Monday, 17 November 2014

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

"In Blip Magazine, George Saunders called Penumbra
a real tour-de-force, a beautiful fable that is given legs by the author’s bravado use of the real (Google is in there, for instance, the actual campus) to sell us on a shadow world of the unreal and the speculative. Robin Sloan comes across as so bighearted, so in love with the world — the ancient world, the contemporary world — so in love with love, in love with friendship, in love with the idea that our technical abilities can serve as conduits for beauty, that the reader is swept along by his enthusiasm. It’s a lot of fun — but it’s also a powerful reading experience with a wonderful undeniability."
So - can I do better than George Saunders?  But that's a powerful  little description of a book I really, really enjoyed.  A book I finished with a smile on my face and a contented sigh - and let me tell you, not every book I read does that for me! 

Mr Penumbra is the elderly proprietor of a bookshop in San Francisco, where Clay Jannon works the night shift (it's open 24 hours, right?) after his failure as a website designer for a company that has gone bankrupt.  It's an OK job, not many customers during his hours of 12.00 midnight to 8.00 am, so plenty of time to surf the net, have a look at the books..... but only the new books.  On the orders of Mr Penumbra, he's not to remove any of the books in the back of the shop.  Any of those on the tall, tall shelves that require ladders to reach the volumes.  Any of those at arm's length.  Those near the floor.  They are old, dusty, and frankly, for a while, he has no interest in them anyway, and neither do many customers.  Those that are interested tend to be a little odd, mostly over 50, and the book they borrow (for they cannot be bought) must be recorded in a leather-bound ledger together with a description of the customer.....

This book is full of references.  Old books, other languages, typefaces,The Mechanical Turk, people who really existed, companies that exist - and it's such fun!  Yes, it contains a description of Google's real campus.... and it refers to lots of things that Google can do for Clay when he sets out to solve a 500 year old mystery.  If you like codes, if you love fantasy trilogies (Perhaps Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), if you like a book with a villain, a hero, and some good friends,  if you are a bit of a computer nerd and sit up all night trying to write your own programmes; but most of all, if you like a book that makes you want to look up something on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the internet, but meanwhile makes you want to keep turning the pages, then this is the read for you.  And is the mystery finally solved?  Well, you'd have to read the book to find that out, wouldn't you?  But it's a great read, and for any of the reasons above that might make you think "she means me!" - I recommend it.

For information:  The yellow cover appears to be the US paperback, the other the UK paperback, and I note on Amazon that there is a new cover altogether which personally I don't like.  My favourite is the yellow.


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