From Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, the story of Mr. Penumbra’s first trip to San Francisco - and of how he got entangled with the city’s most unusual always-open enterprise….
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....
©2013 Robin Sloan (P)2013 Macmillan Audio
Mother, knitter, reader, lifelong learner, technical writer, former library assistant & hematologist.
This is the perfect prequel to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, giving readers a better understanding of who Ajax Penumbra is and how he came to own the 24-hour bookstore. Just as interesting as Mr. Penumbra in this story is how Robin Sloan writes about San Francisco and its history. Sadly, this one was over far too soon; I'm hoping Mr. Sloan will write more about Ajax Penumbra, his life, and his bookstore.
I'm a voracious audiobibliophile, mainly interested in speculative fiction, with the occasional mimetic fiction or non-fiction title sneaking in.
Narrator Fliakos reprises his turn as narrator for Sloan's narrative of dataviz, cryptography, secret societies, and bookstores -- though the tech and approaches and bookstore customers are decidedly 1969 rather than the 2010s of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Instead of Google Maps, we have actual maps. Instead of 3D visualization prototypes, Penumbra has to overlay his data the old fashioned way. But it's still the same grin-inducing voice of discovery and adventure in the story of Penumbra's arrival in San Francisco as I enjoyed in the novel. It's a story that could have slided right into the novel as a flashback narrative and not felt out of place. We see young aspiring psychohistorian Claude Novak, and several other characters from the novel either get name-dropped, slipped into conversation, or play roles nearly as large as young "junior acquisitions" man Penumbra's. "What do you seek in these shelves?" More stories. There still feels like there's plenty that could be told here, and I was delighted to be reminded just how much I enjoyed the audiobook of the novel.
People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.
Nowhere near the lofty status of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, the full length novel to which this short story/novella serves as a prequel. This story of how young Ajax Penumbra came to San Francisco 35 years earlier and ended up in his bookstore proved interesting enough to me as a fan of 24-Hour Bookstore, but it could not have stood on its own and doesn't rank with its predecessor, which at or near the top my all-time list of audiobooks.
The big difference between the original Sloan novel and this prequel is the point of view. 24-Hour Bookstore is narrated in the first person by young Clay Jannon in the present day. His charisma and exuberance and ingenuity really carries the novel. 1969 is in the third person, relating the story of Penumbra's early years, filling in an important part of the story, but without that same sense of wonder and discovery.
Then there is the collision of the old world and new technology, which is the central theme of both stories. For Clay, the limitless capabilities of modern computing open up doors to relearning "old knowledge" contained in legacy technology like print and literature, marrying the widsom of the ages with the promise of the future.
In 1969, microcomputing is in its infancy and it does provide a backdrop to Penumbra's journey. But he makes different choices in his youth than Clay makes three decades later. In fact, as likeable of a character as Penumbra is, his one big flaw is his timidity, and 1969 proves that it was indeed his starting point. If Penumbra's world was the real world, it would be amazing to imagine how it might have turned out if he had been as bold and resourceful in 1969 as Clay was in 24-Hour Bookstore.
Having read 24-Hour Bookstore in print as well as listening to it as an audiobook, I knew already that Ari Fliakos augmented the experience by adding a lively voice to the narrative and good characterizations. He does no less in 1969.
Deflated me was more like it. Avoiding spoilers, I was disappointed when Penumbra made his ultimate choice, which sets the stage for what we see later in 24-Hour Bookstore. I guess if young Penumbra was more like Clay, there would never have been a pretext for 24-Hour Bookstore, so in that meta-post-modern manner, I should be happy.
Any fan of 24-Hour Bookstore MUST read/listen to this prequel. Chances are I'm being too picky in my critique and most fans will love it as much as the novel. For those who haven't read 24-Hour Bookstore, I would of course recommend reading/listening to that first and then doubling back to 1969. However, I have seen reviews where people read this first and liked it well enough to continue on to 24-Hour Bookstore, so either way, I guess.
Near the top
Mm don't recall
I started reading Alex Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore but mixplaced it so was happy to find this audio book. I will probably get the second book now and listen to it as well,very amusing and nicely done.
I'd recommend this to anyone who loves books because it is, among other things, about a mysterious book and the journey to track it down.
This story has some of my favorite elements; a map, a mystery, quirky and likeable characters, an alluring old bookstore, a friendship, and the fun setting of San Francisco in the late 60's.
Ari Fliakos' lively characterizations make for an enjoyable and entertaining listen.
I would take Ajax out to dinner to find out why he's so interested in a certain book.
I enjoyed this so much, I ordered the audio novel, "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore". Can't wait to listen.
Read after Penumbras bookstore. If you feel like it's too short then that is the sign of a good book not bad writing (in this case).
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