So, I'm totally a Robin Sloane (author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) fan girl. This morning, he sent out the following email. I figured I'd c&p it here, in case you're interested in reading! I think it is so cool to think there is a mystery author, leaving random manuscripts on other author's doorsteps. Also, if you don't love Robin Sloane, you should. He's a true book nerd - he gives fascinating talks about books and technology, and the history of "books" themselves. He's also a genuinely nice human.
GREETINGS, Society of the Double Dagger.
This message will be brief and unorthodox; I didn't have any plans to write at all, but something emerged this week that's so weird and cool and plainly up your alley that I feel basically required to share it.
Remember: you're getting this email because you signed up to hear from me, Robin Sloan, author of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and a few other things. I am now on the third draft of my new novel. Maybe fourth. Depends how you count. I'll send another message when it's finished, I promise!
Here's the setup.
A friend of mine named Alexis Madrigal texted me the other night:
A few minutes later, he walked over carrying a very slim book that, he explained, had been delivered to his doorstep. The cover bore the titleIterating Grace. It listed no author. Alexis plopped down on my couch and began to read it aloud.
The story is scant: around 2000 words. The format beefs it up, makes it feel more substantial than it is. But here's the important thing: it's really good! It purports to be the author's recollection of a character named Koons Crooks. (Koons. Crooks.) It's a slow-burn satire set in the San Francisco tech world, dark but not too dark, enlivened by wonderful details. Oh, and there are calligraphic tweets:
According to the story, Crooks copied out the tweets -- all beautifully "profound" bloviations from venture capitalists -- while living as a hermit (with satellite internet) in the Bolivian highlands.
On Monday, Alexis performed a public service by digitizing the entire book, calligraphy and all. He also laid out the clues, which are scant indeed.
Here's the truth: we have no idea who wrote this. More cynical minds assume it's a viral marketing scheme; that's certainly possible, but I doubt it, simply because the writing is too good. This story has the mark of authentic authorship. It has real spirit.
As you'll see in Alexis's post, there are good reasons to believe the mystery author resides here in the Bay Area and is part of our broad social network. My dream, though, is that the author is someone new; that this is his/her public debut. It would be astonishing!
I should add that many people -- like, really quite a few -- have accused meof being the mystery author, which is both a great compliment, because I think it's a wonderful piece of work, and a bit of a sting, because wow Iwish it was me doing something this clever. In any case, I think careful reading exonerates me; I'm not the kind of writer to end a story with a scene so funny-bleak, so borderline Vonnegut. (I also hope I'm not the kind of writer to send a message to his entire email list pretending not to be the author of… you get it.)
But who might have written this? The suspects are legion and yet the lineup feels… off somehow. Paul Ford? Joshua Cohen? James Nestor? Wendy MacNaughton and Caroline Paul? James Freeman, the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee?? I explored the use of stylometric analysis (because of course I did) but the technique depends on a fairly large pool of candidate authors, and I can't say that I know of a single solid candidate. Not yet.
Maybe after you get through the story, you'll have a suspect of your own. I really do encourage you to give it a look; it's an eminently readable 2000 words, and come on! This is something straight out of the Penumbra-verse!
Nice to know this sort of thing really happens, isn't it?
Have a great summer,
P.S. While I'm here: recently, working with my friend Tim Hwang and the Data & Society Institute in New York City, I wrote a little sci-fi short story.It's called "The Counselor."
P.P.S. If this really is viral marketing I'm going to be so mad.