Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore mixes old knowledge and new-for-now tech into a quest for perspective. Robin Sloan earned the praise he’s receiving from the literati, and I admire the competent delivery. It is one thing to think up an intricate story but it is quite another to properly pace that action using the colloquial structures circa 2013. Throw in clashing cultures of the printed word (analog, if you will) and the digitized (sanitized) world.wide.wonderful with a feckless (yes, I said it) recorder of the realm.
He stands at the divide of worlds, not known for his decisiveness. He feels the power and beauty of historic books, and he understands that the internet extracts and compiles information in context of all the other stuff it can get its virtual mind around. What is lost is the specificity of a single book at a specific point in time in one pair of hands. Books manifest the more general phenomenon of tribal knowledge: cross-cultural, inter-gender, transnational, and “in the air” obtained by osmosis. The persistence of almanacs, for instance, speaks to our pattern-recognition preferences. We love our weather forecasts whether based on a farmer’s reckoning or Doppler’s radar. Is the sheer abundance of the internet sufficient to grant it supremacy as the sharer of knowledge?
Did you know that ninety-five percent of the internet was only created in the last five years? But we know when it comes to all human knowledge, the ratio is just the opposite—in fact, [Old Knowledge] accounts for most things that most people know, and have ever known.
— Raj, of fictionified Google by way of the Stanford geek-feeder stream (per narrator)
Mr. Penumbra is the embodiment of an eccentric old soul, successful in his own odd way it seems, while narrator Clay Jenson is a down-sized web designer who takes the overnight shift at the 24-Hour Bookstore. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is launch point for a mission to unlock the key of life with overt gaming structure applied, another artful bit of weaving. It is the metaphor for both worlds, and captures the FINITUDE of the narrator’s choices. There may be many but each one made determines the variables next presented. If he does, or if he doesn’t, if he is too quick, or too slow… all those choices! And not just his. There are cabals and cliques and rogues and the mindless faithful.
What results is a well-written adventure story complete with an interior wisdom delivered successfully at the end: Everything is already here.
The fact I’m a bookmaker means I took definite satisfaction in the presentation of craft serving “knowledge transfer” that is so well captured in this book. I happen to fabricate bedside readers for the adult mind. I work toward print layout; the book is a physical manifestation of ideas expressed in fonts and escapements. KathleenKBooks are purpose-built to tuck into the nightstand, vacation tote, Christmas stocking or briefcase. I surrender them to Kindle format to be e-fingered by people who may get the content but lose the tactile fundament of the book’s very existence. Each of my books in print weighs a specific something, it has a texture and a layout; it has presence. All Kindle books feel the same, compressed into the one-size-fits-all screen.
Not that I have anything against technology: I fund my indie book biz with money I earn as an IT pro. I get the Google.
Bookmaking is a venerable art sped up by technology but bottom line is words are human currency. Reading these words arranged by Robin Sloan is time well spent.