Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

This is another book that I found because of a blog, although unlike the beer book it was about 3 or 4 years ago that I first found Snarkmarket. It doesn’t update much any more. Possibly because Robin has been writing a book. He wrote one before, although it was a bit shorter. It was called Annabel Scheme, and it had quantum stuff and a giant tower over San Francisco and was really good fun.

This is an expansion of a short story which I had previously read. The short story takes up about the first third of the book. I loved that story, about a lad who goes to work in a crazy bookstore and finds out that it’s visited by a collection of loosely wound folks who will burst into the shop at all hours of the night (it is a 24-hour bookstore) desperate for the next volume from the vertiginously-stacked shelves. In the short story version, the whole thing finishes when our hero solves the puzzle with some computer hackery.

The novel adds more characters – our hero gets a flatmate or two, a romantic interest, and some old friends, all of whom he enlists as allies on the deeper quest that is revealed after the solution of the same original puzzle.

It wears its influences on its sleeve (and I’m not talking about the brilliant glow-in-the-dark dustjacket) – there are references to Murakami and Neal Stephenson on the shelves in the store – and also to something that is so clearly Dungeons and Dragons, although it’s called something else. It has a young, slightly lost, male protagonist who ends up in a world not quite the same as the one we all think we know. It has a cast of characters who each have a specific strength to contribute to the successful completion of the quest. It’s not quite as offbeat as Murakami though. And not anything like as long as Stephenson.

What’s best about it is the deep love of reading as a collaborative activity that pours out of every page, and the excitement about the possibilities that internet technologies have opened up to explore that world. I’m pretty sure if you set out to write me a book just for me, this would be it.

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