Author Topic: EP215: Mr. Penumbra’s Twenty-Four-Hour Book Store  (Read 39160 times)


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Reply #25 on: September 13, 2009, 11:16:02 PM

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.

I thought it was implied it wasn't being completely abandoned, just was changing. he did say they were going to meet again.


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Reply #26 on: September 14, 2009, 12:47:21 AM
Best Escape Pod ever?

This made me think about my own genetic immortality project, who is currently five months old and sitting across from me in his high chair trying to figure out why I'm making funny faces at him. This is the best I can hope for until I manage to achieve literary immortality. (If any of my software projects outlive me it'll bode poorly either for the world at large or for me in particular.)


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Reply #27 on: September 14, 2009, 08:06:24 AM

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.

that's exactly what NEITZSCHE was talking about!

i never read the ubermenche stuff, but when he talks about the will to power, he is also talking about the stuff memes have. the will to power that makes evolution (and scientific theory) powerful enough that it scares fundamentalists. this is the will to power that makes monks spend half their lives copying one book. copying. information on the internet survives not because it is preserved, but because it is copied. this was always true, but the speed of copying has replaced the hardness of the copy as the factor which most affects the number of people reached by the information. this story made me exited because it seemed to get at the difference in the system of knowledge transmission facilitated by the book and that facilitated by the internet. books were meant to stick around. they are information in solid form. the internet does not have a solid form, but it is also a giant copy machine. because  copying always involves change, our ability to watch things move through permutations that we have never been able to observe before means that we have learned what everyone who has talked about this here takes as basic. that is, that immortality is not found in stasis, but in change.

and, for myself, i don't have a hard time believing that very long-lived old dudes would be able to work out a way to get a desperate geek to free them from their wetware. cuz neitzsche knew a whole lot about immortality, and change.


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Reply #28 on: September 14, 2009, 08:59:05 AM
I really enjoyed this story, and Steve's words in the outro more or less captured my thoughts perfectly.

As for the economy/Michigan thing - the story seemed to take place in a world where the economic crisis was a more extreme version of the real one (either that, or the narrator was prone to hyperbole on this topic). There certainly is more than one insurance company left, even if the field has narrowed somewhat over the last year.

I was somewhat perplexed by the alternate-reality Google, by the way. It seems to me that if the technology existed to grow a crystal that is both building and solar-powered computer/data storage, or, for that matter, to build a non-destructive book scanner like the one described in the story, then we would have seen more ramifications of it in the world. It's not like this technology was kept secret, if you could just take a bus to the middle of Silicon valley and see it.


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Reply #29 on: September 14, 2009, 03:54:54 PM
Loved this story. Different than your average sci-fi, but very good just the same.
Thanks Escape Artists, for continually making me drive in the slow so I can hear as much as much of your stories as possible during my 14 minute commute.  :)

 - jc


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Reply #30 on: September 14, 2009, 04:59:26 PM
I wouldn't call this BEP, but it was really good on all counts. I'd probably put it in my top 10.

I think it would've been even stronger if it had ended without the denouement, when Mr. Penumbra said "and your place at the table is not guaranteed"... THAT, in my mind, was the twist ending -- that after everything the MC had done, he still wasn't assured of anything.

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Reply #31 on: September 14, 2009, 06:33:00 PM
Kurt Vonnegut (if memory serves) wrote a short story back in the '60s around a similar theme. Author's souls existed in a kind of limbo but became conscious when and if someone read their works. Now the theme is updated for the digital age with Mr. Penumbra. Times and technology change but the trope goes on forever. Very Jungian.

Nice the way the author gets in a "product placement" plug for Google too ;D. Like they needed it, eh?

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Reply #32 on: September 14, 2009, 07:22:36 PM
I have to say, I'm glad that I stumbled across this place while searching for something to listen to at work. I have found all the stories to be great, some greater the others of course, but nothing that I would consider a waste of my time.

I like the premise of this story a lot, it's interesting to think that books can bring about actual immortality, though I would think that the quality of the book would have as much to do with how well immortality grasped at you and not the simple act of reading anothers' words. It does make me wonder as to how long the effects last, I mean those the act of reading the writing of another bring that person back to life? Once that new life is achieved how long does one have? I think that the madness with which each customer came in to purchase a book does give the reader a clue.

All in all it was an interesting read, fantasy or not. 

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.


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Reply #33 on: September 14, 2009, 07:31:06 PM
in hindsight, one thing that was missing from this story was some internet research.  what happens when you plug Penumbra, Elzevir, or one of those rare book titles into a search engine?  the attempt just needed a throw-away mention but it's odd that this character didn't try.

I was somewhat perplexed by the alternate-reality Google, by the way. It seems to me that if the technology existed to grow a crystal that is both building and solar-powered computer/data storage, or, for that matter, to build a non-destructive book scanner like the one described in the story, then we would have seen more ramifications of it in the world.

the data crystal buildings was an odd inclusion, it was the only definite sf element and it was completely extraneous to the story.  dunno why it was in there.

the book scanners on the other hand, we already got those.  it sounded like he mixed together a couple different models.

I mean, if they are going to monopolise any and all books not nailed down...

oh!  don't get me started with this argument again.  google is not monopolizing books.

I'll be looking out for more Robin Sloan stuff.

he's (apparently) got a $7500 advance from donations to write a book.  cool concept if it pays out.


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Reply #34 on: September 14, 2009, 09:31:53 PM
Oh My Google!

Such a fun and interesting story. I was enthralled from the beginning. I found it to be a nice blend of fantasy and pseudo-contemporary sci-fi.

I particularly liked the Googly bits. I think Robin Sloan's intention was to create an ever-so-slightly magical world, with a technological overlay. (Magepunk?)

As soon as I'd listened, the first thing I thought was that I absolutely MUST post to the forum about it. So that's a good thing. It gripped me.


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Reply #35 on: September 14, 2009, 09:59:22 PM
Ingenius story--very Ballardian(even down to the "crystal" Goolgleplex) just the way I like it, and its hits the spot just right. This truly is the SF story of our time. ;D


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Reply #36 on: September 15, 2009, 03:31:29 AM
Loved this one.....a cool mystery that held my attention the whole way.  Great stuff.

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.    -  Carl Sagan


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Reply #37 on: September 15, 2009, 04:52:34 AM
Any other programming nerds think he was alluding to this with the google crystals?  (He actually uses the word shard, IIRC.)

Ah, this is what I was remembering:


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Reply #38 on: September 15, 2009, 07:50:50 AM
aye , i did.  actually, i thought it was an overt allusion (to database structure & building 43) until i went back and read the story on the blog.  it was pretty graphic about setting up tents and letting the crystal grow around them to form a building so the allusion gets pretty thin.


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Reply #39 on: September 15, 2009, 10:41:35 AM
I'm not changing my two thumbs up rating, but on reflection I do have a few questions.

First, were the only customers to this bookstore open all night in a part of town open all night members of the immortality club? It seems like every night the protagonist would be busy for part of the night telling people that no, it's not that kind of bookstore, no, there are no public restrooms, no, there are no private rooms, no, you can't pass out here, and, please, if you are going to be sick, be sick outside, etc. If I were the protagonist, I'm sure there are some characters I'd be tempted to write about in the journal that weren't immortals.

What about customers who weren't part of the immortality club but came to buy books? What would this do to the pattern? Were there even books that weren't written by the immortality club? If they are all part of the same club, what's the deal with the price (I suppose this might be part of the pattern). What if a book got misfiled?

Just some nagging little questions.

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Reply #40 on: September 15, 2009, 12:42:46 PM
I get the idea that the price was part of the thing to keep normal people out.  Some schmoe comes in and sees that these obscure book is $1800, he's going to turn around and leave.


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Reply #41 on: September 15, 2009, 08:11:06 PM
In addition to deterring "normals" from making purchases, the high prices may have been a reciprocal way of keeping everyone in the club rich. I'm not a finance wizard, but perhaps they had their own little economy to stimulate?


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Reply #42 on: September 16, 2009, 12:24:03 AM
Wow, such a meta-story.  Everything in it was about stories, about the way we communicate, about ideas.

One example I haven't heard talked about is how all these books are written about the other books, and the experience of discovering the books.  A lot of genre literature falls into this sort of thing.  How many fantasy books are based on Tolkien's work?  How many more are based on those?  Literature can feed on itself, and become very far removed from life. 


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Reply #43 on: September 16, 2009, 06:59:40 AM
I'm surprised no one mentioned this so far...

The restaurant in question is actually at 309 Clement St. (not 303 Clement St. as in the story) and is named Burma Superstar

Fermented Green Tea Leaf Salad (Lephet Thote /La Pat Dok) is apparently one of their house specialties, importing the Lephet from Burma.

On my list of places to visit the next time I eat up in SF. :-)


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Reply #44 on: September 16, 2009, 07:20:24 AM
This story was a blast.  I loved it that the writer and main character didn't take themselves too seriously, but at the same time weren't silly.  I also liked it that modern data visualization was a central part in a story set in an old used bookstore.   More than one modern fantasy story has been set in a mysterious used bookstore, and these shops are often places of hallowed reverence for SFF fans, so I was braced for sobiety and cliches.  Happily, neither were delivered.  

I thought it was interesting how the author and main charancter went into such detail with the hypothetical situations that you couldn't really be sure whether he did them or not.  Unfortunately, I meant to remember an example, but failed.  

This story made me think of digital pictures and videos that I take.  I take pictures of my kid, load them on to my computer, they are backed up offsite, some I send to my mom (where they are backed up again in my email account, her email account, her PC, her backup service), and some I post on facebook.  I couldn't destroy those pictures if I wanted to even though they are made of impossibly tiny and ephemeral particles.  While pictures taken of me as a child on the other hand, exist in hard paper, and are mounted in heavy books, but these books are among the family's precious treasures.  You curse if you lose your computer in a fire, but you mourn the loss of a photo album.


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Reply #45 on: September 16, 2009, 07:39:31 AM
I just can't believe that the most appropriate of all possible quotations wasn't chosen for this episode!  In fact, perhaps the best possible match of stories and quotations of any EP episode so far.  Here's the quote:

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.
Woody Allen

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Reply #46 on: September 16, 2009, 08:40:51 AM
The discussion about Google scanning books and its ramifications has been moved here.


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Reply #47 on: September 16, 2009, 09:50:22 PM
For the first 5 min or so of the story, Daikaiju carried on in the background very quietly.

Not quietly enough.

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Reply #48 on: September 17, 2009, 10:05:57 PM
I would have greatly enjoyed this story had the protagonist been anything more than a sheeple.  "I can't lose this job, there are no jobs."  Yes times are hard, but there are jobs.  You just have to want to find them and be willing to suck it up and not have your dream job.

So yeah, that and the heavy handed "economy bad" message took away from what could have otherwise been an outstanding story.


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Reply #49 on: September 18, 2009, 02:22:02 AM
The closeness to the present seemed a cheap novelty; however, once the revelation came, it became one of my favorites--right up there with "Cinderella Suicide" and "Now + N, Now -N".  I was hooked with the first sentence, but enthralled with the mystery.

This store hit upon something I've struggled with for the last few years.  The flitting moment of technology.  So often e-mails and voicemails remain unattended to.  And so often calls for information, guidance, or help are ignored via distribution lists.  The personal connection has become so much more important in our technological society.  Sending an e-mail for committee volunteers gets the word out, but walking up to a colleague and discussing the goals and mission of the committee garners so much more support and involvement.  I can twitter all day, but the true connections are with the people I talk to.

In the end this story presents the enigma of our technology:  How do we establish sense and meaning in individuals because delete is too easy of a button to click.