Friday, December 4, 2015

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Book Review

Wrapped in a glow in the dark cover and tackled in less than 300 pages, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore offers a modern, code driven mystery. Robin Sloan’s text flows, and while first person narratives often take on the search for self, Clay Jannon instead seeks the key to life through an ancient society hidden within Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore, a store with hauntingly high ceilings and strange members that never pay a dime for the books they seek. It is here that Sloan blends the past with the present, meshing a supposedly dying medium in books with a tech driven society. Author Robin Sloan spins a web of mystery, answers the questions, and asks some more as the pages and ideas cascade by.

As the mystery unravels, and Jannon is driven further into the maze of a secret society and protecting a boss he has come to revere and love, we find the power of the internet being tossed into plain view. Whether through crowd sourcing a puzzle or dropping a complicated task into the Google’s master server for three seconds (and partially disabling the internet for that length of time), Jannon proves resourceful. He embodies the do it yourself movement sprawled across the internet landscape, creating an intricate book scanner from cardboard, and transverses the New York City street view of Google maps with the help of thousands of bored internet users. A failed techie himself, Jannon’s quest turns a secret society on its heels while allowing for a gradual character change and eventual assimilation into society with the typical cries of displeasure one finds.

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