(1995; English translation 2005) (book)
rare that you pick up an unheralded book and realize it is truly great. Even
heralded books are hard to find. In the science fiction/fantasy field,
there were things like Dune, Replay, The Book of the New Sun, and Lord
of the Rings. Lately, that feeling has happened to me less and less often.
That's why The
Carpet Makers blew me away. It was released in the US in 2005, and came out
with little fanfare. The main reason I picked it up was that its first chapter
had already appeared as a very memorable story in Fantasy and Science Fiction
and I was delighted to be able to read more.
Andreas Eschbach is clearly the
greatest SF writer Germany has ever produced. Not that there's a lot of
competition -- SF is an English-language game, and even the best from other
countries (Stanisalaw Lem, for instance) are reinventing the wheel. Eschbach
clearly knows his SF and, more importantly, he know how to tell a story. He's
evidently very successful in Europe, but this was his first (and so far only)
novel translated into English.
And what a book.
Eschbach sets up an intriguing situation: a universe ruled by an emperor, and
about one planet, whose men make their living by creating carpets out of the
hair of their wives and daughter, training one son -- and one son only -- to
continue in their profession. The emperor purchases the carpets and then . . .
No one knows.
Because the emperor has been deposed, and the mystery of the carpet makers is
has been lost.
structure is different. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a
different character, each with a different perspective. Little scenes are
dramatized -- and dramatized memorably, each slowly coming nearer to the central
mystery, while telling the stories of a wide range of people and how they are
affected by it. And the resolution of the mystery is well worth the wait, and is
one of the greatest dramatic outcomes I've seen in any book. The solution is
logical, with plenty of hints, and is also heartbreakingly terrifying. And
Eschbach does even more: a final chapter that has an even greater kick that
reflects on everything that has happened.
The book was
released to good reviews, but didn't seem to be a big seller. I've rarely found
anyone who actually read it. And the biggest shame about the book is, if it did
have poor sales, then no one will want to translate more of his work into
English. The Carpet Makers was Eschbach's first novel, and one can only
marvel at how good his books will be as he continues to develop his craft.
And I'll be the
first to buy one once they come out in English.