‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore’ by Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraWhen unemployed graphic designer Clay takes a job working nights at Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour bookstore, all he wants is a job. But it soon becomes clear that the bookstore, and its enigmatic owner, are more than they seem.

As well as the traditional books you’d expect to find in a bookshop, there’s also a second set of books – written in code and hidden away from the eyes of prying customers. Throughout the quiet night shift, an assortment of people occasionally hurry in to borrow one of these books, whilst returning another. Clay’s role is to note down what book is borrowed with a description of the borrower, but not to ask questions.

Inevitably, Clay starts to wonder about what this strange collection of people are up to. Finding the codes unintelligible, he and his friends instead draw on their technological skills to help track the pattern of borrowing in a way that they can understand. Unwittingly, he soon uncovers a clandestine literary society working to decode the mysteries around a centuries’ old secret. Continue reading

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Reading between the lines

Since their introduction, e-Readers have exploded in popularity. Their ability to allow avid readers to carry an entire library of books in one simple, lightweight device marked the beginning of a reading revolution and changed the shape of the publishing industry beyond recognition. But while sales of eBooks continue to go through the roof, sales of e-Readers themselves have waned over recent months as other electronic device compete for their own share of the market.

In particular, I’m talking about tablets. Figures from the Ipsos MediaCT Technology Tracker show that in the Christmas sales race, tablets won hands down. In the last quarter alone, tablet ownership doubled to 25%, meaning that statistically, one in four households owns one. By marked contract, e-Readers saw an increase of just 1% over the same period.

To me, this comes as no great surprise. Yes, e-Readers have their advantages for readers – a glare free screen makes reading easier on the eye, and even the most advanced Kindle is still distinctly cheaper than Apple’s cheapest iPad – but if you’re going to invest in something, it should be in something that can offer everything that we’ve come to expect from modern technology.

That’s where a tablet can really shine. It’s a camera, music player, browser, e-Reader, games console and even a SatNav all rolled into one. in a second, anyone with an iPad and access to the internet can download app’s from all of the major players in the reader market, from Kindle to Kobo to Nook, while any apple device also offers access to the iBookstore. Put simply, a tablet, or even a smartphone, means that you’re not just limited to just one platform. The amount of choice on offer is limitless.

You could argue that the latest Kindle model is actually more of a tablet than a traditional e-reader. It’s no longer an e-ink reader, having abandoned this in favour of a LCD screen, and it’s clearly trying to re-position itself in the market and compete with the likes of tablet giants such as Apple or Samsung. That said, I’m sure there are plenty of users out there who choose a Kindle specifically because it’s better to read on. And is Amazon’s attempt to revolutionise the traditional e-Reader reaching a new audience, or alienating the old one?