Three of five stars
On an unnamed desert planet in a desolate part of the galaxy, the people go about their lives in service to the Emperor. No one has ever seen the Emperor in person, but his visage is everywhere, and to question him or his instructions is heresy. An elite caste of carpetmakers provide the chief export, rugs woven and tied of human hair, made for the Imperial Palace and shipped offworld every year or so by Imperial Ships who come to collect them. Over the centuries, eons, millennia, society has evolved so that virtually every person on the planet supports this industry in some fashion. And those who choose to disregard their proscribed destinies and follow their own paths are ostracized, even killed…
But over the last several years, a constant rumor floats just beneath the surface…the Emperor is dead, has been for decades. And, if that is the case, some people ask, just who are we making these carpets for?
Told as a series of loosely connected vignettes, Andreas Eschbach unfolds his story in bits and pieces, a intimation here, a hint there, a clear direction over yonder, until the terrible truth of the Emperor and his hair carpets is finally revealed.
Not so much a traditional science fiction story as a meditation on the power of myth and the persistence of custom, Eschbach explores human strengths such as persistence and dedication, faith and curiosity, as well as human frailties such as greed, lust, and hunger for power, and gently suggests we take a good long look at ourselves and our ways, and ask ourselves, “Are we doing this because this is the right thing to do, or because this is how we’ve always done it?”