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 world of San Francisco at the beginning of the twenty first century in all its nerdy (but not hipster) fun is the setting for Mr. Penumbra''s 24 Hour Bookstore. And fun it is. Especially if you know the city as Robin Sloan so obviously does and exploits it for maximum effect - from the "Gourmet Grotto" i.e. the Powell Street mall's food court, which is exactly as portrayed, to-the-down at heel section of Broadway, described more innocuously than it actually is.
But even now (in 2013), the book feels both modern and nostalgic at the same time. The obsession with working at Google particularly dates the story to a very specific epoch. My favorite character is Mr. Penumbra. The performance holds up and I will revisit this book in the future, when I'm in the mood to time travel to the halcyon days of San Fran in 2010.
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 am 36 years old and enjoy a good conspiracy adventure and even a fantasy every now and then. I am therefore baffled at the great review's this book has received.
I almost quit around chapter 17 but endured on to the end. I was not rewarded for my faithfulness. I gave this book 3 stars because it was not the worst book I have read lately. The concept was good. The characters had promise but in the end fell flat, I was not really invested in any of them.
The narrator read way to fast, this book should have been 10 hours not 7+.
This reminds me of the book "14" that was also on my recommendation list and I also disliked, and also was baffled at the great reviews?
Maybe its an age thing, I don't know...
I will just give you an idea of the books I have enjoyed recently so you can compare and decide if this is worth you downloading:
Sweet tooth by Ian McEwan
You're next by Gregg Hurwitz
Garden Spells by Addison Allen
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Beautiful Ruins By Jess Walter
House at Riverton By Kate Morton
Dublin murder squad series by Tana French
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
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.
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.
If you were born after 1980, believe that computers can do everything, and worship Google with awe and reverence then this story may be for you. This novel grew from a story posted on a website.
Definitely to Ari Fliakos, maybe to Robin Sloan. The story was a little too fantasy-geek for me, but the excellent narration kept me marginally interested.
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