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The Hair Carpet Weavers by Andreas Eschbach #BookReview

In a distant universe, since the beginning of time, workers have spent their lives weaving intricate carpets from the hair of women and girls. But why? Andreas Eschbach’s mysterious, poignant space opera explores the absurdity of work and of life itself.

The Hair Carpet Weavers by Andreas Eschbach book cover

Title: The Hair Carpet Weavers (aka The Carpet Makers) | Author: Andreas Eschbach | Publisher: Penguin Science Fiction | Pub. Date: 06 August 2020 (originally 1995) | Pages: 320 | ISBN : 9780241454719  | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Purchased

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The Hair Carpet Weavers Review

I admittedly have not read a great deal of formally published science fiction recently, I’ve preferred instead to wander the vibrant, unpredictable craziness of the indie scene. But Andreas Eschbach’s novel (Penguin Classics) is the perfect place to return. It is a singularly fascinating piece of science fiction, drawn from a black hole in the galaxy’s weirdest corner, that can rival even the most insane piece of indie work. 

It is not only the highly original story that distinguishes this novel, it is the story-telling method. Structured more like a series of short stories with a common thread, ‘The Hair Carpet Weavers’ kicks off with the basics. On an obscure planet, certain men spend their entire lives weaving carpets for the emperor (the empire spanning several galaxies). These carpets are exquisite works of art woven exclusively from the hair of their wives and daughters. Therefore the more wives and daughters in a weaver’s house, the more variety of hair colours, the better. At the end of a weaver’s life, the carpet is sold and the proceeds passed on to his son who begins a carpet of his own. So it goes for generations, centuries, millennia, etc.,  

At first, the story seems a parable of religion, an unending cycle of fruitless tradition, and filicide, where women are rendered into property, intellectual thought discouraged, and heretics stoned. The carpets are paid for by the taxes squeezed from the planet’s hard-pressed population. Like religions, this is a pyramid scheme designed to suppress independent thought and economic growth. Closer inspection reveals that no one knows exactly where these carpets go – how many carpets can even the most extravagant palace accommodate?

The story is set following the empire’s fall where well-meaning but flawed rebels desperately try to fill the power vacuum left by the immortal emperor. Democracy will never be perfect but we do our best. The new administration is mortified to learn that untold numbers of backwater planets still worship the emperor and persist in their deranged tradition of producing hair carpets. More, these carpets cannot be accounted for. Each short story is a grim, sometimes horrific vignette that reveals another aspect of these backward societies while dropping a clue to the mystery of the hair carpets. 

Those seeking a more traditional story structure may not appreciate the lack of central characters. I certainly was disappointed by the paucity of strong female characters. To be fair, most of the characters generally lack redeemable qualities. Each chapter spins up then new characters, some of them likeable, only to cast them off. This can frustrate. But follow the thread and you will find it woven elegantly into a fine tapestry. Though I would have liked to have seen some of the looser ends stitched up. 

Eschbach’s world-building over a relatively compact book is masterful. The reveal is well worth the reading. In the final vignette, a weaver weeps for his own wasted life and his loss of purpose and place in the world. The scene is poignant and emotionally intelligent. Our own world has changed drastically over a single generation and we forget to our detriment those stripped of their relevancy and left behind. 

You can purchase a copy of this book via your normal retailer, but please consider purchasing it from a local indie bookshop instead. It can be found at Indiebound or at Bookshop. Please note the Bookshop link is an affiliate link and each purchase you make through it helps to support Sci-Fi & Scary and keep the site running.

Published inScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

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