Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

If your business, service, or book isn’t on the internet, does it really exist? Today’s marketers would argue yes, as that’s where today’s population gets the majority of its information from. It is business suicide to avoid search engines and the World Wide Web if you want to succeed.

Therefore, when Clay Jannon walked into Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore when job hunting, he was shocked when their “help wanted” posting wasn’t anywhere online. He managed to get a job in an old fashioned way (reposing to a poster in the window) when all he’s known is Google, twitter and email. Stranger yet, he was selling paper books- something he hasn’t read in ages and quested the viability of.

After accepting the graveyard shift at Penumbra’s, things got even weirder; older people dressed in peculiar ways would come in at 3am, panicking for their next volume. These individuals didn’t purchase books though- this part of the bookstore was more of a library. Penumbra specifically told Clay he could not look inside any of these books if he is too keep his job, but after a while his curiosity gets the best of him and he takes a peek.

These volumes, like the bookstore, are not found anywhere online- they contain no ISBN numbers or publishing houses. They are single editions- thousands of them, and when Clay peeks he discovers they contain nothing but gibberish- letters and numbers that he describes as “super advanced Sudoku”.

This is the turning point for Clay and his job- these books are not hobbits books, but there is a connection to a 500 year old society on the ultimate quest for the truth. Could it be that these ultra rare books contain the knowledge he’s been seeking? But what about Google and the Internet? Could they work together in a quest to gather knowledge?

Just like the old fight between Good and Evil, this new debate between old and new ways of learning is fought with difficulty; people young and old should enjoy Clay’s foray into this debate.

Kristal Vanderleest

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