turned against another human being or used for crime they will not function. If only the same could be said of today's street level arsenals!

The first of the novels presented here, The Weapon Shops of Isher, was expanded from the famous short piece of the same title. When a Weapon Shop mysteriously appears overnight in a small village, Fara, one of the leading townsfolk loyal to the Empress, leads a one-man crusade against its "corrupting" influence. But when his estranged son, Cayle, runs off to the city and Fara is bilked out of his savings and business by a government-run corporation, he has no choice but to turn to the Weapon Shop for help. Cayle doesn't escape the notice of the Weapon Shops, either. The headstrong boy possesses an innate ability to manipulate probability, a talent the Weapon Makers sorely need to enlist. For the Empress has launched a surprise attack against the Weapon Shops that has weakened the very foundation of time itself, and if allowed to succeed will likely destroy the entire solar system. Audacious and adventurous, van Vogt packs the story with grand ideas and twists and turns galore. Certainly, there are spots where the novel's 50s SF foundation is showing, but they're few and far between, easily overlooked.

The Weapon Makers, actually the first of the books written but the second chronologically, takes a very different approach. Instead of sweeping epics and multiple plot threads, this story deals with Robert Hedrock, an immortal human who long ago founded both the Empire of Isher and the Weapon Shops as a series of checks and balances to prevent any grand-scale tyranny or social collapse. But suddenly he finds that balance in jeopardy, with the Empire teetering on the verge of collapse and the suddenly power-hungry Weapon Makers hot on his trail after discovering his secret. To complicate Hedrock's position still further, faster-than-light propulsion has been discovered, which could free humanity from the confines of the solar system and upset the balance of power for all time. That is, unless a mysterious, arachnid-like alien race that's been keeping tabs on Hedrock doesn't intervene first... Never let it be said that van Vogt skimped on plot complications. While The Weapon Makers is a tighter, more focused book than Weapon Shops, it's no less grand and wondrous. It's a shame that van Vogt didn't write more about Isher, because the rich history he's developed here is literally brimming over with untold tales.

There was a time when van Vogt was as big a giant as science fiction had ever seen. His influence is waning now, as his works recede into the past. Indeed, not all of his creations stand up well to the test of time -- The Voyage of the Space Beagle, in particular, is weighed down by an excess of anachronisms and attitudes that undermine the sense of wonder that made it such a classic in the first place. Thankfully, that is not the case with The Empire of Isher. Indeed, these two novels are probably more relevant today in this age of paranoid, gun-hoarding militias which see themselves as the last line of defense against an oppressive, power-hungry government bent on global domination. Van Vogt was ahead of his time, casting the gun-control debate into a far-future arena where the most extreme extrapolations could run wild. Thought-provoking and intelligent, but above all, fun, van Vogt's Weapon Shops novels are probably better today than when first written, and that puts them in elite company indeed.

Copyright © 2001 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in journalism. He writes science fiction and fantasy short fiction and has several in-progress novels lying around in various stages of decay. His non-fiction articles and interviews have seen publication in the U.S., Britain and Australia. His website can be found at

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide