30 December 2013
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore/Ajax Penumbra 1969
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything—instead, they “check out” large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele’s behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.
I got to meet Robin Sloane when he was on tour for the paperback release of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore (I had a hardcover that was languishing the TBR stack). What better than to jump-start a read?
I loved the premise but I was expecting more of a thriller at times. Every so often I would get a hint great building tension in a scene but then the resolution would back off quite a bit. And I think the end does fizzle a bit because of this since there isn't anything truly nefarious going on. The plot did keep moving, though, so this was a good read. It's such a geek novel - data visualization, code breaking, programming, etc.
Summary from Goodreads:
It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the
sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay. Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon.
But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book—the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon, a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra’s university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially . . .
As a bonus, those of us who went to Robin's signing got a little paperback novella titled "Ajax Penumbra 1969". It's a fun prequel but it should only be read after reading the actual novel or else you'll spoil some things for later (just be prepared for an odd perspective switch from 3rd to 2nd and back in the middle).