A 21st-century tale of wonders

BookPage October 2012 Review by Eliza Borné

Robin Sloan’s funny debut novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, is both a celebration and a send-up of the clashing worlds of technology and those who cling to dead-tree books. After losing a job at the corporate headquarters of NewBagel, where “ex-Googlers” developed software to create the perfect bagel, Clay Jannon gets hired at an unconventional bookstore in San Francisco. Unconventional because it’s open 24 hours, has very few customers, is vertical—there are three stories worth of books you have to climb a ladder to retrieve—and the books are written in secret code. What at first seems to be a front for an illegal operation turns out to be connected with a cult, and Clay goes on a mission to solve the mystery that has been plaguing its members for centuries, enlisting the help of a quirky team, like the Google acolyte he’s dating, the friend who got rich by developing “boob-simulation software” and Mr. Penumbra himself, the hopeful store proprietor.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Kirkus September 2012 Review

All the best secrets are hidden in plain sight. The trick is to notice the secret in front of you.

Sloan’s debut novel takes the reader on a dazzling and flat-out fun adventure, winding through the interstices between the literary and the digital realms. Art school graduate and former NewBagel web designer Clay needs a job. One day, he stumbles into Mr. Penumbra’s store and, seemingly on the basis of his love for The Dragon-Song Chronicles, lands himself a job as the night clerk.

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Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

Publishers Weekly August 2012 Review

For those who fear that the Internet/e-readers/whatever-form-of-technological-upheaval-is-coming has killed or will kill paper and ink, Sloan’s debut novel will come as good news. A denizen of the tech world and self-described “media inventor” (formerly he was part of the media partnerships team at Twitter), Sloan envisions a San Francisco where piracy and paper are equally useful, and massive data-visualization–processing abilities coexist with so-called “old knowledge.” Really old: as in one of the first typefaces, as in alchemy and the search for immortality.

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