As with visibility, it’s easy to see how Mr. Penumbra exhibits Calvino’s quality of multiplicity. For one thing, Clay has to tackle the mystery from multiple angles, both high and low tech. He enlists the help of Oliver Groan, archaeology student, to sift through Penumbra’s ancient files and computer system; Grumble, a mysterious hacker who provides him with a makeshift book scanner on short notice; Kat, who has access to Google’s virtually unlimited resources; Neel, who finances most of the crew’s operations; and Penumbra, who is Clay’s window into the world of the Unbroken Spine and the Festina Lente Company.
In addition to the multiple ways to solve a problem, the novel does an excellent job of illustrating the many different methods of acquiring and storing knowledge. It begins with Manutius and his incunabula and ends with Kat and the Google Knowledge Graph. Mr. Penumbra resembles Calvino’s encyclopedic novel in that it explores the way information and language, and the way we process those, change over time and adapt to new technologies and environments. Like the LEGOS I mentioned in my earlier posts, a finite number of letters combines to create a multitude of words and meanings. Mr. Penumbra celebrates this multiplicity of language in its many forms, both print and electronic.