Imagine the volume of a normal store turned on its side: It was absurdly narrow and dizzyingly tall. And the shelves went all the way up—five stories of books. The whole place was dim and dusty; you couldn’t even really see the ceiling.
Robin Sloan’s Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store, available free to read at the previous link or free to listen to on Escape Pod, is a delightful story about mystery, immortality, and the fate of the book in the digital age. Set in the midst of our current recession, it straddles the worlds of a fanciful antiquarian bookshop and an even more fanciful Google Books project. There are dusty tomes, mysterious gentlemen, delicate robots, astounding technologies, and even a little romance, packed into a story that takes Stephen Ely less than 45 minutes to read. I haven’t read, nor do I intend to read, Dan Brown’s “Symbology” books, but I imagine that this story is what those would have been if Mr. Brown could write engaging sentences and created his own world rather than plundering hoary old Templar myths.
Mr. Sloan is working on a longer story set in the same universe as Mr. Penumbra’s shop; if this story is any indication, that story should be compelling, evocative, and thought-provoking.