Ajax Penumbra 1969


The Short Version: In 1969, Ajax Penumbra – then an acquisitions associate for Galvanic College’s occult lit department – comes to San Francisco in search of a lost book.  There, he stumbles across a bookstore utterly unlike any he’s ever visited before…

The Review: So I haven’t read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore yet – a failing I’m well aware of, even more so now that I’ve read this little mini-prequel.  A massive, quirky bookstore that has a strange ‘membership’ program and connections to other similar libraries (not to mention the occult)?  Yes please.

This is a slight little volume – there was a small print run for the Robin Sloan FSG Originals Series event, where I was lucky enough to pick up a copy – and you will absolutely burn through it in less than an hour.  But that doesn’t mean it won’t completely immerse you in that time, no small feat.  Galvanic College, this mysterious school with an Occult Lit department that hides beneath the surface of innocuous-seeming English classes, is the start.  It’s hard for that not to sound appealing and Sloan doles out just enough information about the school and its classes to preserve the mystery while keeping you hooked.  At the same time, Penumbra’s roommate is working with computers and there’s an interesting tension there – not between the roommates but rather between the idea of two boys who love books going in different directions with their loves.  One sees computers as the future, in general, while the other searches for old, very old, books.  Is Sloan nudging into the discussion of the survival of the printed book?  I suppose I have to read Mr. Penumbra’s… to find out.  Funny, though, that there’s both a limited print edition and a widely available e-book version…

The adventure at the heart of the novel – the search for the Techne Tycheon – is somewhat MacGuffin-y: the discovery of the book is Penumbra’s stated purpose but not why we keep reading (although it is a delightful part of the story).  Instead, we’re being introduced to someone – or at least, I was.  I have the funny feeling that a great number of people who will read this (especially if they’re reading it as a Kindle Single/ebook) already know Mr. Penumbra – but, to me, he’s just Ajax right now.  I look forward to seeing what he’s like when he takes over the store.

Rating: 4 out of 5.  The story transcends its short length, creating an entire world for the reader and feeling very much like a part of a greater whole – a story plucked from the bigger web of stories that make up this particular universe.  You can feel the world-building of Mr. Penumbra’s… waiting down the line, but it’s damned impressive that Sloan could put that same whole-ness into a short story and make it palpable to someone who’s only just getting their first introduction to Ajax Penumbra and this strange occult book world.


  1. Glad to read your review because I’d forgotten that I wanted to read this! Mr. Penumbra… is wonderful, one of the best books I read last year. Judging by your review, it deals with a lot of the same themes as the short story (or perhaps novella?) that you read: the quest for knowledge, how technology can fit into a reader’s life, figuring out which direction one’s life will head. It’s a wonderful tribute to learning, and I can’t recommend it enough!

    • I think this is probably more accurately a novella – although how do we classify the e-versions of these things?! But anyway: I’m taking your recommendation to heart and picking up the book this week. Might be a little while yet before I read it (the ToB consumes me this time of year) but I’m very much looking forward to it.

  2. Pingback: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore | Raging Biblio-holism

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