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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

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

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a pure delight. Clay Jannon, who is that rare mix of competence, dorkiness, and enthusiasm that few writers get right, begins working in a musty, mysterious bookshop only to find himself entangled in an adventure involving secret societies, cutting-edge technology, and a lost book. 

The reader would be forgiven for assuming that Sloan is setting up your standard battle between old and new, paper and computers; instead he does something much more interesting by showing how these two disparate worlds can work together, enhancing each other.  This works in part because the two groups in the novel, the Society of the Unbroken Spine and Google,* want the same thing -- transcendence from the frailties and humiliations of the flesh. They're just other forms of Gnosticism, privileging the mind over the body and hoping for eternal life in one form or another.

This is what the two factions want, but Jannon himself has no such ambitions.  Skeptical of the claims each side makes, he just wants to solve a really cool puzzle.  Which he does, through his knack of putting together people, concepts, and methods from all aspects of life.  That's what the novel is ultimately about -- collaboration.  It makes for a lovely, engaging read.

*Yup, that Google, and it is horrifyingly sterile and perky.


  1. loved this book - it's in my "I will read this again at least once" bookcase!

    1. I think I'll be rereading it at some point, too. So enjoyable!