celinelle (celinelle) wrote in bookish,

Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan


A Winner of the Alex Award, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for First Fiction, named a Best Book of the Year by NPR, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The customers are few, and they never seem to buy anything--instead, they "check out" large, obscure volumes from strange corners of the store. Suspicious, Clay engineers an analysis of the clientele's behavior, seeking help from his variously talented friends. But when they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the bookstore's secrets extend far beyond its walls. Rendered with irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave.

Clay Jannon stumbles upon a cult. A cult that revolves around decoding a book from the earliest days of the printing press. They even have an underground lair reading room where initiates don black robes, although there doesn't seem to be any chanting involved. The cult members are convinced that this book holds the secret to eternal life, and once it has been decoded all members past and present will live forever. Clay teams up with Neel Shah, his geeky friend from high school who now owns a high tech animation firm and Kat Potente, a woman he meets and briefly dates, who works at Google. Clay and friends are convinced that this book can be decoded easily using modern computing power which can sift through mountains of data almost instantly.

But they fail. Clay eventually breaks the code the old fashioned way, and the message is nothing the cult expected.

I thought this book was a quick fun read, but not especially memorable. One quibble I had - Clay's friend Neel who I think is supposed to be a likeable character comes off as a creeper at times.

Human beings have been searching for the secret to immortality since shortly after there were human beings. Egyptians who had themselves mummified, alchemists and Chinese emperors seeking the elixir of life, conquistadors searching for the fountain of youth. Kat the Googler believes that the singularity is coming. She's talks about google forever, which apparently is really a thing. Is the idea that we'll be able to download our minds into robot bodies the modern version of the search for the philosopher's stone?
Tags: author: s, genre: fiction, review

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