Thursday, March 7, 2013
Sci-Fi: The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach
Translator: Doryl Jensen
Date: 1995 (trans. 2005)
Source: OU Honors College
Read: for an Honors College reading group
From GoodReads: Since the time of pre-history, carpetmakers tie intricate knots to form carpets for the court of the Emperor. These carpets are made from the hairs of wives and daughters; they are so detailed and fragile that each carpetmaker finishes only one single carpet in his entire lifetime. This art descends from father to son, since the beginning of time itself. But one day the empire of the God Emperor vanishes, and strangers begin to arrive from the stars to follow the trace of the hair carpets. What these strangers discover is beyond all belief, more than anything they could have ever imagined...
My review: When the reading group for The Carpet Makers first began, I was told by a moderator, "Oh, you're an anthropology major, you'll love how the society is set up in this book." And she was right. The world building, especially in the first chapters, is absolutely astounding. The social structure is complex, the cult of the Emperor is fascinating, and one is left pondering questions of cultural construction and religion. In fact, the musings on religion hinted at by the role of the Emperor and the degree to which the religion of the universe of The Carpet Makers is ingrained in the minds of its people conjure up intriguing questions about religion in our own world.
The structure of this novel reminded me much of The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. Each chapter can stand on its own as a short story, but all the chapters are still tied together somehow. Eschbach's writing also has the same general feel as Bradbury's, with a lot of the stories having...not terribly positive conclusions. Some in the reading group complained of the depressing feel and choppy structure (chapters rarely returned to characters we'd encountered before), but I didn't see these as issues.
The reading group perhaps had the most fun just coming up with outlandish explanations for the odd structure of the carpetmakers' society. Why did they make hair carpets? What happened to said carpets? Why hadn't their culture ever changed? The conclusion to these questions proved rather abrupt; it was almost as if the novel was written entirely just to describe this universe, with the causes behind its practices explained as an afterthought.
Also, the world of The Carpet Makers reminded me of that of Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card (2010). There's this alternation between parts of the same universe where the less technological part at first seems like a fantasy world, while the high-tech one seems more sci-fi-ish. Given that Card was a major advocate of the translation of The Carpet Makers into English, I wonder if there's an influence here?