Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Good, Geeky Fun

ISBN-10: 1250037751
ISBN-13: 9781250037756
Published: Picador, 09/24/2013
Pages: 304
Language: English
Some might say that a recommendation of a book about bookstores, booksellers, and the intersection between new technology (example: computers) and old technology (example: books) written by a bookseller on his bookstore's blog would be, well, a little weird. At the very least, it would make for a confusing introductory sentence. Admittedly, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is so far up my alley that it's practically sitting on my bed, but that doesn't mean it's any less awesome, or that you should be any less excited for the author event this Friday. You don't have to take my word for it, glowing reviews have been practically raining down on Robin Sloan's spectacularly fun debut (now out in paperback). 

Summing up the novel or even assigning it to a genre seems like an insurmountable task. For now, I'll say that it concerns Clay Jannon, an unemployed web designer who takes a job at an eccentric bookstore on a whim. The word "eccentric" is, of course, pitifully inadequate to convey the wonderful weirdness this bookstore contains and leads to, but unraveling the mystery yourself is half the fun. Sloan explores how literature and technology shape us even as they shape each other in an intricate dance that leads to grand divisions between hoary traditionalists and baby-faced wanna-be cyborgs. Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, trying to fuse the best of both worlds into something workable and satisfying. Where many try, Sloan has succeeded, and his empathy towards both ends of the ideological spectrum is charming and commendable. For example, here we have one of Sloan's tech-head characters (and romantic interest of Clay) enthusing about the future of human development:

"'Personally, I think the big change is going to to be our brains,' Kat says, tapping just above her ear, which is pink and cute. 'I think we're going to find different ways to think, thanks to computers. You expect me to say that'--yes--'but it's happened before. It's not like we have the same brains as people a thousand years ago.'
Wait: 'Yes we do."
'We have the same hardware, but not the same software. Did you know that the concept of privacy is, like, totally recent? And so is the idea of romance, of course.'
Yes, as a matter of fact, I think the idea of romance just occurred to me last night. (I don't say that out loud.)
'Each big idea like that is an operating system upgrade,' she says, smiling. Comfortable territory. 'Writers are responsible for some of it. They say Shakespeare invented the internal monologue.'
Oh, I am very familiar with the internal monologue.
'But I think the writers had their turn,' she says, 'and now it's programmers who get to upgrade the human operating system.'"

Sloan's novel is full of such humane, funny, and eminently thoughtful exchanges. It's like the funnest book of philosophy you could ever read, but better than that sounds. Ask the author your own questions about the Singularity or the future of printed media on Friday (my armchair prediction: books will continue to be awesome).

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