Cover Image: The Hair Carpet Weavers

The Hair Carpet Weavers

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I've no real idea of how good or not this book was as the ebook proof was so badly formatted I gave up on it
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I love reading books that are a little different. This was so wonderfully weird and I don't' think I have ever read anything quite like it before!

In the dusty wastes of a far-flung planet, strange artisans toil. Like their fathers before them, they tie intricate knots out of the hair of their wives and daughters, slowly forming carpets. Delicate and unique, each carpet requires an entire lifetime of work - and all will be sold to pave the Emperor's palace. Then, one day, the empire falls. Soon, strange men begin to arrive from the stars, in search of the carpets' true destination. What they discover will astonish them all...

Originally written in German, I had never heard of this book before I saw that Penguin was releasing it as part of a Classic Sci-Fi collection. I loved the short story formatting, as each story could easily stand on its own, yet they were so cleverly linked together. Things did get a little confusing in places, but it didn't take much to work things out. The twist at the end wasn't what I was expecting at all, but I actually quite liked it! It was a remarkably simple ending for such a big story. 

I really enjoyed this book and thought that the translation was fantastic. It has made me want to check out the rest of the books in this collection!

Many thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review.
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An excellently plotted novel that starts off on an arid planet where men spend all their lives weaving a carpet made out of hair of their wives and daughters. Knotting no more than a fingernail each day, it takes a man a lifetime to finish the work. The man-sized carpet is then sold and the proceeds given to his son to support him while he too starts weaving a carpet. The carpets are collected and taken to the emperor, seemingly immortal and worshiped as a god in his palace on another world. This has been going for generations, for as long as anyone can remember. 

Each chapter of The Hair Carpet Weavers is told from a different viewpoint: a hair carpet weaver, a village teacher, hair carpet trader, a pedlar, an imperial tax collector and so on and the story of how and why the hair carpets came to be and what is their purpose slowly unravels over the course of the individual narratives. It is a story of religion, dogma and tradition, of real absolute power and its effects and it is fascinating and chilling in equal measure. A great read, albeit one that, like a jigsaw, focuses on the build up of the overall picture rather than characterisation and where women don’t have much of a voice. 

First published in Germany in 1995, Andreas Eschbach’s The Hair Carpet Weavers is one of the launch titles of an admirable new Penguin Classics series aiming to bring science fiction to a broader readership. Some of the titles are by well known authors including Kurt Vonnegut and Yevgeny Zamyatin, others by authors I’m not familiar with and look forward to exploring. 

Highly recommended. My thanks to Penguin Classics and Netgalley for the opportunity to read The Hair Carpet Weavers.
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German SF books? You don’t see them very often translated to a broader public in English.

I’ve read Eschbach’s Das Jesus Video before, which is a kind of time-travel story, and very well-known in Germany – it even has been adapted as a film.

The novel’s structure hooked me right from the the start, as it is structured as connected short stories. It might even be called an anthology of stories in a common setting building up a plot. This is an interesting connection to Trafalgar by Gorodischer, which happens to be part of Penguin’s new Classics imprint, as Trafalgar is also a narration consisting of several short stories.

The plot is centered around the eponymous carpets. Material for the carpets is human hair – the hair of the weaver’s daughters and wifes. They need a whole life to weave one single carpet as an act of devotion to a God-Emperor who ruled his galaxy-wide empire for some 80,000 years.
The stories plant spotlights with different point of views around that business: The weavers, the merchants, the space transporters etc.

The stories are connected not only concerning their common setting but also by sharing characters – some characters show up in two or three stories.
This might be an issue for readers who are more used to one single protagonist driving a linear story.

In summary, I loved the short-story form, the involved characters, the topics and the ending. It’s been translated into several languages, and the last time for an English publication has been more than ten years ago. It is well-time to bring this excellent book back into readers’ attention.
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The Hair Carpet Weavers is a selection of interrelated short stories, set in a distant future and spanning across galaxies. Each chapter follows a new character, in some way connected with the mysterious human hair carpets which are produced in religious exhaltation to the Emperor, with which he will adorn his space palace.

I went into this book with only the barest idea of what I was about to read, and I'd fully recommend anyone interested in this novel to do the same. I was completely gripped by the narrative and by how Eschbach manages to make each chapter a mindblowing story in and of itself.

This book is sublime in every sense. The author perceptively weaves in themes of religion, the power of tradition and ruminations on power itself. For a book that is barely over 300 pages, its scope and stories feel entirely epic and situated in a complex and masterfully realised world.

I couldn't recommend this enough. This is sci-fi at its very best.
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"The Hair-Carpet Weavers" is a work of pure genius. The story moves along and grows by changing the focus onto a different character in each chapter, making this an incredibly well-rounded piece of world-building without needing endless explanatory paragraphs to explain how everything works. The plot itself is like quicksand... pulling you in deeper and deeper with every advancement. I loved this book from start to finish.

My thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for an advance copy to review. This review is entirely my own, unbiased, opinion.
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Somewhere, on an unknown planet, men are weaving carpets from daughters and wifes hair. At the end of their lives, these carpets are send to Emperor, as a pay for next generation.
Now some claim that Emperor is dead...

Really interesting book, with stories like a woven carpet.

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On an unknown planet thousands of families are at the job of weaving carpets out of human hair, the hair from their own family. At the end of their lives they will ship these carpets off to the far off Emperor for the money that will pay for another generation. We start in the house of one such hair carpet weaver as he weighs up the lives of his family, he can only have one male heir, and he need lots of female hair. 

Each chapter of the Hair Carpet Weavers opens up the world slightly, and then the worlds beyond, even at one point beyond the Universe. Its taughtly narrated though what Eschbach is slowly unfolding is a cruel universe where an immortal emperor appears to rule with ultimate fiat and does things for ineffable reasons (they book is rife with allegories - religion being way up there). And whilst it jumps from character to character (no two chapter is from the same perspective) there is a coherent flow in the storytelling which leads to the simple heart of the mystery - why are the Hair Carpets being made.

Its a beguiling read, the translation and potentially the original version has a feeling of much older sci-fi, potentially New Wave where the bloom is off the Utopian lily and formal experimentation is the order of the day. (With a snappier sense of humour it could almost be Vonnegut, particularly when the reveal happens in the last pages). There are possibly two many ideas bouncing around, the universe is broadly sketched and there is little faith in both empires and rebellions . Oddly enough the broad sketch is not hout shadows of the Star Wars universe, asking the question about how oppression is baked into a system where no-one really knows about it. We see how micro-system are models of macro-systems and the incidental cruelty in basing countless global economies on something as pointless  as weaving carpets out of human hair is modelled in the very reason for their existence (note I wasn't all that satisfied by the reason, but accept it works in the book). A good brisk narrative work out. 

[Netgalley ARC]
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There is a planet where fathers spend their lives making hair carpets.  They only use the finest hair from their wives and daughters.  Towards the end of their lives the carpets are sold and are said to enhance the glory of the Emperor's palace.  The money effectively keeps their families going until the son completes his hair carpet.  However there are stories of strange men who say that the empire has fallen and the Emperor is dead.  This must be heresy mustn't it?

So starts the first story in this book.  I found it was engaging and deceptively simple.  The writing in this is very good - in passing kudos to the translator too as this can make or break a book.  The stories are here are "woven" too and the more you read the more of the bigger picture you see.  This widening of the viewpoint builds steadily.  The setting appears to be a post apocalyptic one.  The Empire and the Emperor are all encompassing - but are they really still there?  And why does the Emperor really want all the hair carpets?

The narrative is non linear narrative which left me puzzled sometimes.  Not all the stories were equally good for me either.  Those that did though were very good.  This really was quite unlike any other Sci-Fi books that I've read although I must confess it is a genre I only dip into from time to time.  The Hair Carpet Weavers is an unusual book with a lyrical feel to the writing and the stories.  This is not an action packed thriller - the brain is far more useful than ray guns!  While I do not consider this one of the best books I've read I really enjoyed reading it.  If you are looking for something a little different in Sci-Fi this rather strange book is well worth considering.  4.5/5
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The Hair Carpet Weavers starts with just that. The first chapter tells the story of a hair-carpet weaver - a man spending his entire life, as his predecessors did, weaving one spectacular carpet from the hair of his wives, as an offering to the Emperor. In a series of short chapters, each from the perspective of a different character, we build up a collective picture of a planet-wide society bound together by the bizarre collective endeavour of the carpet makers . The carpets themselves are sent away on completion on spaceships to the Emperor’s Palace, and their purchasing is paid for by taxes collected by the Empire, in a form of circular economy. Worship of the Emperor, who though not seen as a God, does enjoy eternal life and unlimited power, is complete and heretics are dealt with severely. Society is governed by rigid castes and education is seen as a dangerous enterprise - though in a wicked aside an Imperial Tax Collector observes that cities who kill their teachers generally see taxable revenues fall over the long term.

The frame continually widens, as a spaceship bearing researchers from the Empire itself arrives. We learn that the Emperor himself, for whom weavers toil their entire lives, may not even still be on the throne. It has to be said that some of the novel’s magic is lost once the spaceships, Imperial Guards and space-stations start appearing. Early on, in his scenes set on the weaver’s world, Andreas Eschenbach manages to keep his work above genre pigeonholes.The intoxicating strangeness of the first third of the book gives way to a more conventional genre feel. The early thrill of ‘what is this and where is it going’ is replaced by ‘what happens next’.

What happens next is the working out of the mystery of the hair carpets: where do they go when they leave the planet, and why have they  been produced for millenia. The drip drip drip of revelations is expertly handled by Andreas Eschbach, whose debut novel this was in 1995, now translated and reissued in Penguin Science Fiction. 

Eschbach is one of Germany’s leading sci-fi writers - and this novel sits squarely in the tradition of European intellectual SF. Like Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game it depicts a society rigidly bound by tradition and caste. At its most enigmatic in the early scenes it evokes the mystery of the Strugastsky brothers Roadside Picnic. And in its lack of interest in explaining the hardware that enables people to zip around the galaxy - spaceships are just that, communicators and laser guns used but unexplained - it recalls Stanislaw Lem. Eschbach I am guessing would be happy with these comparisons. But more than any of these heavyweights The Hair Carpet Weavers, set in a lonely outpost of a long-ruined empire, brings to mind The Foundation Trilogy as it progresses towards the final scenes. Several scenes at the heart of the Empire hark back to Asimov’s fallen planet-wide capital city Trantor.

There are few false steps. Eschenbach can’t really bring female characters into the story except as crude stereotypes - the sexy archivist being a particularly egregious example. But overall this is a great read with images that will linger long after the revelations.
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The story starts off with a seemingly simple-enough premise: there is an entire world devoted to creating hair carpets. Each one of these carpets is created by a single craftsman, using the hair of his wives and daughters. It takes an entire lifetime to create a single carpet. When it is completed, it is sent off to be hung in the Emperor's palace.

Of course, not all is necessarily as it seems.

The book is told as a series of short stories, each telling a small piece of the greater narrative. Some characters appear in more than one story, or they are at least referenced in more than one. One could say that the individual stories, themselves, are used to weave a greater story in much the same way the characters weave their carpets.

Because of the nature of the shorter stories, there isn't really enough time to get too much individual character development. But the society itself, and the unfolding mysteries behind it all, is the true character of the book. That is the character we are meant to learn about, with lots of little mysteries slowly being revealed and resolved, while the bigger picture lies just tantalisingly out of reach, waiting for a big reveal.

When I was finished reading the book, I was very satisfied. It tells a grander tale than is first suspected in the first third of the book. I would definitely recommend this. My only lament is that my German isn't up to the task of trying to read this book in its original language. However, the translation is very well done, so I don't feel I've missed too much.

Side Note: Unrelated to the story itself, the version of the book available on NetGalley that was sent to my Kindle included numbers on every single line of the book, from 01 through 31 before repeating. I was able to reduce my font size such that the numbers didn't _always_ appear in the middle of the lines, but it was still extremely distracting and cause me to take longer to read than I might normally have taken.
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Wow. Where to begin with this? The best way for me to describe this book is to compare it to a delicious glass of heavy nuanced red wine. Full of layers and depth and notes. 

It opens up describing this world made of hair carpet weavers. These men devote their whole lives to making carpets from the hairs of their wives. The process is so long and intricate it takes them their whole life t9 do it. These carpets are bought by traders who pay them enough money to last the rest of their lives. They are only allowed to have one son, who inherits all the money and must then repay the debt from his father by creating another carpet that he will sell and gift to his son. 

The book is made up of little stories, with several POVs from people scattered across this galaxy. Some central themes emerge. There is (was) an Immortal emperor who Is a god like entity that the people worship. In some worlds it is heresy to speak evil or denounce the emperor or to even question his religion - at the pain of death by stoning. However there are persistent rumors that the emperor is dead and rebels keep turning up claiming he is dead and was human after all. Also, hair carpets are being made in several thousand worlds and have been made for thousands of years to “decorate” the emperors palace. If this were true - how would they all fit? No one that has been to the emperor’s palace has ever seen a hair carpet. So where do all these carpets truly go and who pays for this?

This book is made of tiny little stories that build like a jigsaw puzzle into an overall arching story with a chilling but very satisfying twist that surprised even me - I didn’t see it coming and I didn’t get it till the very end. I loved it and would highly recommend it. This is a 4.5/5 for me. It is very rich and nuanced so you can’t read it too quickly but still very highly enjoyable. Incredibly done.
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What an incredible book - outstanding world building, and layers of stories, and people. This is a book that will stay with me for a while.
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Review for publication elsewhere.
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This is a strange and beautiful book, set in a distant universe where the Emperor is worshipped as a god. There's a whole society based on hair carpets - carpets woven by men from the hair of their wives and daughters. Society revolves around these men, who will only weave one carpet in their lives, and will pass the price of the carpet onto their only son, to support that son in weaving his hair carpet. 

This book is set as the empire unravels. It's a series of linked stories, carrying the plot through twists and turns. The atmosphere, detailing and exploration of futility' and the final reveal reminded me of Borges. It's definitely worth a read.
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