Andreas Eschbach: The Hair-Carpet Weavers

January 5, 2021

    SF can be pretty weird at times; this is one of the weirdest books I’ve come across in quite a while. Men on a backward planet spend a lifetime weaving a single carpet out of the hair of their wives, in tribute to an Emperor on a distant planet… they have no idea what happens to the carpets, which are regularly bought up and collected by an interplanetary spaceship, it’s just what they have always done, for many centuries. And yet, there is a rumour, brutally suppressed, that the Emperor has been overthrown.

There are so many ways of reading this novel, which in someways, initially at least, is more of a collection of stories linked to a common theme, rather like Keith RobertsPavane. Is it an allegory about religion, unquestioning belief, blind worship and blind obedience? The empire of worlds and planets is incredibly vast, certainly dwarfing Ursula Le Guin’s Ekumen or Isaac Asimov’s Federation. So vast, in fact, that the planet we read about is in a forgotten corner of the universe, only recently rediscovered by the central administration, that has replaced the deposed Emperor, and discovered that there are thousands of planets weaving the hair-carpets…

Then there is the notion that the primitiveness of the planet stems from the traces of a nuclear war some tens of thousands of years ago, traces of which are still detectable. What might happen to humanity and civilisation in such a case?

It’s a slow-moving and often lyrical read, full of surprises, very well-written. The last Emperor, who had lived for tens of thousands of years, had become bored, and engineered his own deposition: was this an attempt to defeat entropy? Certainly his successors have their work cut out to discover what was going on across the immeasurable interplanetary wastes, and all the planets and societies have to come to terms with the new circumstances and work out how they are going to continue, or survive, how the Empire can rebuild itself…

I really enjoyed this. For a good while I’ve felt quite jaundiced about SF generally, and its drift into fantasy and pure escapism – I know I generalise terribly here and that actually I’ve just lost touch with the genre as I’ve grown older – but this has renewed my interest. It’s a novel that is mind-boggling in a good way, and at the same time thought-provoking and philosophical; highly recommended!

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