A gleeful and exhilarating tale of global conspiracy, complex code-breaking, high-tech data visualization, young love, rollicking adventure, and the secret to eternal life - mostly set in a hole-in-the-wall San Francisco bookstore.
The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco Web-design drone - and serendipity, sheer curiosity, and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey has landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead “checking out” impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with the gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he’s embarked on a complex analysis of the customers’ behavior and roped his friends into helping to figure out just what’s going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, it turns out the secrets extend far outside the walls of the bookstore.
With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the 21st century, evoking both the fairy-tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that’s rare to the world of literary fiction. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious listener, no matter the time of day.
©2012 Robin Sloan (P)2012 Macmillan Audio
The leading user review compares this book to the Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). This is grossly unfair to the Night Circus. Penumbra has enough ideas for a really good short story. The characters are mostly interesting types, although fairly static and undeveloped. The lead character is boring, and the most interesting character, Penumbra, is not "on stage" nearly enough. I would compare this more to a watered down "14" (Peter Clines) which was much more interesting. I found that even at the most climactic parts of the book, I really didn't care that much. I finished the book mainly because it was only about 8 hours long. The Night Circus, on the Other hand, is about 100x more dense with ideas, imagination, character development, and dramatic tension. All that is not to say this book is bad; it is good enough that I think it could have been better. If you want a hip, fun, modern, weird mystery book, try 14 instead.
It sounded like a great promise, but it dissolved into nothing much along the way. Three stars for managing to keep me listening; but there wasn't much reward at the end of it. I guess bets of the kind behind Sloan's novella aren't necessarily the best kick-off for great literature.
I really enjoyed this book it reminded me of Ready Player One and The Da Vinci Code. If you liked those books then you will be in for a real treat here. I will have keep an eye out for more books by Robin Sloan. I also really liked this narrator I think he did a great job bring the characters to life.
Tone reminds me of other books, written by persons of probably a similar age (under 35) - sort of an innocent voice, non-judgmental to the point of utter blandness. Don’t these people have opinions? Reactions? Dark thoughts of injustice and prejudice? I guess not. Political correctness is embedded in their DNA, apparently. Neither do they make mistakes or have setbacks. Maybe it’s wish fulfillment, but it seems like the general attitude of that generation is that things will work out for them just because.
The rest of the book is one big ad for how great Google is, despite every server in their universe not being able to crack a basic substitution code. And despite the massive build-up and the fervid paranoia of the Unbroken Spine, the secret turns out to be not so much after all. Kat takes it hardest which was amusing. Her first ‘no’. She didn’t deal with it very well.
Eh, I don’t know. I wasn’t overly annoyed while reading this book and picked it up for a palate cleanser, but I wasn’t fulfilled by it either. No deep secrets. No big reveal. The plot, on the surface, seemed complex, but wasn’t. Bland characters. No violence or dirty deeds. I guess if you like saltines, you’ll like this.
No matter where you go, there you are.
The generation of video game players and other techno-beasts is aging. Whether they are becoming adults, as in reality-based productive citizens remains to be seen. Corporate-based cults like Google-ites tend to scare me as the charm and super-reality presumed by the cultist of this religion-like fervor, can lead it's minion down a rosy path to nowhere. Meanwhile, Google and their ilk are soaking up information on all of us, from our buying patterns to our political affiliations, and using them to who knows what end. The characters that control this data (and its eventual impact on our lives) are controlled by whom exactly? They are rich beyond having normal tethers to reality, and powerful enough to effect QOL issues for EVERYONE!
And that makes me more than a bit uncomfortable. The General Motors and General Electrics of the past simply wanted to monopolize their markets and control the political decision makers via Lobbyi$t$, while making ungodly amounts of cash. But at least they made some helpful things along the way. Now the world is controlled by a class of wealthy game players, that discussed their thievery as 'investment vehicles' that benefit a small few, while making exactly nothing useful.
Now we have the notion of 'belonging' to something as meaningless as a cult or religion, that pays us very well to do who knows what for who knows whom. All this brainpower would be better exploited in science and medicine, aimed at improving the quality of our lives without disturbing the natural environment in which we survive.
Penumbra's tale is an old one, but the setting here is not a creepy little bookstore. It is a masterful manipulation of many of our brightest young minds, a story from which we get very little, if anything.
Based on the first hour or two of this book, I thought I had found something akin to the eerie metafiction of Paul Auster's "Oracle Night" with a bit of SF/Fantasy focus.
Instead, this novel proved itself to be a "Ready Player One"/"Da Vinci Code" mash-up filled with techie references and code-breaking, secret societies.
The initial atmosphere is a nice blend of mysterious, youthful, dot com, near-future economic ennui. But as the story unfolds, everything feels trite.
The plot is serviceable, though the characters (as another reviewer noted) seems like poor caricatures of real people: more overly-optimistic archetypes than real, growing people.
I too was annoyed by the take on Google. Basically, Google (and those perky, unstoppable Googlers) can do no wrong, and their campus is some sort of modern day utopia of enlightenment.
What got me most about this book was the ending. I wish that our author had simply finished the book with the completion of the main narrative arc. Instead, we get a cloying, everything-turned-out-perfectly-for-all-the-main-characters-except-the-villian-who-got-his-comeuppance epilogue.
All my complaints aside, this book was, at least, entertaining. If you like books like "Ready Player One" and don't want to be bogged down in anything even vaguely-related to real life concerns or problems, this one is probably for you.
From 4/12/15 on, I will only rate a book 5 stars if it so good I will listen to it again. To date, the Bino series tops that list.
Now this should be a critic's choice! Only this is one smart book that doesn't hold any presumptions. Many thanks to the Oberlin, Kansas reviewer. This is one I may not have given a second glance, had it not been for her review.
On the other hand i think most of us who love books are drawn to any title having to do with mysterious bookstores. And It doesn't get any more mysterious than Mr. Penumbra's bookstore. What is better than a genuine mystery with fascinating characters all revolving around books?
Ari Fliakos is as talented a narrator as I have encountered.
This is fun and fast read!
But less generously: not half as interesting as either. Foucault's Pendulum is much more worth the time.
Not much of a book. I thought it was silly and hardly worth listening too. I finished it, but if you like this kind of book and haven't listened to Ready Player One, it's a better bet. Penumbra's seems like it was plotted out on someone's computer and then written from out from someones writing program. I suppose I just didn't buy it. The narrator, however, was perfect for the story. He redeemed the whole thing.
If I had read this when I was 15 I would have enjoyed it much more. In flavor, flow and content it really seems dedicated to a younger audience. In fact I think the only reason that the main character was in his 20s was so that he could have a girl friend who worked at Google. But it think would have worked better if he were say - 16 - and had a brother, father, etc.who worked at Google,
It was a nice piece of fluff, but to say it was reminiscent of Murakami is like saying that the Adirondacks are reminiscent of the French Alps.
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