Few science-fiction works have the concentrated power to move as Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers. Few books in general do, for that matter. This novel about a civilization of people whose highest caste members produce incredibly detailed carpets woven out of women’s hair is just as detailed and finely wrought as the carpets of the title.
A carpet weaver spends his entire life fashioning just one carpet, which will be transported from the planet to decorate the palace of the Emperor, an almighty being at the center of his citizens’ lives. The weaver’s son takes up the post and spends his entire life doing the same painstaking labor. It has been so for thousands upon thousands of years. Only now rumors are continuing to leak into the towns that the Emperor has been killed and rebels have taken over. The rebels make some small contact with the planet, and the hair carpets are a complete mystery to them.
Eschbach’s novel sweeps through a few decades and through dozens of characters. Each only takes the stage for a brief interlude, but despite the brevity of the appearance, each character is finely drawn and so well fleshed out that his or her story is fully engaging, and his subsequent disappearance from the stage a fully felt loss. And the novel sweeps mercilessly on, introducing characters and stories, moving along, building toward the climax – the answer to the questions about the history and meaning of the carpets.
While The Carpet Makers is technically science fiction, it is a novel that addresses the wide variants of human nature, of the best and worst people can be capable of. It speaks to the depths of the meanings of religion and faith and truth, and to the danger and terror of absolute power. It is a novel whose messages and story will haunt after it is finished. It is an outstanding achievement, and one deserving of more attention internationally than it has gotten to this point. Eschbach is a truly gifted writer and student of human nature.
Rated: Mild, for just a handful of uses of language and some very brief and mild detail of sex.