This first-published novel got great notices and won the Alex Award for author Robin Sloan. Emerging mind-sets and technologies of the new aeon mingle and collide with those of the passing aeon. If anyone is looking for an example of how the Age of Pisces is shifting into the Age of Aquarius, this book provides it. Earthshaking cosmic stuff is sitting in plain sight. The author condenses this millennial-transition phenomenon into his story. It's fantasy-fiction based on contemporary reality, which makes it all the more powerful.

Clay Jannon, a loveable doofus, tumbles into a fascinating rabbit hole that goes fractal. He’s lost his position as a web-based marketer in San Francisco, and is desperate to get another job. It's the Great Recession, so jobs are tough to obtain. Clay's standards keep dropping. He spots a help-wanted sign in a store-front window, and gets hired as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Taking the job involves making pledges that seem simple but are not. Mysteries sprout like weeds and new relationships start to bloom. Clay has to call upon his old and new friends to help figure out the weirdness in the bookstore. Members of a secret club borrow books printed in a strange code. What does it all mean? What the heck is going on here?

The book is written in first person from Clay's perspective of events. This character is funny, a little confused, and has enough wry self-honesty to know when to ask for help. He's a geek, but not so lost in the digital world that he doesn't value relationships and the detritus of the ink-and-paper time period. As Clay and his friends gain insights and tidbits of information, the scope and complexity of the questions grow. Local mysteries morph into global conspiracies.

The humor is edgy and there are lots of pop culture references. Geeky characters communicate on phones with their thumbs, and slide with ease into their D&D roles. Clay shifts into super-op mode with a sneaky tool invented by an underground digital book pirate. Google doesn't have all of the answers, so a trip to Warehouse 13 is required. The solution to the mystery, when it comes, veers off onto a horizon of mountain peaks. The book's characters enter a new phase of life because, at some level, solving the mystery gives seed to all kinds of life-changing opportunities and relationships.  

The book is way weirder and way better than any review can convey. Fans of The Night Circus and The Big Bang Theory will rejoice in this savvy tale. The story has no pretensions beyond the author's desire to spin a good yarn. The story becomes epic because it straddles diverging epochs, the old and new civilizations. It's a tale that could only be created in this time and place, between paper and pixels. The deftly rounded characters are people worthy of cultivating as friends, young and old. It’s well-paced and rivets attention while questions and answers unfold.

A fun read, highly recommended to the geeks, nerds, and lovers of curious oddities.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Robin Sloan
Picador, 2012
288 pgs, $15.00 pb