Sourdough by Robin Sloan reviewed

Sourdough Book Cover Sourdough
Robin Sloan
Atlantic Books
04 January, 2018

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighbourhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her - feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she's providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer's market, and a whole new world opens up.
When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?

I’d not read any books by Robin Sloan before so was a little unsure what to expect in Sourdough. Lois, recruited to work for General Dexterity designing software for robotic arms, is not really at ease with the corporate life. She does love her rather unusual takeaway favourite menu though. When the people running that business tell her they are leaving she is unhappy. When they bring her an unusual leaving present it changes her life. This is her story.

There were many entertaining parts to this, it’s hard to know where to start. I’m sincerely hoping that some of the humour is very tongue in cheek. The take on corporate culture is wonderful. The Lois folk are excellent. The whole market idea is well done. One of my notes says “ridiculously entertaining”! The whole book flows so easily I found I was consuming it almost as fast as folk were consuming the sourdough bread.

I’m still slightly unsure about how I feel about this book and I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It is very well written indeed and I really got caught up in Louis’s story. It has a wry humour and considerable charm. I was entertained by it. I think my issue is with the ending as much as anything. It didn’t seem to have the punch that the rest of the tale did. However that feels a little picky – there are plenty of books where the ending hasn’t blown me away. Other than that I guess I would have liked to know more about the Mazg – the glimpses were tantalising.

Note – I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair review