Sourdough

A Novel
Narrated by: Therese Plummer
Length: 6 hrs and 47 mins
4 out of 5 stars (1,840 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In his much-anticipated new audiobook, Robin Sloan does for the world of food what he did for the world of books in Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

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 neighborhood 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?

Leavened by the same infectious intelligence that made Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore such a sensation, while taking on even more satisfying challenges, Sourdough marks the triumphant return of a unique and beloved young author.

Includes bonus material that provides an audiobook-only glimpse at the evolving relationship between Lois and Slurry, the company upon whose dystopian meal replacements she and her engineer friends all subsist.

©2017 Robin Sloan (P)2017 Macmillan Audio

Critic Reviews

"Therese Plummer, veteran narrator of more than 300 audiobooks, brings a delightfully loopy creativity to the delightfully loopy novel...." ( Chicago Tribune)
"Robin Sloan's second novel is an entertaining concoction of probiotic and high-tech ingredients...This is a funny, effervescent book told in the first person and given full range by Therese Plummer, whose youthful voice captures the matter-of-fact nature of Lois's unjaded, scientific temperament and the dizzying ups and downs of her spirits." ( The Washington Post)
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Delicious!

What a delightful book! It was a fun read, wonderful narration, kept my interest, and put a smile on my face. If you like cooking, Technology, food science, and a little bit of whimsy and magic, you will enjoy every bite you take of this book. The story was particularly good in audio book format. Highly recommended..

17 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Recipe for a Cozy Conspiracy

Any additional comments?

On the evidence of two novels, Robin Sloan does “cozy conspiracy theory” novels. Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore was about a mystery sitting inside a city and waiting for someone to solve it, and this one is similar: our protagonist inherits a sourdough starter that is somehow sentient. It isn’t clear where the starter comes from nor what it ultimately wants, but there’s a perpetual sense that the pieces will somehow come together.

[Spoiler alert:] They don’t come together all that well. We discover at the end that the starter has a semi-conscious plan to take over everything, which is a fun idea, but it doesn’t square with the tone of what’s come before. There’s a sweetness in the dough; it produces loaves with faces that either look stolidly out or, as the baking progresses, smile warmly. And it’s a lot of fun that the dough enjoys music. It also loses the most interesting intellectual element: the idea that there’s the possibility of marrying the power of technology – represented here by robot arms – with the art of simple living.

So, if I were being ruthless here I’d have to hold the disappointment of the end against this. A bit like Penumbra, this one feels as if the rules change a bit at the end. Each is a fabulous concept (and I mean “fabulous” both in root sense and as praise) but Sloan doesn’t entirely sustain it.

Another part of me, though, says I should get over it. Maybe someone else would be less taken by a library that’s deeply connected to a decades-old mystery. And maybe someone else would be less pleased by an intelligent sourdough starter. As it happens, I’ve worked in libraries, and I have a sourdough starter in the fridge that’s given me close to fifty loaves and has lasted 14 months.

If there’s a trivial quality to some of what Sloan does – I can’t for instance, entirely overlook the privileged nature of her protagonist who inherits this wonder without questioning her worthiness – it’s a trivial aesthetic I share. There’s a joy to the ideas here, an inventiveness that carries a bit of wonder into our everyday world.

I wish I liked the tone more, and I wish she’d shown more narrative control, but, if there’s anything to the old saying that the proof is in the pudding, I’ll admit that this is pretty good sourdough. When I concentrate only on the joyful conspiracy theory at the heart of this, it makes me happy. Taken for what this is, fun escapism, it’s just the recipe.

14 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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a half burned loaf

I'm ambivalent about this book,

It is well written and i was intrigued at the start but to me the last third of the book started falling and by the end it was flat and left a slightly bitter aftertaste I didn't enjoy.

Also being from the SF bay area I loved the authors authentic descriptions of the area but cringed at the narrators continuing mispronunciations of Cabrillo and Alameda to the point I was cringing. .

11 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A New Robin Sloan Book? Yes!!

Delighted to find a new Robin Sloan book out. 4 years seemed a long time to go without his particular brand of adventurous discovery into worlds I could never imagine on my own. The pace and timing of each new discovery keeps you going and eagerly imbibing the sumptuous fare his books provide. As the audio book was downloading I wondered how the brief story the cover artwork told would unfold into one of Sloan's rich and rewarding novels.I did not read the summary past the first paragraph, as I wanted the story to unfold on it's own, nor was I put off by the fact that I don't like sourdough bread in the least. I knew there was an engaging story to be had and I was not disappointed.

If you've listened to one his books before, you aren't reading any reviews to make up your mind, you're already downloading the book. If you haven't read or listened to one his books, then treat yourself, get comfy and enjoy the ride. When it's over and you want more, go get "Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore". You'll be hooked.

22 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

A pleasant romp

This book is another one with the focus on a collection of quirky characters, set in fantastic situations grounded in a plausible base. Like his preceding book Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore it is set in a recognizable San Francisco among tech companies, this time focussing on the startup scene rather than one of the megacompanies, but crossing this with the foodie obsession which is a real thing here to try to come up with a story that relies on both. There are many kinds of tech startups, but this one is in the robotics space so he brings in just enough information about the concerns that engineers working with sensors and manipulators have, enough to make it seem realistic. The food angle comes from two sources, the superfocused ethnic cuisine which pops up here and there in certain neighborhoods, and the farmers' markets featuring all kinds of artisanal edibles. The main character finds herself traveling from the first world among software engineers, managers, and entrepreneurs out of central casting towards the second world on account of a literal gut-level pain that she find needs to be addressed. In the foodie ecosystem, moreover, there are good elements acting in good faith to bring good ingredients and traditional techniques to bear on their edibles in a straightforward fashion, and there are more sketchy elements who obsess about one or another feature of their food and blow it up into their all. These latter types might be just harmless maniacs or they can grow out of proportion, so, it turns out, can sourdough starter.

I enjoyed the audiobook, although I feel as a native I do have to make one observation about the remarkable Thérèse Plummer's pronunciation of "Clement Street" which is not the same as the way San Franciscans say it. I was able to rationalize this away by concentrating on the fact that the first-person narrator is a transplant from Michigan and didn't grow up hearing it that way. Cabrillo Street I'm less sure of. One of the reasons I snatched up this Audible book is because of how much I liked her work on the audiobook of The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis.

3 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Over-proofed and Lacking Flavor

Is there anything you would change about this book?

I love to bake everything from cake to bread. I love to read. Given that baking and reading are my favorite hobbies, you'd think I'd love this book, right? Unfortunately, you'd be wrong. I wanted to love it, I really did—but I just couldn't get into it. It's not even a long book, yet I have struggled to finish the remaining hour.

What was most disappointing about Robin Sloan’s story?

The premise seemed fun and interesting, but it never seemed to go anywhere. It felt like the author was trying to stretch out something basic far beyond what it was. Really the story wasn't my issue, however. I think if I'd read this in hard copy form, I'd have finished it.

How could the performance have been better?

This—the performance—is where I the book lost me. The performance is incredibly overdone (insert teeth-baring, apologetic emoticon). The narrator reads everything as though it is far more dramatic and epic than it is, and I just couldn't take it as seriously as she was reading it. At times, I wanted to laugh out loud when it wasn't funny; she was being quite serious. It was just so...ridiculous. Take it down a notch. Or ten.

Any additional comments?

I've listened to more than 20 books on Audible and maybe written a review for one or two others. But I would rather not have wasted my credit on this one—I'm sorry! Eek.

3 people found this helpful

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Read the print version if you are from SF Bay Area

The story is generally OK although I kept waiting for something important to happen which never did. The performer mispronounces several SF Bay Area place names (CaBRILLo for CaBREEyo and AlaMAYda for AlaMEEda) which took me right out of the story every time.

27 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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Fractured Fairy Tale

Lois is a young techie who relocates to San Francisco to program robotic arms, eats Slurry (a nutritional gel) instead of food mainly to make friends with the other Slurry eaters, and attends meetings of the Lois club to further assuage her loneliness. When she orders takeout from a local eatery, her life changes -- she befriends the mysterious owners of the restaurant and learns their secret for baking the best sourdough bread anyone has ever tasted.

Although he denies it, Robin Sloan now has a formula -- in the popular and much loved Mr. Penumbra, a lonely young techie falls in with a mysterious secret society and confronts the conflict between old and new technology; in Sourdough, a lonely young techie falls in with a mysterious secret society and confronts the conflict between old and new technology. In Penumbra, it was books, in Sourdough, it's food.

But don't let that stop you from diving into Sourdough -- it's not quite as charming as its predecessor, mainly because we've seen the formula before, it no longer takes us by (pleasant) surprise, and the ending is off the charts crazy, almost ruining everything that came before. Nevertheless, it is an engaging fairy tale that explores the challenges of rapidly changing technology, and comes up with a nice metaphor for the battle between culture and commerce at the heart of the technology debate.

Be aware of two things, though -- one, as is well documented in other reviews, no one thought to check the accuracy of place name pronunciation, causing frustration especially among Bay Area natives when they get it so wrong so consistently and so often. Two, don't expect traditional plot or character development -- this is more of a modern fable, a fractured fairy tale, that leans heavily on its themes and metaphors rather than its characters (designed to be whimsical more than anything else) or its plot (which is basically non-existent).

Still, if you liked Mr. Penumbra and like magical realism, go for it, it's short and it's fun, and maybe even thought provoking.

2 people found this helpful

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Ugh! Too Outrageously Improbable

This one isn't my cup of tea. A woman who goes from high level robotic programming to making sourdough bread to using a robot in an experimental kitchen. . . none of it caught my fancy. It was just drudgery listening. . . although I LOVED Robin Sloan's "Mr. Penumbras 24-Hour Bookstore." Both are reality-turned-science fiction tomes, but this one was just too offbeat for me.

5 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Wonderful but...

I loved this book. I really loved it. I loved the performance too. Seriously. But the mispronunciation of Alameda, and island close to my heart, is unforgivable.

10 people found this helpful