Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Robin Sloan
Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Cover

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore



A thoroughly enjoyable quick read which appeals to the nerd in me.

An out of work web designer walks past a 24 bookstore next to a strip club and sees a 'Help Wanted' sign in the window. What follows is a story about decoding ancient texts ultimately to seek immortality.

It's a fun book which encompasses new tech with old. I suspect that whilst this is a popular book now it will age really quickly due to the referencing of current web / ereader technology and companies. I got a real kick out the rpg element of a group of friends going on a quest (including a wizard, rouge and warrior for those who get the references). It's clear that the author has a love affair with fantasy novels and rpgs. I was a little disappointed to find 'The Dragon Song Chronicles' and Clark Moffat to be fictional. However, the cool thing about this technique from Sloan is that it gives him a blank landscape to work with and to get his plot to fit in with his 'real world' fantasy fiction. This works for me because not only is Moffat and 'The Dragon Song Chronicles' totally believable and authentic in the context of the novel it also gives Sloan space to work in. It can be quite annoying when authors use 'real' fiction and history and struggle to get their story to 'fit in' with 'real world' history and culture. One of two things can happen, either the author doesn't do thorough research and the informed reader is disappointed or the author ties themselves in convoluted knots making everything 'fit'.

Sloan is quite an engaging writer and got me to like characters that I normally hate. Extremely resourceful and well connected, clearly privileged who don't work that hard to achieve amazing results. The characters are pretty one dimensional and other than Kat from Google all seemed quite nice. The lack of dimension actually focussed events on the story rather than the people. To tie in with the rpg element also, 'adventurers' are not normal people - they are people with exceptional inner resource who through fate can achieve greatness. Yes, they lack depth and are archetypes, yes the plot has many remarkable coincidences (like most 'puzzle' novels). Yes, it's lucky that the central character lives with a special effects guy, has a millionaire best friend and a techie from Google just walks into the shop. However, in the novel Deckie refers to Penumbra being able to 'spot a good clerk'. Is it Penumbra's knack and intuition that brings these people together?

I have to admit the constant referencing of 'Google' annoyed me and for much of the novel I thought it was a Google love-in (I loved how they made Google out to be a fun place to work and referenced the weekly PM meeting - would this be the Monday meeting that has a six hour Sunday meting each week to prep for it. I don't think Google is sunshine and flowers...) I've read a few reviews from people who found the 'Google' promotion annoying and distasteful - what I would say is that if one hasn't finished because of this they should. The almighty Google does NOT solve everything with it's massive resources. And Kat, goes from a techie with some hint of human emotion to someone driven and soulless due to her progression in Google. At the end of the novel I did not see this as a promotion for a search engine.

The book is aimed at the modern reader also as the clash between new tech (ereaders) and print books clash. I've had friends put the sign of the crucifix up at me when I've mentioned my ereader for crying out loud. I think Sloan is saying it isn't a choice between one or the other and that many readers (myself included) love a print book (and it's smell and browsing through a bookstore) whilst at the same time being entirely comfortable with the convenience of an ereader. Neither diminishes the reading experience in my opinion.