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Author Topic: EP215: Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store  (Read 26490 times)

Russell Nash

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on: September 10, 2009, 05:23:35 AM
EP215: Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store

By Robin Sloan.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared at Robin Sloan’s blog, June 8, 2009.

IT’S 2:02 A.M. ON A COLD SUMMER NIGHT.

I’m sitting in a book store next to a strip club.

Not that kind of book store. The inventory here is incredibly old and impossibly rare. And it has a secret—a secret that I might have just discovered.

I am alone in the store. And then, tap-tap, suddenly I’m not.

And now I’m pretty sure I’m about to snap my laptop shut, run screaming out the front door, and never return.


Rated G. May contain creepy imagery and disturbing data visualizations.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!



Robin Sure

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Reply #1 on: September 10, 2009, 07:12:43 PM
Good story, though it feels like it's trying a little hard on the tech side.. But that music is horrifically distracting. Please don't do it again.

Having now listened to all of it, it seems the music shuts up partway into the story, which is nice.

And Alasdair is easily my favourite host, so feel free to head that way.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2009, 07:56:02 PM by Robin Sure »



zephram

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Reply #2 on: September 11, 2009, 01:30:38 AM
Amazing - Just found this story the other day when I came across Robin's page on Kickstarter, and though "Gosh, that'd make a great story for Escape Pod". Enjoyed the reading, although I too agree that less is more when it comes to narration.



SFEley

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Reply #3 on: September 11, 2009, 05:58:13 AM
Good story, though it feels like it's trying a little hard on the tech side.. But that music is horrifically distracting. Please don't do it again.

Music?

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Robin Sure

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Reply #4 on: September 11, 2009, 08:26:45 AM
The music carried on, really low, into the first couple of minutes of the story. It felt as if you were still doing the intro while the story started, and I posted that within the same couple of minutes, as it was difficult to concentrate on the story. It shuts up about 4:53.



oddpod

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Reply #5 on: September 11, 2009, 10:37:40 AM
a fab tail,
going to rob this one silly for an rpg i am runing :-)

card carying dislexic and  gramatical revolushonery


Gia

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Reply #6 on: September 11, 2009, 03:59:37 PM
It reminded me of The Book in the Earth(from Pseudopod last year) in as far as it has a guy working in a book store that sells old, strange books to weirdos in the middle of the night. I have now renewed my ambition to work in a book store that sells old, strange books to weirdos in the middle of the night. ;D Best job ever!

I do like the part about how books equal immortality, but it reminds me about how I sometimes think of all the books that have ever been written and how most will be forgotten in half a century if they don't become a classic or the authors become super famous. *Sigh*



amaroman

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Reply #7 on: September 11, 2009, 07:16:35 PM
i loved this story, really got me thinking about books. it was nice to think of books making you live for ever and that in away this is true. it was nice the way the story built as it went on from finding the pattens on the book sales to the pattens in the people that bought the books.
and yes there was music running at the begining of the story and it distracted me from the story a little



BrianDeacon

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Reply #8 on: September 11, 2009, 08:22:07 PM
"Why yes, girl with chestnut hair cropped to your chin and a red t-shirt with the word “BAM!” printed in mustard yellow, I am into data visualization."

I loved this.  My favorite EP in a very long time.  He has a really good feel for language that translated well to the spoken word.




Praxis

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Reply #9 on: September 11, 2009, 08:57:26 PM
Excellent.
A True (male, or lesbian I suppose) geek's dream story: not only does he happen to meet someone who is also into data visualisation - as one does - but their combined tech-skills provide a paradigm shift for a group of, for want of a better term, adults.

And I agree with Steve about this being fantasy and sci-fi (though the fantasy part is fairly hammered home - the exact method that story=immortality are kept vague but important).

I have to say that the setting of the story - post(ish) recession, the use of Google, modern day - gave the story a slightly creepy feel.  Like those Japanese automatons that are not quite real, and so emphasis how strange they are, this story emphasised it's strangeness by, in most other respects, being exactly like places that exist today.  We really, possibly, might just get a job in a dodgy old bookstore and spend our time dreaming of googly data visualisations.

One part of the story that I wasn't so convinced by was the possibility of someone really creating a mental, or otherwise, plan of the book buying and habits so that it would create a face.  With a computer, speeded up, simulation for sure, but really having the whole process in your head like that.....I dunno.

But I loved it.  And I want to meet more people with BAM! on their t-shirts.



lmorchard

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Reply #10 on: September 11, 2009, 09:17:25 PM
Good story, though it feels like it's trying a little hard on the tech side.. But that music is horrifically distracting. Please don't do it again.

Music?

For the first 5 min or so of the story, Daikaiju carried on in the background very quietly.


lmorchard

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Reply #11 on: September 11, 2009, 09:23:09 PM
One of the things I loved in this story was the idealized version of the Google campus.  I've been there a bunch, so when I started hearing about crystal spires and whatnot I did a double take.  But then, I realized that this is all about what everyone probably thinks about when they imagine what it's like at Google. 

It also made me wonder about the whole theme of making something memorable that people carry into the future as immortality. The story changes and gets embellished with every telling, so I wonder how many of those immortal people are exactly the same as they'd been in their mortal lives - or how many of them had survived into the future as embellished versions of themselves?


deflective

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Reply #12 on: September 11, 2009, 09:25:58 PM
definitely the most topical episode of ep; i just had a discussion about the controversy around google's book scanning a couple weeks ago.  it's fantastic that an sf podcast can enter the current dialogue.

it sounds like it may take a perfect storm of electronic media to get a story like this published but, please, more of the same!



ajames

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Reply #13 on: September 12, 2009, 12:10:44 AM
Loved this - and loved hearing Steve narrate again. Two thumbs up!



SFEley

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Reply #14 on: September 12, 2009, 01:28:21 AM
The music carried on, really low, into the first couple of minutes of the story. It felt as if you were still doing the intro while the story started, and I posted that within the same couple of minutes, as it was difficult to concentrate on the story. It shuts up about 4:53.

Argh.  Thank you.  That was an editing flub I'd missed.  Some people claim that there's Soundtrack Pro's envelope tool to blame, but I know it's my own damn fault.

It's fixed now.  Anyone downloading from the blog post after this point will get the corrected version.  I didn't want to inflict a whole new 32 megs on everyone who already had it, but if it's driving you nuts, please do feel free to grab it again.  I'm sorry for the inconvenience, and again, sincere thanks for bringing it to my attention.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


mairlistening

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Reply #15 on: September 12, 2009, 03:33:52 AM
I loved this story, and I might never have heard of it if you hadn't picked it up for EP. So, thanks for that!

The organic crystal Google building: lol.



Talia

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Reply #16 on: September 12, 2009, 06:35:58 PM
This was a lot of fun. One thing though.. maybe someone can explain it to me, because it just went RIGHT over my head..

When Mr. Penumbra was asking the narrator if he'd read any of the books in the store, the narrator's response was along the lines of "Of course not! That's rule number 3! My cousin just moved to Florida because they're closing the state of  Michigan! I follow the rules!"

uh.

Can someone explain that middle part to me? As far as I can tell its a COMPLETE nonsequitor. I don't understand at all.



SFEley

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Reply #17 on: September 12, 2009, 06:39:42 PM
When Mr. Penumbra was asking the narrator if he'd read any of the books in the store, the narrator's response was along the lines of "Of course not! That's rule number 3! My cousin just moved to Florida because they're closing the state of  Michigan! I follow the rules!"

Michigan is one of the states hit hardest by the current recession.  Mostly because they're so dependent on the auto industry.  The narrator was saying that in this economy, he wasn't going to do anything that might jeopardize his job.

ESCAPE POD - The Science Fiction Podcast Magazine


Talia

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Reply #18 on: September 12, 2009, 07:00:27 PM
Ok, that makes sense, thanks. I hadn't been connecting the story with the actual state of the world today at all.



etchlings

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Reply #19 on: September 13, 2009, 04:14:28 AM
This story is a phenomenal introduction for me to the EscapePod milieu. Thank you for adapting that story to audio!

What a great tale, all told... though I agree with the opinion that the tech stuff is kinda heavy-handed.

Wanna see THAT google campus.



600south

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Reply #20 on: September 13, 2009, 05:31:00 AM
I agree with what Steve said: this is most definitely an Escape Pod story.
I really enjoyed it. The characters, the tech, the fantasy Google campus. I'll be looking out for more Robin Sloan stuff.



cuddlebug

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Reply #21 on: September 13, 2009, 10:56:54 AM
loved, loved, LOVED this story. It has everything the perfect story for Science Fiction fans, book fanatics and internet geeks has to have. Hope it's ok if I put a link to it on my blog. maybe I can recruit a few more people to join the EscapeArtist community and maybe they'll even be inspired to go and 'create something that lasts'.




NoraReed

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Reply #22 on: September 13, 2009, 11:54:34 AM
It's funny. The life cycle of the book, as we see it here, echoes the life cycle of God in human society. When Nietzsche writes about the death of god, he says that we have murdered him. In a way, humans have destroyed the most beautiful thing they've ever created.

I'm seeing echoes of this here as well. It seems that one of the ways that we've killed God is by making it no longer necessary to believe in Him. It seems to me that one of the largest reasons so many fundamentalists are against teaching evolution is because evolution makes it no longer necessary for God to exist.

It's the same with computers. Your life may be *enriched* by having books, but you can survive easily without them, with data visualization and videogames and podcast fiction and Kindles, the same way your life may be enriched by a belief in God but you do not need to turn to Him for answers.

The next step, for Nietzsche, is to pursue the übermensch; the next step for our protagonist is to pursue another sort of immortality through technological means.

He talks about how it is doubtful that anyone would be able to run his visualization in six months, which might be true. It seems to me that the way to achieve immortality in a world of ever-changing technology is to create something good enough/popular enough that people keep making it over and over again. There's a reason that The Legend of Zelda games keep getting re-released and the Beatles have their music come out on every format available from the record to Rock Band.



El Barto

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Reply #23 on: September 13, 2009, 07:34:55 PM
I hugely appreciate the warning Steve gave in the intros that this was to be fantasy and not Sci-Fi.  I usually skip stories with that warning but decided to give this one a listen since Steve had such good words to say about it.  I definitely regret it.

Until the story was about two-thirds done I was really loving it.  I loved the mystery and the pacing and the dialogue.  And when the face appeared I was totally mystified, largely because if you had the same character run that visualization a hundred times he would probably choose different colors and icons for each "clue" and that would have led to a totally different "picture."   

I was then quite disappointed when the story turned away from metaphorical mortality born of timeless writing and into actual factual immortality.  That seemed completely ridiculous to me. 

I was hoping that the author would at least invoke a higher power, and say that "cracking the code" pleases the higher power who grants immortality.

Also, it just seemed odd that this group of possibly immortal old men would suddenly give up their entire venture because one guy accidentally met a Google data genius who turned his handwritten scribbles into the perfect data set.  The chances of that happen twice in ten thousand stores seems fantastically remote.

Anyway, I can see how aspiring and professional writers would love the themes in this story, and I am glad it resonated with other people.

Sometimes Escape Pod "colors outside the lines" and I absolutely love the results while others hold their nose.   This time the tables were turned but I will gladly take more occasional experimentation if it continues to lead to some dizzying highs in reasonable proportion to the opposite (for me).




Praxis

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Reply #24 on: September 13, 2009, 10:05:10 PM
What's all this about the Google campus *not* having a solar-powered, self-perpetuating, organic crystal data tower??

I mean, if they are going to monopolise any and all books not nailed down, I sure as hell want them to have cool crystal buildings to sit in while they press the buttons.