Monday, June 17, 2013
"Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore" by Robin Sloan
Now, this is obviously not a new question, but it's a question that's key to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which pits the power of Google (literally) against human ingenuity and resourcefulness. In the novel, Clay is a recession-era unemployed young person, who agrees to be night clerk at a mysterious, and primarily customer-less, 24-hour used bookstore. At the same time he meets Kat, an up-and-coming programmer at Google, he also discovers that certain books in the store contain a type of code--which he inadvertently cracks one evening using a computer program. This leads to a secret cultish society, running around New York's hackerdom, a cardboard digital camera, and using the entirety of Google's servers for three seconds (among other things).
A bad analogy would be to call the novel a kind of techie, less annoying Da Vinci Code, though it's not nearly as puzzle driven. Instead, perhaps, it's more an ode to "cool"--both the cool that is Google, and the cool that is making a miniature in-detail town in your living room. The Google love can be a bit heavy, to the point where (close to manic pixie dream girl trope) Kat can be pretty annoying, though Google probably can do (nearly) everything, so I suppose I can't say anything. Also, everyone in the novel is pretty much absolutely amazing at everything... doesn't everyone need some dumb friends?
Speaking of characters, Clay, Kat, and the rest--Mr. Penumbra, Clay's childhood friend Neel, kinda-villain Corvina--are all fairly flat. They're hipsters (well, okay, Mr. Penumbra and Corvina are old, so they're not, but all the young characters are) who have plenty of time and money to go on adventures and be into weird things the rest of us are too "square" to get (a month away from thirty and see how curmudgeonly I get?).
But, back to the initial question. So, does the power of the Internet win over that darn human mind? Of course not. In Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Google is awesome, but the brain (and friendship!) still triumph technological brawn. Way to have a boring response to a pretty interesting question.