Book Talk : 'The Carpet Makers' by Andreas Eschbach - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk : 'The Carpet Makers' by Andreas Eschbach

Alexander Wallace weaves an elaborate rug.
We have this tendency to think of science fiction as an Anglophone genre; even with Jules Verne being an acknowledged master, we tend to ignore things from outside the United States and United Kingdom. There’s been much translation of science fiction from other countries in recent years, with China getting the most. Today, we’ll be discussing a science fiction novel from another country neglected in the Anglosphere: The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, originally written in German.

The Carpet Makers is set on an unnamed planet in a space opera future reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. On this planet, humans who have been cut off from galactic civilization spend much time and effort making carpets out of body hair. Specifically, there is a whole caste of men whose life’s work is to harvest the body hair from their wives and daughters and weave them into carpets, which are sent to a port city for reasons unknown. It is said that they are being sent to the Emperor of the galaxy, and it is not known to what purpose he uses these odd creations.

This state of affairs ends up deeply puzzling to the envoys of the still existent empire that rules humanity, who are particularly perplexed to discover these ‘backwards’ people worship the recent emperor. This ends up throwing the empire into crisis as the existence of this strange cultural phenomenon reveals things left long buried.

The Carpet Makers is written in a long tradition of science fiction literature told as a series of interlinked stories all set in the same universe and revolving around common themes; Asimov’s I, Robot is a famous example thereof. Eschbach bounces from character to character, and secondary characters in stories are often main characters in subsequent stories. He uses the format well; you get a large sweep of this galaxy and its inhabitants in a way that gives everyone their due, and allows for the full impact of various developments to be shown.

This is a book that is clear ‘social science fiction’ in a manner that reminds me strongly of the work of Ursula K. Le Guin. Both Le Guin and Eschbach share a concern for how power is used in human society, and how that use of power is altered when confronted with strange scenarios. It is also about culture, and about how power informs culture, and about how strange elements of culture can persist long after their initial context has been forgotten.

The Carpet Makers is a book that has been unfairly neglected by English-speaking fandom. It is a book that asks potent questions about the nature of society, and what really undergirds it. I recommend it highly.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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