(1995; English translation 2005) (book)
By Andreas Eschbach
It's 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.
The novel's 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 te 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.
Addendum 12/13/14: Still no translations, and none are likely. I understand it would take $10,000 to translate a book, and Eschbach just isn’t worth it. <sigh>