Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Review: Sourdough; by Robin Sloan


I've always loved people that bridge the gap.

There is an unspoken rivalry between people who use technology, and people who don't. The ones that don't, for whom I have the highest respect, stick to methods that have always served them well in the past. People who embrace technology, for whom I share the most empathy, tend towards finding new ways to do familiar things.

The age of the smart home is about to break, while at the same time, it's reported that more people are buying hardcopy books again, 

In my family, there is a microcosm of this divide. My mother's side of the family is largely geared away from using technology, to the point where I regularly have to show mom how to post a picture on Instagram, while my dad gets all his entertainment from Podcatcher apps and Netflix.

I've always loved people who bridge the gap, keeping one foot in the future, and the other in tradition.

At the top of this list, Robin Sloan. The author of two of my favorite recent books; Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore and the new release: Sourdough.

Both books bridge that gap. Penumbra is about a dedicated ebook-reader who takes a job in a Bookstore, and uses emerging Google Technology to solve a secret puzzle that's been woven into the manuscripts across several vintage hardcovers. It's the perfect book for anyone who loves quirky characters and books in every format.

The new release of Sourdough does the same thing, on the issue of food. This book follows a robotics Software Engineer named Lois. In a workplace full of cutting-edge techies that live off artificial Nutrient-Supplements, Lois finds an almost holy sense of nourishment in some well-made sourdough bread; and she inherits the starter for herself. She reinvents her personal life when she discovers a love for the simple act that hasn't really changed in the last five thousand years.

Contrasting this is the work that she does, programming the movements of robotic workers. As yet, nobody has managed to correctly program a robot to crack an egg without demolishing the egg, the kitchen, the counter-top, and several small villages.

Food is one of those things that gets reinvented with every culture, every decade. Too many kids in the western world cannot properly identify a vegetable; and why should they? They've never seen one grow. To them, produce comes, pre-chopped, out of the freezer aisle. In a time when kids can't identify vegetables, and adults are finding it trendy to buy organic, locally grown, pesticide free food.

Robin Sloan bridges the gap between 'soulless tech-heads' like me (I am not, Aunt Lynne!) and 'stone age Luddites' (You are so, Aunt Lynne!), by exploring the natural processes involved in baking bread by hand, describing how the actual process of yeast and dough-rising works, while at the same time taking a look at the most cutting edge advancements in the food industry; and where things might go over the next twenty years. Our literary hero of Lois Clary eventually finds a way to involve the two in a way that's never been done before, in literature, or real life.

All this is done in between quirky characters, relevant nuggets of information and history, and no small amount of humor.

I was inspired to move from baking regular bread to my own Sourdough; based in no small part by some of the things described in this book.

Highly Recommended, Sourdough, by Robin Sloan is now available in stores, and I look forward to whatever comes next.