Friday, September 26, 2014

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

This is a modern-day adventure story, what Indiana Jones might have gone through if the Internet and cell phones existed in the 1940's. Instead of dark caves with lots of skulls and scurrying animals, the characters here have Google and CG as their tools to solve the great mystery of a secretive society.

Everything about this book is quirky. Even the realistic impression of the crazy stuff going on at Google HQ is odd (and probably not that far from reality.) Clay is an out-of-work marketing person whose most recent job at a start-up that went under has left him a little disillusioned, so he takes the night shift at a unique 24-hour bookstore run my Penumbra. It's not your typical bookstore. There are only a few shelves in the front that carry modern-day books for sale. The rest of the store is devoted to a collection of old books all written in code. The regulars at the store don't buy anything, just borrow these old books, one at a time. Clay must track the activity of these regulars in great detail. He has no idea why or what's going on and probably would have stayed only slightly curious if not for a girl. She works for Google and she's extremely curious about everything and very persuasive.

So, the adventure begins to discover what these coded books are for, why they must be read in a certain order, who Penumbra really works for, and what the strange symbol on the door really means. In order to figure things out, Clay enlists a special effect wiz with a preference for building models out of real materials and his best friend who happens to own a company that creates anatomically correct body parts digitally. He also takes advantage of some pretty serious equipment and some serious brain power at Google. I won't give anything away, but even the cause for the adventure is quirky - it's all about a specific font with a cameo plot line about a fantasy writer (think dragons and magic.)

A quick and light read, this was a great departure for me from all the fantastical books I've been reading lately. It took place in today's world but was still a little mystic and exciting. It was a real adventure, one that anybody with the right resources and the right mystery to solve could go on today. The focus was on the quest itself with a little bit here and there about the characters so you were easily kept in the moment and not bogged down with too many flashbacks and internal monologues. I had fun reading this book and definitely feel like it has mass appeal potential.