As someone who is largely unfamiliar with sci-fi in book form, and despite assurances that Slow River was amateur-sci-fi-er friendly, I was a little worried when I first started reading this novel. By the end of the second page, I stopped being worried. This is the perfect book to ease you into sci-fi if you want to read some but are anxious that you won’t get along with it, due maybe to the sometimes overwhelming and unexplained terminology, or maybe to the genre content itself, who knows. By the time Nicola Griffith wrote Slow River, sci-fi was already (I think) a well-established genre, meaning that she has been able to write a sci-fi book that is fully convincing and settled in its own genre, whilst not alienating new readers.
Frances Lorien ‘Lore’ van de Oest has a foot-long slice down her back and is naked and covered with blood when she arrives in the city, after fleeing her kidnappers. She is from a famous and wealthy corporate family, who, we discover as we go along, have dark secrets and agendas of their own. Lore is helped by a mysterious stranger – a woman called Spanner – for whom she begins to work, and they enter into a sexual relationship. And it goes from there…
There are three narrative strands to this novel.
- Third person past tense: Lore at 18, as she first arrives in the city, her relationship with Spanner
- First person past tense: Lore in the present day, aged 21
- Third person present tense: confusingly, this strand is the furthest in the past – Lore as a child, her life as a van de Oest, growing up and learning how things work
This story combines sci-fi(duh), adventure, sex (the good kind), corporate espionage, fraud, romance (a little), childhood abuse, sexual exploitation, and coming-of-age story – I think…I may have missed some. And not in that order.
It’s got a hell of a lot going for it. If any of those sound interesting to you, have a look at this book.
Things I liked
I really enjoyed the character of Lore being told in these three separate strands of her life. As the SF Masterworks edition (pictured) suggests, it creates the feeling of each version of her being a different person altogether, which is not as hard to follow as it sounds, and feels true to life, in my opinion. When you look back over how you were, the person you were, even a couple of years ago, do they really feel like you, most of the time? That was the sense I got from it.
The development and intensity of her relationship with Spanner, the things they do together, Lore’s conflicting and confused feelings about it.
The straightforward fluidity of sexuality, which is not given a name, explicitly defined, or even dwelt on. That’s something I really like about sci-fi, the matter-of-factness. Of course, it comes back to bite you when the terminology is left unexplained. Which brings me onto…
The use of sci-fi terminology. Not too much, but still authentic, most of what is said is explained or how you see the characters use things explain what the things are (does that make sense?). By no means overwhelming.
Things I didn’t like
Uhh…Um… hmm. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for it? But I get that way with most books, especially ‘genre’ books. It could have gone on longer, I suppose.
Yeah, let’s say it was too short. Unless there’s a sequel I don’t know about, in which case it was fine.
Should I read this book?
I think so.
If you are reading this and you did the Uncanny Places and Cyberspaces module with me this term, imagine what The Female Man could have been like if it was vaguely readable or comprehensible. And this is still more fun and interesting (I think – if you loved The Female Man then…well done. That was a tough book).
If you are reading this and you didn’t do that module, read Slow River anyway. Whether you’re a seasoned sci-fi-er or a newbie like me, there’s something in it for you.
Also I’d like to thank Tom Whitchurch for introducing and lending it to me, and convincing me it was worth the read. Hopefully I’ve done the same for a couple of you.
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The Book Depository
You can buy the book here: http://www.bookdepository.com/Slow-River-Nicola-Griffith/9780575118256/?a_aid=SpidersLibrary
Because I am trying not to use Amazon in my own half-arsed protest-y way, I’d like to recommend to people that they check out The Book Depository, which is a great, user-friendly site with affordable books ranging from brand new releases to classics, and in many different editions at less-than brand new prices. As I am now officially an affiliate of The Book Depository, I gain a small commission if you use my affiliate link to buy books! Please do check it out, even if you don’t buy anything right now.