April 25, 2014 • Cee • Reviews

Robin Sloan - AjaxAjax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan
September 1, 2013
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From Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, the story of Mr. Penumbra’s first trip to San Francisco—and of how he got entangled with the city’s most unusual always-open enterprise…

It is August 1969. The Summer of Love is a fading memory. The streets of San Francisco pulse to the sounds of Led Zeppelin and Marvin Gaye. And of jackhammers: A futuristic pyramid of a skyscraper is rising a few blocks from City Lights bookstore and an unprecedented subway tunnel is being built under the bay. Meanwhile, south of the city, orchards are quickly giving way to a brand-new industry built on silicon.

But young Ajax Penumbra has not arrived in San Francisco looking for free love or a glimpse of the technological future. He is seeking a book—the single surviving copy of the Techne Tycheon, a mysterious volume that has brought and lost great fortune for anyone who has owned it. The last record of the book locates it in the San Francisco of more than a century earlier, and on that scant bit of evidence, Penumbra’s university has dispatched him west to acquire it for their library. After a few weeks of rigorous hunting, Penumbra feels no closer to his goal than when he started. But late one night, after another day of dispiriting dead ends, he stumbles across a 24-hour bookstore, and the possibilities before him expand exponentially . . .




First sentence: “A visitor walks the city, searching.”

Who doesn’t enjoy a story about a book? Ajax Penumbra 1969 is a novella about a man looking for a very specific (and long-lost) book in 1969 San Francisco, where it had last been heard of. This introduces Penumbra, the 24 Hour Bookstore, and the reason Penumbra arrives in SF. I am super pumped up for what is to come in Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. It has everything I love — books, history, and sleuthing. Just give me all of it!



1. It’s about a book, and you learn about its history.

The Techne Tycheon (translated to ‘the craft of fortune’), to be specific. Penumbra’s mission is to find this book that had disappeared in 1657, which fascinates me to no end because of what Penumbra finds along the way. You get to read about where it’s been and the history of it. The history nerd in me is lapping all this information up. I love how relatable Penumbra’s search is because we’ve all tried searching for a specific book or a long-lost item. Sure, Penumbra’s looking for a book that’s over 400 years old, but it still counts!

2. Penumbra’s college classes and job make me wish that it actually exists. (Maybe it does?)

Who doesn’t find the words “occult literature” fascinating? It seems very spooky and awesome! I love the secrecy of it all. Everything about Penumbra’s job is everything I love. The thought of tracking down books (and everything that comes with it like learning languages and uncovering history) gets me incredibly excited. Where can I sign up to be part of the acquisitions staff?

3. It takes place in a bookstore…in San Francisco.

My home area!

Yes, I’m a sucker when fictional books mention San Francisco (and just about any place in the Bay Area). I’m sure that someone is unfamiliar with specific places the book mentions won’t find it as exciting as I do. Although the events in the book happened in 1969, I just feel like I am transported there because I am very familiar with the locations.

4. I feel at home with what goes on in the book.

Books, bookstores, history? That is a winning combination.


Ajax Penumbra 1969 makes me want to visit all the bookstores in the San Francisco Bay Area (not that I don’t want to already), hoping to stumble onto this 24-Hour Bookstore where there’ll be eclectic characters.



2 Responses to “REVIEW | Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan”

  1. I haven’t heard of this one, but it sounds really unique and interesting! And I’ve been to San Francisco so I will probably enjoy that aspect!

  2. I have never heard about this book, but this one sounds really interesting. I might give this one a try some time in the future :))

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