Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Slow River by Nicola Griffith

Slow River is British writer Nicola Griffith's second science fiction novel, first published in 1995. It won the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Lambda Literary Award in 1996. Her first novel, Ammonite explored the notions of gender and sexual identity and also won the Lambda Literary Award as well as the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. So we are talking about a sound writer with a poet’s sensibility for language who tells a good story. One of the roots of her writing has stated in interviews is the grief and rage over her sisters' deaths (one was killed during a police chase).

Nicola also uses her experience of being a lesbian to shape the themes and events in these two books. Click on to her site if you want to know more about her This is not an unusual theme in SF. As a genre it is very open to exploring sexuality in all its forms say as in the Culture novels of Ian M Banks or in several of Ursula K. Le Guin's novels.

We start the story with the daughter of one of the richest and most powerful families naked, hurt and running in fear in the deep of the night. Her family are rich from biotechnology- the use of bacteria in waste disposal, water purification etc. And we are in the near future of a surveillance society with DNA finger tip electronic money economy.

A stranger (another woman and no angel) offers help. The story then splits three ways. We go into the past to follow why Lore’s childhood and family history lead her to her abandonment in the streets. It moves into the future to follow the consequence of her getting a job in a bio water purification plant whilst the middle strand explores the consequences of accepting the stranger’s help.

Nicola Griffith's changes tense according to which story line is being follow so for the childhood she uses 3rd person so we are observers and when at the Plant she uses 1st person so we are directly involved in the action. The focus of the story also changes according to the level. So when exploring her family life it’s the consequences of any teenage whine that your mum and dad fuck you up. In the help from the stranger story line we explore the criminal world of this imagined future and a less then perfect relationship. And the last story line is action driven as it becomes clear that the plant is in serious danger from internal and external forces. And it’s not clear who is friend and who is foe. This last section has a lot of very realistic detail…as does the lesbian sex. In the final chapters each of the story lines merges and gives twists you don’t see coming.

So Slow River is a feminist, lesbian SF novel with cyberpunk/ biopunk leanings. And shame on you if you went yuck as you will miss a cracking good read. Highly Recommended.

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