I'm not convinced the author needs quite so many 's's and 'ch's in his name, but I enjoyed this nevertheless. In a multigalactic Empire centred with religious devotion upon its immortal human emperor, there is a backward world wholly given over to the production of handmade hair carpets. Everything on this planet is oriented to this aim: carpet weavers devote their entire life to a single rug, taking many wives of different coloured head-hair to provide the raw materials. At the end of his life each weaver sells his rugs to a trader for a sum large enough to provide his son with a lifetime’s wherewithal, so that he can weave his rug. A carpet weaver may have many daughters, but only one son (to carry on the tradition)—surplus sons are murdered at birth. And all the carpets are gathered at the central spaceport and shipped to the Imperial Palace for the delight of the emperor. Except—the emperor has been deposed, decades before (news is slow to percolate to the fringes of the empire), and the rebels, now in control, know that there’s not a single hair-carpet anywhere in the palace. Then they discover that there are tens of thousands of planets wholly given over to the production of these hair carpets, all being assiduously collected and transported—where? That’s a good question.
It's a very winning story, although there’s more win in it when it confines itself to the Herbertian world of the carpet-makers, and slightly less win when it leaps off world to range lopingly about the galaxy. But I read the whole thing quickly, at times avidly, and it did not disappoint. The narrative is assembled, fix-up-style, out of chapters fashioned each as a standalone short story; which makes the overall reading experience a little choppy. But the worst you could say is that the novel perhaps misses the density of affect and detail that would have grounded its yarn: this is not to say that it is weightless, exactly, although it is perhaps a little low-grav. But the first few chapters promise a much greater immersion in the world of the Carpet Weavers than the rest of the novel delivers. When we actually meet the immortal emperor it dawns on the reader, with a slight shock, that s/he’s reading a Pulp, and not the more fully realised piece of LeGuinery promised by the opening. But that’s OK: Pulp is fine, and the melodramatic posturing and schematic implausibility of the characters in the second half of the novel feed through to a Reveal (where are all the carpets going?) that is surprisingly satisfying. In a Banksy sense. I mean Iain M. Banks-y. Not, you know, ‘Banksy’. Plus the last sentence of the novel, not counting the slightly emotionally overreaching epilogue, is a genuine zinger. This novel is recommended.