Robin Sloan. MCD, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-20310-8
San Francisco’s technology and food cultures collide and collude in Sloan’s latest novel, following Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Robotics programmer Lois Clary subsists on an unappetizing diet that includes frequent servings of Tetra Pak–wrapped nutritional gel until she discovers the delicious, restorative comfort food sold at Clement Street Soup and Sourdough, a makeshift take-out enterprise operated by two immigrant brothers. Visa issues force the brothers to leave the country, but before they go they give Lois a crock of sourdough starter along with a CD of the music of their people, the mysterious Mazg. Lois’s first attempt at baking bread produces an imperfect loaf with cracks in the crust that form the lines of a human face. Improving with practice, she earns a coveted place at Marrow Fair—an innovative farmer’s market offering Chernobyl honey, microbiotic lembas, and algorithmically optimized bagels—but there’s one condition. Marrow Fair’s manager wants “robot bread.” Lois must figure out how to program a robotic arm to perform kitchen tasks that require a delicate touch. Lois also faces another, more worrisome problem: the starter has become temperamental and demanding: underfed it looks depressed; overfed it spreads, grows tendrils, and forms faces with disturbing expressions. Through narrative and email correspondence, Sloan captures contemporary work environments, current reality, and future trends. It’s a busy novel, crammed with some excellent bits (how robotics work, how farmers markets work) and some bits that are just creative hyperactivity (like the biogeneration of lembas). The book offers much to savor, but like the starter it proves rich and buoyant at first, then overreaches. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/10/2017
Release date: 09/05/2017
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 978-1-4328-4175-1
Compact Disc - 978-1-4272-8927-8
Pre-Recorded Audio Player - 978-1-4272-9599-6
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