Sep 7 2011 5:02pm

Weaving an Empire Unlike Any Other: The Carpet Makers

Carpets are every day items, you probably have a few at home. Some are plain, mass produced, and others are true works of art, unique, handmade items.

The Carpet Makers is about people who make the most astonishing carpets ever dreamed up. In Yannahochia, a small village in an arid country, carpet makers spend their life weaving carpets made of human hair destined to decorate the palace of the Emperor. And when I say carpet makers spend their life making carpets, I mean each carpet maker will only have time to weave a single carpet during his entire life. His wives and daughters will provide him with the necessary raw material and he will also train his son to continue the family trade.

Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers starts as what might be fantasy, but quickly hints that it will become science fiction: some lucky soldiers carry old and worn ray guns, people know the empire extends to planets circling other stars and the carpets are sent offworld to the palace of the Emperor. We also find out that Yannahochia is not the only village dedicated to the manufacture of carpets. In fact, the entire planet is.

But the book veers back into what might be fantasy, so fantastic is this Empire. It’s greater than any you’ve ever read about or seen before. A tiny little galaxy held together by knights wielding the Force is dwarfed by it, the God Emperor of Dune is nothing in comparison to this Emperor, and Hari Seldon’s thousand year plan would be a mere blip in his life. This Emperor has governed for so long, people think he is immortal, the one true God, and that it has always been so.

But, one day, someone from another world lands near Yannahochia, makes contact and announces that the Emperor has been dead for 20 years. Of course, no one is willing to believe this, after all, the stars are still shining and everyone knows they wouldn’t exist without the Emperor. Anyway, how can you kill a god?

Then another revelation is made: the stranger has never seen a hair carpet, nor heard of them before. He is as fascinated by the hair carpets as their makers are horrified by his heresy. According to him, no one has ever seen them before, even those who have been in the Imperial Palace. What is the mystery behind them?

The story then expands outwards in space, leaving Yannahochia, spiraling further and further out in space. Meanwhile the plot turns towards the resolution of several questions: has the Emperor really died 20 years ago? Was there really a rebellion? Who led it? Where are the hair carpets being sent? And, perhaps most importantly, why?

Each chapter in the book is like a short story focusing on a particular character. I know the opening chapter was originally published on its own. Some books made of shorter works pieced together suffer from it, but that’s not the case here. Each story meshes with the others to form a coherent whole. The book itself is like a tightly woven carpet, the plot, the characters and the universe, all fitting together into a fantastic vision. One chapter at a time, or all in one go, reading this book is an intense experience.

And intense is the word. Some writers take you by the hand and take you on a wonderful voyage with their characters, everyone holding hands and discovering an amazing universe together and generally having a great time. Andreas Eschbach is not like that. If you take his hand, the next thing you know, you might be sacking and pillaging his characters’ lives, or killing their families and setting their homes on fire. But it’s not all bad: you can also be there as they support each other in times of adversity, strive to better themselves, care for each other and fall in love.

The universe of The Carpet Makers is hard and merciless. It is also a place where people find love and beauty. In many ways, it’s like the real world, only more fantastic, and Eschbach is the ideal guide to help you discover it.

René Walling is a fan of SF, animation and comics, this has led him to co-chair Anticipation, the 2009 Worldcon, be involved with fps magazine for more than a decade, write reviews of francophone short fiction for The Portal, and start Nanopress, a Canadian small press. He looks forward to living on Mars where he would benefit from having more than 24 hours in a day.

Clémentine Girbal
1. C.G
Gosh, I was extatic when I saw this article! I read this book more than ten years ago, as a teen, and again a few years later. In French it's called "des milliers de tapis de cheveux" or "thousand of carpets made out of hair" which immediately catches your attention on the shelf :) People should definitely pick it up in a heart beat, the World building is great, the characters I remember loving, and the final reveal is definitely hating, it stayed with me for a long, long time.
David Levinson
2. DemetriosX
The most likely comparisons are to Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delaney. It's a pity, though, that this was his first novel to be translated into English. I think it resulted in a skewed perception of Eschbach's work and probably hampered his breaking into the English-language market. In general, all of his books are different from one another in tone and style and this one is probably the least likely to really draw an audience. It's a pity, because he's a very interesting author and I think something like Das Jesus Video or Eine Billion Dollar (One Trillion Dollars) would have found a much larger audience.
Jo Walton
3. bluejo
I loved this book, with its spiral structure and mysterious carpets. I haven't read any of his others but I absolutely would if they were translated.
Leah Bobet
4. Leah Bobet
Oh -- I'm really glad to see a writeup on this. I loved this book. Madly.
Leah Bobet
5. Raskolnikov
But the book veers back into what might be fantasy, so fantastic is this Empire. It’s greater than any you’ve ever read about or seen before.

Pift. It's insignificant compared with PanLife from the Days of Solomon Gursky, or the Xeelee from Baxter's series.

I found this a great novel. Powerful, complex, immediately engaging and intense. It never quite lives up to the potential of the opening segment, though, which remains by far the best piece of writing in the book--what follows is indeed great, but not quite as engrossing, at least to me.

Nice to see the review, hope the authors gets more general attention. And translation.
Leah Bobet
6. Valentin D. Ivanov
I also loved this book and a while ago I wrote a review:

Does anybody know if Eschbach wrote something else in the same Universe?
Bob Blough
7. Bob
So great to see this novel talked about. I loved it - think it is a treasure and wish someone else would translate more of his works into English. I'd pick them up in a heartbeat!
Leah Bobet
8. Scotoma
@6 Eschbach wrote another book in the same universe "Quest", which is about the quest for the origin of life in the Carpet Maker universe and which, if I remember right, took place eons before the Carpet Maker story. Thought I never read it, I disliked the Carpet Makers to such an extend that I never bothered with any of his other books, not that any of them struck me as particularly interesting anyway.
Leah Bobet
9. Daniel Salvo
Great book. I read the spanish translation "Los tejedores de cabellos" . I hope "Quest" will be translated into spanish soon.

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