Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Welcome to the wild fictional world of fermented foods, brought to you by the author ofsourdough Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Lois Clary, newly graduated from college and working a humdrum coding job in Michigan, gets a shot at employment at General Dexterity, an emerging tech company in San Francisco bent on creating the next new thing in automation.

Her “dream” job leaves Lois with zero free time and her nutritive tastes are limited – that is, until she begins ordering from an obscure neighborhood restaurant, and discovers the joys of homemade sourdough bread and a pungent soup.  This happy arrangement is not meant to last – the brothers that run the restaurant have to exit the country abruptly.  They leave Lois, their “number one eater”, in charge of their precious crock of sourdough starter.

Lois now has a new calling that has nothing to do with programming and everything to do with the fine arts of fermentation and baking.  She makes her first tentative loaves, gets better, wins over the chef at the work cafeteria with her bread, and makes inroads into getting a place at one of the city’s markets.  All the while, she notices that the starter is not something ordinary.

Lois lands a spot at the Marrow Fair, a new-ish market located at, or should we say below, a deserted military airstrip next to Oakland.  Denizens of the Marrow explore technology as it relates to the culinary, and Lois manages to fit in just fine – especially after she gets a refurbished robot arm from General Dexterity and slowly programs it to handle the intricacies of bread making.

Bigger forces take an interest in the starter, and what started out for Lois as a small but successful bread baking business becomes something scarier.

Sourdough succeeds as a fantastical jab at corporate greed and emerging food technologies, and as an exploration into foodie culture.  The book will give you a new appreciation for any type of fermented foods (think bread/beer/cheese/vinegar/ pickles/etc.)

I kind of wonder if the character of Charlotte Clingstone is loosely based on Alice Waters (hah!)

(William Hicks, Information Services)

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