Sourdough, Robin Sloan (MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux 978-0-374-20310-8, $26.00, 272pp, hc) September 2017.
In Robin Sloan’s Sourdough, Lois is a software engineer at one of San Francisco’s hottest tech companies. She’s just moved to town from a perfectly fine hometown in the Midwest, lured out to the coast by money and a tiny urge for change. And change she does.
The catalyst is a crock of sourdough starter given to her by two brothers, whose nomadic backgrounds cloak them in mystery. After months in the software engineering pressure cooker, all that makes Lois feel human is the soup and bread they deliver to her door. One night, they tell her they are leaving the country, but before they go, they give her the means to make her own bread. (Not the soup. The soup is too complicated.)
All of the generations of symbiotic bacteria and yeasts in this starter have grown into a rudimentary intelligence, one that responds to stimulus in almost human-like ways. The starter takes Lois on a journey from a tech worker who subsists on nutrient slurry because it’s efficient to a foodie who can find wonder in seeing the stars.
Sourdough isn’t as treacle-y as that sounds, though. It’s grounded and wry. Sloan has a delightful touch with descriptions – a panel of chefs “looked like a committee of harvest gods drawn from all of the pantheons,” for example – and a deft approach to giving Lois life. Sourdough lives in that interstitial state where it’s not quite magical realism but not quite not, either. Despite an ending that doesn’t quite hang with the rest of the novel, Sourdough is likely the most interesting tale you’ll read about bread this year.
Adrienne Martini has been reading or writing about science fiction for decades and has had two non-fiction, non-genre books published by Simon and Schuster. She lives in Upstate New York with one husband, two kids, and one corgi. She also runs a lot.
This review and more like it in the December 2017 issue of Locus.