/ Cory Doctorow / 6 am Fri, Nov 16 2012
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  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: The perfect nerdish fantasy

    Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: The perfect nerdish fantasy

    Robin Sloan's Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those instant geek classics that gets right into the romance and magic of high-tech, a book akin to Cryptonomicon or Microserfs.


    Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is one of those instant geek classics that gets right into the romance and magic of high-tech, a book akin to Cryptonomicon or Microserfs. It's the story of Clay Jannon, a broke ex-high-tech worker who gets a night-shift job in poky, weird bookstore whose highest shelves are stocked with curious ancient volumes, These books are only ever requested by furtive, weird customers who come in the middle of the night and request them by name, and it's Clay's job ot scale the rolling ladders that run the length of the shelves to retrieve them.

    Thus begins the setup of a book that explores cryptic codes (the books are filled with odd, incomprehensible type), the awesome might of parallel computation (Clay's girlfriend, a Googler, helps him recruit untold computing power to put to work on deciphering the mystery of the books and the customers), secret societies (the furtive customers who come in the night), and the quest for immortality through the ages (a subject I can't write much about without getting into major spoiler territory).

    This is what a book like The DaVinci Code could be if its author loved the world, rather than resenting it. This is a geek's love poem to the twenty-first century, to design, to networks, and to the delightful world of problems with chewy, crunchy solutions. Every page is filled with sweet humor and delightful, dorktastic people who are nerding out in the very best way about the stuff that matters to them.

    Mr Penumbra is, at the end, a book about passion -- for books, for history, for the future. It's full of (often made-up) technological details that nevertheless ring true, the kind of stuff that nerds fantasize about doing a lot, and get to do a lucky once in a while. It's the perfect nerdish fantasy, full of secrets behind bookstore shelves, unimaginable computational power, and deep geekery about RPGs, dataviz, narrow-targetted mobile ads, and typography. There is nothing in this book that I didn't love.

    Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore: A Novel

    Homepage thumbnail photo: Shutterstock

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