Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore - I agree with the other reviewers that Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore was a fun, light read.The book ties together Silicon Valley culture / hypothetical tech companies with an unusual generation-spanning secret society dedicated to an ancient creed. There are a number of interesting characters who work for Google and for another tech startup -- one that creates anatomically correct 3D boobs (yes, for real!)The story is centered on the old San Francisco bookstore of the title... and seemed to promise both a nerdy and bookish adventure.The underpinning of the novel is the coming-of-age of our hero Clay Jannon, and his awkward 21st century attempts at dating, finding the right fit in a high-tech world that moves pretty fast, and understanding how he fits in the world. I liked Clay a lot, and he's quite an appealing character.It's a quick light read, but it's not a thriller. So if you're looking for a techy version of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco, you won't find it here (even though there are indeed monkish characters who wear cloaks and study ancient manuscripts, and a villianous person chasing them.... there's not much of a thrill ride here). It's more a contemporary ennui-ridden story of Clay Jannon coming to adulthood and finding his way in love, the world, and books.For all that, it's a fun read, and I enjoyed it. However, some interesting opportunities for this novel were really left on the floor. And I mention these not because I want to write the book for Robin Sloan, but because these are pretty obvious options for a novel like this... and it would be fun to read a novel that included these things.1) Manuscripts and what they mean: Ancient texts hold the key to the puzzle for this book, but it turns out that all the scanning done by Google doesn't help them understand the point of the story found across many books. Fine, and good. But it turns out that the stories in the books don't actually solve the puzzle at all -- which is hugely disappointing to any true book reader. There are lots of ways that scanning a book doesn't reveal the true meaning of the metaphors. So why not go there? For example, the characters never actually READ any of the books in the story. They are just used a placeholders, as logical puzzle pieces. I reference "The Rule of Four" for an example of a story that does in fact, have the characters read the books. And what if, as the characters are reading the books, they realize no one else has ever read them. There are lots of real-world possibilities in missing, ancient manuscripts that could be used in a story like this -- but they just weren't used in this story at all. For example, Milton apparently had some missing manuscripts. Another sequel to Paradise Lost? Shakespeare too! What about the rest of Chaucer (his Canterbury Tales are a famous incomplete manuscript). Aristotle apparently wrote dialogues -- all of them missing to this day -- and Plato wrote analytical texts like Aristotle (also missing). Other books from the Bible? What about many ancient authors referenced in the Library of Alexandria index, but unknown in our present day? Why not reveal their books as interesting and connected on a metaphorical level? What if they had word tricks that pointed to each other, and story points (like in 1001 Nights) that reference each other, that a machine could never understand? Robin Sloan doesn't do this.... but I kind of wish he had written this kind of a book. Yeah, I guess I wanted a more modern-day version of Umberto Eco's famous "Name of the Rose." (Perhaps I'll write it some day)2) Technology and What it can do: So, they scan manuscripts attempting to discover their meaning, and fail. But what's interesting about this is that scanning a manuscript could -- theoretically -- inject a bit of code into a system that's not designed to accommodate it. Why not have a pseudo-ancient manuscript inject a SQL error into Google, and bring the whole internet down? If you structured it right, this could happen. But this possibility (and many others) that would enable manuscripts to be "stronger" or more powerful (rather than inert) in their interactions with modern technological institutions were possibilities left on the floor. Furthermore, to train a machine learning -- artificial intelligence -- system, you do a lot of training of the system on other data -- on manuscripts, email, text files and the like. The Enron corpus (all the emails from the Enron legal case) are often used to train systems to recognize patterns. Why didn't we get into machine learning? Google is getting there... exposing some of these technologies in the context of this book would have been fascinating. Anyway, now I'm digressing into the book I would have written. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is a fine, light read, and a lot of fun. It just could have been much more.... so here's hoping.... someday ;-)