1. Author Robin Sloan. 2. Party People, Exhibit A.
If you’re trying to sell hot dogs, precedent proves that throwing a foam frankfurter on some poor teen and having him dance on the street corner for $8 an hour is shrewd business. If you’re Robin Sloan, and it’s time to promote your first book—Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore—you do the equivalent, and hole up for a full earthly rotation in a bookstore in the shadow of the metropolis. Sloan’s 24 hours were spent at The Center for Fiction, as distant from the dusty and cabalistic titular bookstore as New York is from San Francisco, where Sloan lives and where he set his book.
1. Revelers chat beneath classy chandeliers and a mirrored bust. 2. Robin Sloan and a fan peek their heads among the crowd.
With mostly tomes and marble busts for company, how does a person spend a Wednesday night’s wee small hours, when the stragglers out and about are in little condition to read a book, much less buy one? Sloan’s fictional shop shares a wall with a strip club, suggesting one possible diversion, but in the spirit of Mr. Penumbra, which features both Google and a secret society as hoary as the next literary secret society, Sloan pow-wowed—with writers, artists, and a DJ, plus assorted tech people—on books, media, technology, and the spaces where they meet, and he streamed it all live. Then he archived the whole thing: 16 guests and a whole bunch of YouTube.
Robin Sloan hails from the far-off west coast, but from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, you could be forgiven for assuming his work home-grown. And it makes sense, because Sloan and his book are very much about the community behind technology, and physical distance, on the internet’s terms, is not so much a barrier as a thrill. I kept approaching people who were looking to get their book signed, and while we scouted out potential paths toward the mobbed author, three or four of them told me they had never before met Sloan in person, but had followed his work for years. Each had some kind of relationship with him through digital channels; there was a definite kind of solidarity to the atmosphere. As one person told me: “It feels like the good guys are winning.”
—Garon Scott lives, writes and sleeps uneasily in Brooklyn.