Tag Archives: San Francisco

Notes on seeing “Vertigo” again

There’s something to the “If you haven’t heard it like this, you haven’t seen Vertigo” promotion. With the enhanced (rerecorded?) Bernard Hermann soundtrack, I found it scarier than before. Perhaps obsession scares me more as I age, and some color (especially green) has been intensified in restoration. I know what is going to happen in every scene, and knowing what is going to happen seems as scary or scarier than not knowing. From when James Stewart sends Kim Novak into the bathroom to put up her hair (the final touch of remolding Judy into Madeline) I had goose-bumps.

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What I find hokey is the opening. When the first two men jump onto the sloped roof, it is from a flat roof, but when Stewart and then the uniformed cop slip back, it is from a sloped roof directly above the edge of a tall building.

Aside from the powerful tale of weakness and the strength of obsession, I enjoy seeing much lower-rise downtown San Francisco, and the mix of what is gone (the creepy apartment building at the eastern edge of the Western Addition, Ernie’s, the old De Young, and what remains (the Mission Dolores cemetery, Fort Point, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Mission at San Juan Bautista, though it lacks the tower that is so central to the story).

Stewart’s body of work in the 50s (extended at both ends to encompass the period between “Rope” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”) was not recognized at the time, but in “Vertigo” and “Anatomy of a Murder” and some Anthony Mann Westerns, he was very tense (and add the charm of “Harvey.” “Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation,” and “Bell, Book, and Candle,” the ingenuity of “Rear Window,” and the pathos of “It’s a Wonderful Life” one realizes he had some range).

 

©1996 [my third viewing of the movie, on a theatrical rerelease with enhanced soundtrack), Stephen O. Murray

 

“Notorious” (1946) is my favorite Hitchcock film, but “Vertigo” has displaced “Citizen Kane” as the best movie ever in the most recent (2012) decennial Sight and Sound poll

Jules Dassin in the San Francisco Produce Market of yore

 

The 1949 noir directed by Jules Dassin, “Thieves’ Highway” (also known as “Collision” and as “The Thieves’ Market”) was adapted by A. I. Bezzerides—who also wrote the noirish trucker movie “They Drive by Nigh”t (1940) and adapted Mickey Spillane’s “Kiss Me Deadly “(1953) for Robert Aldrich —from his own novel Thieves’ Market. If it had not already been used for the screen version of his novel The Long Haul, “They Drive by Night” would have been a descriptive title for this movie.

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The story begins with Nico ‘Nick’ Garcos   (Richard Conte) returning home to Fresno, in California’s Central Valley, from World War II service (in the Coast Guard, it is later established). He has brought presents for everyone, including Chinese slippers for his father, long-time long-distance truck-driver Yanko Garcos (Morris Carnovsky) and Nick’s fiancé Polly Faber (Barbara Lawrence) who materializes from the next room. The present for Nick’s father is spectacularly inappropriate, because Yanko was in an accident in San Francisco and lost his legs after being cheated by fruit-market mobster Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb).

Yanko’s truck was purchased by Ed Prentiss (Millard Mitchell), but Ed has not paid for it yet. Nick goes over to reclaim it and is convinced to go in on a deal with Ed to buy Golden Delicious apples and transport them to the San Francisco bay-front fruit market. Ed was supposed to work with Pete and “Slob” (Joseph Pevney and Jack Oakie) but lies to them about the deal having fallen through.

The next day, Ed and Nick go to the orchard to pick up the apples. Ed attempts to underpay the grower, but the noble Nick insists on paying them the full price price. After Ed and Nick have (over)loaded their trucks, Pete and “Slob” show up and buy part of a truckload. Nick and Ed have various mechanical problems driving by night (driving very fast on a two-way road—a speedometer shows a speed of 80+ m.p.h.— on the stand-in for California Route 99, which makes it very odd to me that the 192-mile drive is supposed to take 14 hours… ) Pete and “Slob” follow, offering to take Ed’s load for an increasing share of the proceeds.

I won’t reveal any more about their journeys. Nick arrives on the San Francisco waterfront as the produce market is at its peak. Mike Figlia wants his load and there is much jockeying that I will also not reveal. One gambit in it, however, involves having a loose woman (the Hollywood Production Code did not allow the existence of prostitutes to be shown), Rica (Valentina Cortese, decades before Truffaut’s “d Day for Night”) pick him up (that is, leave his truck unattended).

Most of the movie takes place at night, either on highways or on the San Francisco waterfront. No noir would be complete without a chase into an alley, or at least one late-night bar scene, a femme fatale (or more than one) for the hero to misplace trust in, etc. And some successful corrupt entrepreneurs. None of the ingredients is missing, and there are some very effective action scenes. (And at least one immortal line: “I’d rather go hungry one morning than for the rest of my life.”)

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“Thieves’ Highway” was filmed on location in San Francisco’s produce market (bulldozed in 1959 to build the Embarcadero Freeway and the Embarcadero office-towers, which in turn was demolished in the 1990s) and Santa Rosa (standing in for Fresno) by Norbert Brodine (The House on 92nd Street, Kiss of Death, Boomerang.. and I Was a Male War Bride). Figlia’s warehouse has a street sign indicating that it is on the corner of Washington and Davis Streets; the Ferry Building is also the scene of a meeting.

Dassin soon after making “Thieves’ Highway” fled the country (after being named as a former member of the US Communist Party by fellow director Edward Dmytryk). Dassin had recently made the prison melodrama “Brute Force ” and the much-heralded “The Naked City” (with its pioneering New York City location-shooting and very dated voiceover narration), and would make one of the greatest of all noirs in London (“Night and the City,” 1950) and then the legendary heist movie Rififi,” before moving on to Greece and the long-running collaboration with and marriage to Melina Mercouri (appearing onscreen with her as a priggish, narrow-minded American intellectual in “Never on Sunday”).

I especially like the record of long-gone parts of San Francisco, the noir photography and ambiance, and the performances of Valentina Cortese and Jack Oakie. Millard Mitchell and Lee J. Cobb are also very good, though rather typecast. The part of Nick is a bit too idealized for anyone to have played, and it is hard to accept Richard Conte, who played so many mobsters over the years, as the hero.

Although I ‘m not usually bothered by continuity issues, I am bothered by the doubling of the distance between Fresno and San Francisco, and, even more so, by the slashed tired on Nick’s truck (to keep it parked in front of Figlia’s warehouse) fixing themselves, so that he can spin off in a morning pursuit.

The 2004 Criterion DVD produces the rich, clear picture for which Criterion has become celebrated. It includes an excellent commentary track by noir historian Alain Silver (editor of editor of The Film Noir Reader) that calls attention to framing and shooting as well as background on the milieu and collaborators in making the movie. There are further insights entertainingly delivered by Dassin (born 1911) and some recent footage of Bezzerides (born 1908), the latter’s from a documentary about him that is in process. Both are interesting characters, but Dassin also has interesting things to say about the making of the movie (and Darryl Zanuck’s interference, including the ending which Zanuck tacked on and Dassin did not see until the movie was released in the UK). The theatrical trailer gives away too much of the plot (a lot more than my review does!) and should not be watched before the movie.

 

© 2005, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

Robert Wise’s 1951 noir “The House on Telegraph Hill”

The  Fox Noir release of the 1951 movie “The House of Telegraph Hill” had multiple appeals to me. First off, the Fox Noir series has been characterized by excellent restorations and interesting commentary tracks. Second, much of the movie was filmed on location in San Francisco and I like to see how the city looked decades before I ever saw it. Third, I think that Robert Wise is an undervalued master director (despite—or because of?—having won best directing Oscars for the two big-budget musicals he directed). Fourth, the cinematographer was another (and widely recognized master), Lucien Ballard. And it starred (indeed was designed for) Valentina Cortese, whose Hollywood debut (in a Fox noir directed by Jules Dassin”, Thieves’ Highway”) impressed me, and Richard Basehart, who was electrifying in “He Walked By Night “and great in Fellini’s “La Strada” before settling into the role of Admiral Harriman Nelson on tv’s “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” which I watched regularly at least through its first season (1964-65).

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Although my expectations were too high and otherwise somewhat mistaken, there was much to savor on the DVD (including the movie). As (San Francisco-native) Eddie Muller notes at the start of his interesting and informative commentary track, “The House of Telegraph Hill” is less a film noir than what he calls the genre of “a woman in jeopardy” (Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” and “Suspicion” and Cukor’s “Gaslight” were difficult not to think of while watching the movie; other earlier examples of the genre include, The Spiral Staircase, Night Must Fall, Sorry Wrong Number, Kind Lady, Under Capricorn, and many more). It also owes much the tradition of Gothic fiction (Jane Eyre, and, again, Rebecca).

The initial menace to the character portrayed by Cortesa is the Nazi concentration camp in which she is interred (Belsen, I think), having lost her home and husband and freedom. There is a whole lot of plot, and the plotting by the main two characters is intensely self-serving — which is fittingly noirish, though the other two leading characters are not self-serving, which is confusing in the noir universe, but occurs in Gothic romances.

For reasons far too complicated to get into here, Cortesa’s character becomes Mrs. Alan Spender. Mr. Alan Spender is portrayed (brilliantly!) by Richard Basehart, who could turn from sympathetic to menacing and back again on less than a dime (a penny?). Through most of the movie, the viewer is not certain whether he is solicitous toward his wife because he is concerned about her “nerves” or monitoring to make sure he doesn’t discover whatever Dark Truth there may be. Although she seems to have surprisingly little post-traumatic stress disorder (and no evidence of survivor guilt), she is tormented by guilt and by uncertainty about her husband.

He serves her orange juice instead of milk, as Cary Grant served Joan Fontaine in “Suspicion.” Californians (especially transplants) feel that fresh-squeezed orange juice every day is one of our prerogatives, but a big glass right before going to sleep? Milk is more common for that, I think.

That is a minor implausibility. There are other plot points that require a strong will to suspend disbelief, particularly that the US Army major who processed her papers in Poland, is a prosperous San Francisco lawyer, who becomes the third point of one triangle (one of two triangles, or is it a double triangle with the boy and three adults in that Gothic mansion high on Telegraph Hill?).

The house is a major character with very opulent interiors. From the commentary track, I learned that its Victorian facade was installed after the restaurant (Julius’s Castle, at the corner of Montgomery and Greenwich streets) closed on Sunday night, and all the exteriors were filmed before it reopened Tuesday. (Surprisingly, the major Telegraph Hill landmark, which is very nearby, Coit Tower, is never shown in the movie.)

The backdrops—and the car plunging out of control—were filmed on location. There is a scene of Market at Montgomery ca. 1950 and scenes with one or another bridge in the background. Like the chase scene in “Bullit,” the brakeless car scene was shot on location, but makes no geographic sense. (Much of the chase scene of “Bullit” was shot on the hill where I live, but lurched onto other hills in the city.) Scenes of the car going in both directions on Union Street are included (it ends on a cul-de-sac on Montgomery and Montague Place).

I wasn’t disappointed by the glimpses of San Francisco of another era, and I wasn’t disappointed by Lucien Ballard’s cinematography. I’ve already categorized Richard Basehart’s mercurial mood shifts as “brilliant.” Cortesa (whom Muller says had too much style for Hollywood to handle) had a very interesting face. It also has to register many moods, sometimes conflicting ones simultaneously. Although she was having major problems with English, she sounds like a rapidly acculturating refugee. And, as head of Fox Studios Darryl Zanuck was seeking to build her into being a star, she had a very extensive and glamorous wardrobe (especially in contrast with “Thieves’ Highway” in which she had no change of clothes). The studio went all out in set direction and art direction, too (netting an Oscar nomination; that of the winner, “Streetcar Named Desire” is much less impressive, and it’s a puzzlement that the costume design didn’t even get nominated).

The all-American boy was played with open-faced perfection by Gordon Gebert (most memorable in a real noir from the next year, “The Narrow Margin”). Fay Baker was excellent as the governess (less flamboyant than Judith Anderson in “Rebecca,” keeping the audience guessing about what she knows and feels). As a friend who is obviously in love with her, I agree with Fuller that Richard Lundigan was too bland (like Joseph Cotten in “Gaslight,” more a plot device than a character).

I do not agree with him that Lundigan and Basehart look too much alike. They don’t look very alike to me even if one ignores that Lundigan was noticeably taller or that Lundigan was underplaying (not that Basehart was a raving maniac, something he was certainly capable of portraying).

The story of Basehart and Cortesa hiding their romance, even after the movie, secretly marrying, and Basehart abandoning Hollywood to be with her Italy makes for an interesting story—and Fuller’s commentary track is racier than a 1951 Hollywood movie could be. (He explains several demands by the censors, including one about the anticlimax—which I thought stimulated some creativity on the part of the movie-makers.) Cortesa had three near-death experiences in the early-1950s (an acute appendicitis, a car crash, and peritonitis), and lived to the age of 96, dying in June 2019).

I’d have preferred a more obsessive, more noirish film. The opening concentration camp scenes seem tame (but may not have to 1951 audiences protected from too much reality making it to the screens), and the elaborate plot takes some hard swallowing, but there is much solid craftsmanship and stars who are interesting to look at.

In addition to Muller’s sometimes vulgar, very opinionated, but never dull commentary track, the DVD has a gallery of posters and stills, and the theatrical trailer. The trailer includes major plot-spoilers, and should not be viewed first.

 

©2006, 2019, Stephen O. Murray

Desperate for success in San Francisco

Slater Brown, the protagonist of Rodes Fishburne’s 2009 debut novel, Going to See the Elephant, probably would have brought Tom Wolfe to my mind even if there wasn’t a blurb from Wolfe on the book’s front cover. Brown is desperate for success. He has included that the authors regarded as great had published something important by the age of 29.

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Brown had published one poem — in a special issue of the Bartelby Review devoted to dyslexic writers. He arrives in San Francisco with enough money to devote days to writing the Great American Novel. He jots down reflections on how to start a novel, but doesn’t start one. Like many, he aspires to be a writer (indeed a great writer) without actually writing.

He finds lodging with Mrs. Cagliostra, a empowering maternal landlady who believes in her tenant and who seems cut from the same cloth as Armistead Maupin’s Mrs. Madrigal. And Slater Brown is hired as a reporter on what has become a weekly newspaper. The Daily Trumpet has survived from the 19th century primarily because it owns a building. With typical sloppiness, the address of the office building would place is inside the venerable Palace Hotel (now the Sheraton Palace).

Brown finds that in riding electric busses around the city, his transistor radio picks up phone conversations. This is a sort of interesting idea, though it seems to me that as with government surveillance, the signal-to-noise ratio would be impossibly low. That is, any scandalous revelations would be difficult to pick out of the cacophony of banalities of hundreds of thousands of phone conversations.

Also, there is something very old-fashioned about (1) the conversations going through overhead phone lines rather than cellphones, (2) getting the news scoops out in a newspaper, and (3) the bloated mayor-for-life. Mayor Tucker Oswell seems positively 19th-century a figure of fun, though in “Sunny Jim” Rolph, San Francisco had a mayor for nineteen years (Rolph resigned to take office as governor).

The Daily Trumpet has too little revenue before Brown’s scoops boost circulation to have a website. That and a move toward solar-powered busses suggest that the novel is supposed to be set in the present day. This makes it very odd that there are no cell phones. And even decades ago, Maupin put Mary Ann on tv (even as his tales were serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle, as 19th-century novels often were…)

This is particularly remarkable when Slater is locked out on a roof by the father of his inamorata, a chess whiz named Calliope (Callio for short–not Cali?).

Yes, there is a romance along with the sudden success story that allows Slater Brown to dress like Tom Wolfe and be invited into Social Register parties as Truman Capote once was on the other coast. And there is Milo, a possibly mad inventor who wants to become literally a weather maker.

The romance is formulaic, the superinventor a caricature of a caricature. The plots interlock. Alas, none of them is plausible to me. And the “local color” is so often off that I wonder if Fishburne is familiar with San Francisco.

I picked out the book in part because it is set in my hometown, but the implausibility of Fishburne’s San Francisco details was far from my only disappointment. There were some bits that amused me (more promoting snickers than belly laughs), but the ending is particularly flat, especially for an attempt at screwball comedy mixed with political satire à la Preston Sturges’s “The Great McGinty.”

BTW, the title is an expression originally applied to the Gold Rush of 1849. The elephant was fame and fortune there for the picking for those going west.

©2009, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

Best San Francisco Movies

My list of best San Francisco novels begat a list of favorite San Francisco movies. I’m including IMDB(1-10) ratings after the year to provide a consensus view of quality. I’m weighting San Francisco visibility more.

Vertigo (1958) 8.4

5739.jpgAlfred Hitchcock’s movie about obsession (James Stewart’s character’s) recently topped the decennial Sight & Sound list of greatest movies, so had better be atop this list! Along with Stewart’s relentlessness and Kim Novak’s vulnerability, this has a lot of San Francisco sites, including the top of Telegraph Hill, Madge’s Russian Hill apartment, the Legion of Honor, the Mission Dolores cemetery (where the alcalde after whom my street is named is buried), the long-gone Ernie’s and the mission at San Juan Bautista with a tower (not an insignificant plot element!) added.And the Bernard Hermann romantic score!

Bullitt (1968) 7.5

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The chase makes no geographic sense, but I like that it includes my neighborhood (Potrero Hill). Steve McQueen is dour (supposed to be cool). I don’t remember the plot except that the smarmy Robert Vaughan is not to be trusted.

Dark Passage (1947) 7.6

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I most love the ending, which is set far south of San Francisco (or Hollywood, for that matter), and the nightmare trek up and down outside stairways and Lauren Bacall’s (character’s) apartment.

The Lady from Shanghai (1948) 7.7

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Playland had burned down before I moved to San Francisco, but the hall of mirrors shootout is forever. As is the glamour of Rita Hayworth, as in “Gilda.” Somehow I believe her character, but not Orson Welles’s.

The Conversation (1974) 7.9

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An aural stakeout in Union Square with a then-unknown Harrison Ford, plus Gene Hackman becoming unhinged for Francis Ford Coppola (a short walk from Zoetrope).

Thieves’ Highway (1949) 7.7

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Another vanished location: the waterfront produce market in Jules Dassin’s noir with Lee J. Cobb practicing for “On the Waterfront” and Richard Conte trying to be a leading man.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) 7.4

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I used to have a desk with a view across Grove Street of City Hall (home of what we called “the dome mentality”), where the pods take over in Philip Kaufman’s stylish remake that featured Leonard Nimoy (starred Donald Sutherland).

D.O.A. (1950) 7.4

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Edmond O’Brien wanders the streets of The City (as we like to capitalize it), knowing that he has taken a lethal dose of poison in Rudolf Maté’s noir/thriller. O’Brien plays an accountant from Banning (inland southern California) on vacation. The movie begins with a tracking shot in police HQ (before the Hall of Justice was built). Much of the movie was shot in LA…

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) 7.3

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This installment was inspired by Humphrey, the hump-backed whale that wandered into the Bay migrating from Baja to Alaska, and is fun for all, but especially for San Franciscans.

“What’s Up, Doc?” (1972) 7.8

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I don’t remember much about Barbara Streisand’s second movie, a screwball comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich with Babs channeling the actress who tied with her Oscar for her first movie and Ryan O’Neal trying to channel Cary Grant. In addition to the “Bring Up Baby” resonances, there was Madeline Kahn’s debut. There is a parody of the “Bullit” chase and the TWA facilities of SFO’s South Terminal (now Terminal 1 with no TWA).

 and ten more:

Pal Joey (1957) 6.8 (Rita Hayorth’s character’s yacht)

Interview with the Vampire (1994) 7.6 (the interview itself)

Petulia (1968) 7.3

Sudden Fear (1952) 7.5

Experiment in Terror (1962) 7.3 the then-new, now demolished Candlestick Park

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) 7

Zodiac (2007) 7.7

Point Blank (1967) 7.4

48 Hours (1982) 6.9

plus

Where Danger Lives (1950) 6.7

Time After Time (1979) 7.2

Towering Inferno (1974) 6.9

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) 7.2

Blue Jasmine (2013) 7.3

Robin Sloan in San Francisco in 2008

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was the “On the Same Page” selection in San Francisco for March and April [2008]. On the last day of that reign, its author Robin Sloan appeared at the San Francisco Public Library. Having enjoyed the book and its prequel, I was predisposed to like the author, and indeed found him charming, speaking without a lectern, casually dressed, and exerting himself to find the questions in what audience members said (some asked real questions, but…).

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Sloan majored in economics at Michigan State and worked for Twitter while aspiring to be a writer, but not writing much except tweets. However, the book grew out of a tweet—not one of his but one from a friend who was in England and mistook “24-hour bookdrop” for “24-hour bookstore,” and liked the idea of the latter. As did Sloan, who thought about working in one.

Though its location on Columbus Avenue in North Beach is near City Lights, he said that its inspiration was more Green Apple on Clement in the Richmond district of San Francisco, where he lives (in the Richmond, maybe even on Clement, but not in Green Apple). It stays open until 10 PM, later than most bookstores (as we call them here!).

He wrote stories that he could finish over the course of a long weekend, developing “muscles” for more extended narration.

In 2008 he offered an Amazon (Kindle) Single story for $.99 and was delighted to make about a thousand sales. The next stage (of what he likened to Russian nesting dolls) was a Kickstart posting selling advanced copies of another book for $10 ($12 signed) that drew another thousand. Meanwhile, an agent saw and liked the Amazon Single, and sold an expansion to the literary house Farrar, Straus & Giroux. It has done well critically and commercially, especially in the Bay Area where most of it (and its prequel) are set. (Asked, he said he did not foresee a sequel. I wonder if he might go a generation further back in bookstore owners. What he is writing now is also set in the past and present of San Francisco. And he thinks quiet observers, writing “history in real time” are preferable to flamboyant ones.)

He was asked if the cover design (which glows in the dark) is a code. He said not as far as he knows, and that he made attempts to try to decode it.

He also said that writers are machines for transforming old books into new books.

No one asked about influences or favorite writers or books. I asked if there really are ships buried along what was the waterfront of The City during the Gold Rush. He confirmed that crews jumped ships and rushed off to find gold and that some of the ships were turned into stores, though none, as far as he knows, into a bookstore.

 

©Stephen O. Murray, 2008

 

Sloan has a novel titled Sourdough coming out sometime in 2017.

Breaking the mould

Though I was never bewitched by Star Wars, Harry Potter, Dan Brown books, science fiction, or fantasy fiction (I’m not even sure what the distinction between the later two genres are) and don’t tweet, I was enthralled by former Twitter executive Robin Sloan’s novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The bookstore, located amidst strip joints on Broadway in northern San Francisco is very long and narrow with shelves rising more than 30 feet.

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After novice designer Clay Jannon loses his job with NewBagel during the Great Recession, he gets a job in the graveyard shift of Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore. Sales are very low, but don’t seem to be the point. In addition to the sales in the front room, there is a backroom from which some elderly “shoppers” borrow mysterious treatises (written in a hieroglyphic-like code).

I guess Ajax Penumbra is an unlikely warrior and little more conventional a wizard, but Clay and his friend from childhood who has gotten rich with an application for rendering body parts (women’s breasts in particular) and a Google Princess Leia, Clay goes to the headquarter of what seems to be a cult on Fifth Avenue in New York, and steals the cult’s secret text, to be decoded by Google’s computers.

I like Clay’s voice, ironic about his fanboy penchants. I like it well enough to have made it through a book that in many ways is outside my interests, though the contrast and tension between Old Knowledge and New Knowledge is certainly interesting and important. And the moral of the story is laudable: “There is no immortality that is not built on friendship and work done with care.”sloan2.jpg

Ajax Penumbra, 1969 is a prequel for Robin Sloan’s popular Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, available only as an e-book. Ajax Penumbra is not the protagonist of the novel (that would be Clay Jannon), though an important character. In the prequel he starts as a student then junior librarian at an obscure college who is dispatched to San Francisco to try to find a copy of Techne Tycheon, last seen more than a century ago in Gold Rush San Francisco.

In addition to being on a quest and finding his way to a long, high, and narrow bookstore on Broadway in San Francisco, Penumbra is obsessed by old books and comes to be employed at the bookstore, where he is already subordinate to Corvina. Perhaps more surprisingly, Penumbra’s roommate (Claude) is a pioneer computer builder.

Though occurring decades before the story of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, I think that the order of publication and of composition is the right order for reading. If I had read Ajax Penumbra, 1969 first and not known where his life was going, I suspect I would not have gone on to read Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which is a way of saying that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is better than its prequel, I guess.

Though I was not in San Francisco in 1969, the historical detail seems plausible and well-researched. That BART has not yet opened is very important to the plot.

©2014, 2017, Stephen O. Murray