This week's story on the Escape Pod science fiction podcast is a remarkable tale called "Mr. Penumbra's Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store" written by Robin Sloan and billed as a "short story about recession, attraction and data-visualization" and it is fabulous. It's a fantastic, magical realist tale about Google Book Search, magick with a K, an olde curiousity shoppe, and the power of data-visualization. The story was initially self-published on Sloan's blog and was recommended to the Escape Pod editors by a friend, who read it, loved it and bought it. If you enjoyed Ben Rosenbaum's The Ant King: A California Fairy Tale, you'll love this.
IT'S 2:02 A.M. ON A COLD SUMMER NIGHT.
I'm sitting in a book store next to a strip club.
Not that kind of book store. The inventory here is incredibly old and impossibly rare. And it has a secret–a secret that I might have just discovered.
I am alone in the store. And then, tap-tap, suddenly I'm not.
And now I'm pretty sure I'm about to snap my laptop shut, run screaming out the front door, and never return.
* * *
I SHOULD START AT THE BEGINNING.
I lost my job in the slumped-over spring of 2009. I applied for dozens of replacement gigs but was rebuffed, again and again. And I took only the coldest comfort when the companies doing the rebuffing were, themselves, forced out of business months later. I probably couldn't have turned them around single-handedly. Probably.
The job I lost was at the corporate headquarters of the New Amsterdam Bagel Bakery. I designed bagel marketing materials. Menus, coupons, posters for store windows, and, once, an entire booth "experience" for the bagel industry trade show.
I also ran the website.
Now, months into my unemployment, I'd started watching for "help wanted" signs in windows, which is not something you really do, right? I was taught to be suspicious of those. Legitimate employers use Craigslist.