March 20, 2013

Slow River

I read SLOW RIVER by Nicola Griffith because it was the selection for my panel at FOGcon. I'd never heard of the book until it was suggested, but it won several awards after its 1995 publication, including a Nebula. It's a strong work of science fiction that weaves together a variety of interesting and disturbing subplots.

At the beginning of SLOW RIVER, a young woman named Lore is acquiring the identity implant of a dead stranger in order to apply for a menial and difficult job at a wastewater treatment plant. Lore is immensely overqualified for this position, but she has to keep her true identity a secret so that she can remain in hiding. Through flashbacks, the reader learns about the series of horrific events that led to this point, and meanwhile Lore uses her expertise at the plant to uncover corruption and prevent a water contamination disaster.

This is one of the most exciting novels about water pollution that you will ever read (ZODIAC by Neal Stephenson is another top contender). I love stories in which the tension comes from science, either real or fictional. SLOW RIVER delivers that with a carefully explained, plausible system that uses bioengineered bacteria to remove contaminants from wastewater and send it back the drinking supply -- provided nobody ignores procedures or tries to cut costs. One of our panelists called this "the best fiction that I know of ever written about project management" (she also has some notes about what we discussed during the panel).

In addition to biotech, the science fiction in the book involves a lot of cybertech, with plotlines focusing on hacking and data theft. I enjoyed that the story had several completely different plots going on, some about various kinds of technology and some about Lore's relationships with her family members and romantic partners. For the most part, these fit together well, though I was disappointed by the way some of the subplots resolved.

Overall, I would recommend SLOW RIVER. The story does contain a number of types of sexual violence that could be disturbing for some readers, so it won't be a good choice for everybody. But if you can handle the content and you like the sort of science I've described, give it a try.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Hilary Smith addresses the myth that "writing is a job like any other": "It's okay to work in bursts and zigzags. It's okay to have a pace that doesn't conform to industrial time. It's okay, and maybe it's even important. Maybe it even has a value."


laurenhat said...

I'm sorry to hear that the resolution of some of the subplots disappointed you, partly because I was thinking of rereading this (I can only remember it at about the level you've described here), and I bet I'll probably be disappointed at those bits, too. But I also found it to be a good book overall. And the comment about project management (and metaphotunate's notes in general) is (are?) awesome.

Anonymous said...

It was awesome to be on the edges of that really good conversation.

Lisa Eckstein said...

Lauren: If you do decide to reread it, I'll be very interested to discuss it with you, including your thoughts about how the book ends. So maybe that will be enough of a motivation for you to reread (and set your expectations accordingly)?

Serene: We're so glad you stayed to listen!

laurenhat said...

(I keep forgetting to subscribe to comments during the times when I can't -- for various reasons -- sign in with my Google account. So sorry for all the slow/non-responses on my part.) Yes, that probably will motivate me to reread it sooner! Yay.

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