Episode 31: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
Clay Jannon is a Web designer without a job, a twenty-something victim of the Great Recession who finds himself wandering the streets of San Francisco looking for Help Wanted signs. That’s how he wanders into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and into Mr. Penumbra, the very old, very blue-eyed man who greets him with the question: “What do you seek in these shelves?” Mr. Penumbra hires him for the night shift, on three conditions: he must always be on time and not leave early; he must never browse, read, or otherwise inspect the shelved volumes in the back; and he must record, in a leather-bound tome, precise records or all transactions: the time, the customer’s appearance, whether his buttons are stone or jade.
All quests begin with a set of rules, and all adventures begin when the rules are broken. Clay looks in the books and the adventure unfolds, taking him from the top shelves of his San Francisco bookstore to the underground vaults of New York, from the headquarters of Google to a storage warehouse in Nevada, from the sixteenth century to the present day. He seeks to solve an age-old mystery, and, in doing so, to answer the eternal question: how, if at all, can we achieve immortality?
Host Cyd Oppenheimer talks with author Robin Sloan about unlearning how to write for the Internet ("I still catch myself rushing, hurrying, getting nervous that a section’s going to go on too long”), reading with Google open on the side ("it makes my brain light up and makes my heart glow, what an amazing, wonderful way to read"), and about why books still matter in the post-election world.
Guest readers Tui Sutherland and Alfie Guy join Oppenheimer to discuss technology and tradition, fantasy and friendship, names and nighttime.