By Andreas Eschbach, translated by Doryl Jensen
Reading this book confounded me a little. I very much enjoyed the read and I was interested to see where the book was headed. On the other hand, I kept thinking, “This would be brilliant, if only something were happening.”
I found myself captivated by the actual prose. Parts of it read with a cadence similar to blank verse poetry and it enchanted my sensibilities. The writing was truly a pleasure to read. As an interesting note, The Carpet Makers was originally written in German and subsequently translated into English so I have no idea if I like the author or the translator.
As much as I enjoyed reading it, however, it was hard to overlook the fact that nothing happened. Some books do not start with a hook. They just assume that the reader will be along for the ride. This is one such book. What I expect to happen is that the plot will develop regardless. About half way through the book, I started to get worried. “I think a plot is starting! Wait, no. Never mind” was audibly repeated several times after that.
That’s not to say that there weren’t small story arcs. The book consisted essentially of short stories but they didn’t really add up to a metanarrative (like in I, Robot). I couldn’t help feeling like it was less a story and more an exploration of world-building. What frustrated me was that a story could have been there and kept promising to emerge. It’s like the plot was fighting a losing battle to free itself.
Every chapter was from a different p.o.v. (I don’t recall it ever repeating a p.o.v. but I could be misremembering). The characters in the chapter may or may not be ones you know and they may or may not ever appear again in the book. This makes it very hard to actually care about any of the individual people. What you end up with is a kind of history lesson of this universe rather than a plot as such. There is a lot of looking back on the history of the Empire but very little forward momentum.
Speaking of history, there was one thing that I cannot in good conscience let pass. The Empire is described as being 800,000 years old. No matter how epic you want your universe to be, this is not a choice I can condone. There is too much upheaval in our own short history for me to accept that human nature would allow something so stable to exist for that long. /rantover
A small word about the ending (no spoilers). Throughout the book there were hints at a deeper storyline that would hopefully be revealed by the end. Such hints succeeded at creating a sense of mystery to the writing. The main caveat in doing this is you must deliver on your implicit promise to the reader. Technically, Eschbach delivered. Unfortunately in my opinion it was far less impressive than it should have been. I was disappointed with the resolution.
So would I suggest this book? Provisionally. If you simply want to read beautiful lines, this is a book for you. If you want a strong plot, you are better off skipping this one.