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The Carpet Makers
Andreas Eschbach; translated by Doryl Jensen
Tor, 320 pages

The Carpet Makers
Andreas Eschbach
Andreas Eschbach was born in 1959 in Ulm, Germany. He studied Aerodynamics at the Technical University of Stuttgart. He left before graduation to work as a software developer and to found, together with a partner, an IT consulting company in 1993. His first published novel came in 1995, Die Haarteppichknüpfer (The Carpet Makers). In 1996, it won the German science fiction award, the SFCD-Literaturpreis. He now lives, together with his wife Marianne, on the French Atlantic coast, writing full time.

Andreas Eschbach Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

Sometimes you read a book and come away from the experience with, shall we say, mixed feelings. The Carpet Makers is a beautifully written book, with haunting images and an impressive galaxy-spanning scope. It takes an unflinching moral stand and slowly, steadily, builds layer upon unflinching layer of evidence to support its point. Its weakness -- the thing which will make or break this book for you, the individual reader -- is that the novel has no characters, only bit part actors, tokens to be pushed around and told where to stand and what to say. Andreas Eschbach's novel is one of ideas. It spends so much time and deliberate attention to its themes, it never gets around to creating and sustaining an actual story.

The nuts and bolts: This is the first English publication of Eschbach's work: it was his first novel, and won Germany's respected SFCD-Literature Prize in 1996. Since then the writer has written two more novels and received other awards and saw his third novel, The Jesus Video, turned into a film in 2002. The Carpet Makers comes to us through the literary intercession of Orson Scott Card, who met Eschbach during a convention in Europe, brought the book to Tor's attention, and provided the foreword to this edition.

The novel opens on a subsistence-culture desert planet where the most respected industry is the construction of intricate carpets woven of human hair. So detailed, so fine is the weaving, that each maker can only produce one carpet in his lifetime. The hairs themselves come from the bodies of his wives, chosen for the silkiness and shade of their tresses.

Once a year the Emperor's spaceships land. The carpets are bought, loaded aboard, and taken far away to cover the floors of the Emperor's great Star Palace. This tribute trade has been going on for centuries without change, keeping each of the emperor's worlds a cultural and technological backwater. The people are so tangled up by tradition that even where rumors come hinting of rebellion and disposal of the Emperor, nothing changes. The great carpet work goes on. Slowly Eschbach expands the story, using vignettes which gradually accrete into a picture of a stellar empire built around tyranny and pride. Through the seemingly random viewpoints of soldiers, politicians, and bureaucrats we learn the carpet makers' worlds are caught up and isolated from the rest of space, trapped and enslaved by their beloved Emperor as well as their own cultural inertia.

When Eschbach eventually reveals the reason why thousands of worlds were trapped in poverty and subsistence culture, why billions of people were forced to live a lie, that revelation is so mundane and so petty, one is reduced to saying: You're kidding. How could an individual get away with this? How could his own people go along with this? There is no sense of triumph, no transcendence or uplift in the off-hand revelation which answers so many questions. Some readers will say, well, that's just how it is. Humans are, by and large, cowards and protectors of the status quo. But others are likely to demand, WHY? Why didn't anyone stand against the Emperor's orders, and why did it take so long for rebellion to occur? Why did the people on those primitive planets hang on to their deadly stale traditions for so long, never questioning why they couldn't have some of the technology evidenced by the traders on those space ships?

One can read any number of allegorical levels into Eschbach's story: into the fact that most (There is one female military officer) of the characters in positions of power are male; that the few carpet maker worlds we are shown all closely resemble Middle Eastern style patriarchies, focused on faith and tradition, reinforced by purdah and polygamy; and in the resonance of backward colonies ruled from afar by a smart but petty Emperor. Take what you will from the example of Earth's history and apply it here.

At its best The Carpet Makers is a deftly written, intricately-plotted construct: clever and concise, but cold. This lengthy series of vignettes holds the reader at a distance, explaining bit by bit but never drawing the reader inside. By the end there is little triumph in the knowledge that the Emperor has been overthrown, his worlds set free; one only hopes that the people who took power, and those to whom power has been given, will do a better job in wielding it.

Copyright © 2005 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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