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Slow River Paperback – August 20, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

Slow River won both the Nebula Award and the Lambda Literary Award for author Nicola Griffith. The book's near-future setting and devices place it firmly on the science fiction shelves, and the characters' matter-of-fact sexuality further label it as lesbian SF. But make no mistake, Slow River is no subgenre throwaway. Griffith's skill at weaving temporal threads through the plot bring protagonist Lore van de Oest to tragic life, and you will genuinely care about her in the end.

Born into a bioengineering family made wealthy by cleaning up after humanity, Lore leads a life of privilege and power. Riches don't bring happiness, though, and the van de Oest family hides its share of dark secrets. Lore is kidnapped, but escapes from her captors when she realizes her family isn't going to pay the ransom. Naked, alone, and wounded, she is saved by the brutally street-smart Spanner, who teaches Lore to survive by exploiting the Net (and human) weaknesses. To learn to trust, though, Lore must face her demons, one by one, until she can begin again.

Griffith's biotech-science details are accurate, and she fits them smoothly into the story in the manner of a cyberpunk master. This novel's real strength is its characters, though. The van de Oest family, Spanner, even characters who appear only briefly, are all distinct and consistent--not to mention very human. Lore herself seems so personal that Griffith's note about the story's disturbing aspects not being autobiographical was probably wise. Slow River is more than good enough to transcend genre and appeal to both queer SF readers and a more broad audience looking for an excellent character-driven SF story. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

Set in a dystopian future, Griffith's second novel involves a woman's search for identity.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reissue edition (August 20, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345395379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345395375
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #397,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Daniel H. Bigelow VINE VOICE on July 29, 2004
Format: Paperback
The action in this science fiction novel alternates between three different phases in the life of the protagonist, Lore van de Oest. One phase, told in the third person and present tense, consists of biographical sketches of Lore's privileged upbringing until a kidnapping gone wrong propels her, naked and injured, into a new life on the streets. The second, told in the third person and past tense, tells how she survives for three years on the mean streets with the help of an amoral hustler called Spanner, whom she joins in a life of crime. The third, in which Lore speaks in the first person, is about how Lore, now separated from Spanner, tries to go straight and build a life for herself as a shift worker in a high-tech water purification plant.

Author Nicola Griffith leavens each section with vivid futuristic detail, and she is an evocative writer with a sharp eye for character. As a writer, her choice to switch between first and third person, past and present tense -- her biggest gamble -- is also her greatest failure, as the transition can sometimes be jarring. Other than that, her prose flows as smoothly and deeply as the river of the title.

Two of the three parts of Slow River -- the ones about street life and privileged life in the near future -- are above average examples of basic science fiction themes, most worth reading for Griffith's prose. The third, about Lore's employment at the extremely well-imagined purification facility, is more original. The atmosphere of low-grade tension inherent in the possibility that some malfunction there will cause an ecological catastrophe gives an element of suspense to Griffith's novel that keeps the reader turning pages.

Or, at least, it did me.
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Cavan Terrill on January 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I was surprised at some of the poor reviews given this book and have an idea that these stem from those picking up books from a list of Nebula Award winners. This book is not at all your typical SF story, indeed it feels much more like a mainstream story with some SF aspects than it does an SF story. I'm an avid reader of both science fiction as well as mainstream fiction, so this holds a good deal of appeal for me.

Griffith's prose is wonderful and showcases a beauty of language seldom seen in science fiction. Her characterization is also near perfect. I won't spend time discussing the plot as that's been handled amply by the other reviewers, but I will echo one other person's thoughts: The storyline that has Lore working at a sewage plant is, surprisingly, every bit as engrossing as the ones that deal with her kidnapping and her high society upbringing. To me, that says a good deal about Griffith's talent as a writer.

As for the sex scenes, which some people describe as being nearly constant in the book, there are actually about four or five scenes taking up somewhere around ten pages of the book (not each, but in total). Additionally, they're not placed in the story without purpose.

Overall, an excellent book. Personally, I'm quite glad that it won a Nebula. It's certainly desereving.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 29, 1997
Format: Paperback
"Slow River" is one of those books that I read again and again, wearing my copy to a dog-eared mess, giving other copies to friends, keeping in an easily accessible place so I can re-read a favorite passage or look up a memorable phrase.
This book captivated me on so many levels that I'm hard put to say what I like best about it. Griffith's prose, like the "slow river" she describes in the opening chapter, is smooth and languid on the surface, but has hidden depths that slowly rise as the story continues. The structure of the story is excellent; the use of different tenses and points of view (Lore is always the viewpoint character, but sometimes first-person, sometimes third-person) is smooth and never confusing. Griffith's plot construction is first rate, allowing the characters to breathe and grow.
The story itself is equally tantilizing. The glimpses we get of Lore's family are few, but telling; one senses that she is used to living a life of precision masked by glamour. When she loses these things, she loses her identity.
Griffith's use of symbolism is frequent but never heavy-handed or overstated; it would be easy for the PIDA (a type of personal ID), for example, to become just another tired cliche. The symbols merely serve to underline important things about the characters, who come to the forefront, each an individual.
In fact, it's hard for me to cite anything bad about this book. I suppose I could think of something if I tried, but Griffith has that rare knack of enveloping the reader in her story so completely that every time I read it, I forget about analyzing it and just sit back and enjoy the book.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on February 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
In SF, unlike its sister genre fantasy, there has been a history of dealing with issues of homosexuality in an unflinching, honest fashion (instead of fantasy's fey princes and twisted perverts) and while those issues have not really grasped mainstream SF, it's always been there, blatantly stated in Samuel Delany writings and others, lurking in Disch, in Ballard, from the sixties and seventies onward, incorporating sexuality matter of factly, almost explicitly so. There have been subgenres, of course, as there are in any major genre, but for the most part it's not really shocking or scandalous to see homosexuality represented in SF. And so awarding the Nebula to this novel both gladdens and confuses me. Gladdens, because it is a fine, tightly constructed novel, exploring its characters with a depth normally reserved for such masters as Margaret Atwood (when it comes to charactization and studies, at least). Confuses, because there is nothing really explicitly "groundbreaking" about it. The plot, while entertaining and thought provoking, breaks no real new ground, either by busting down nonexistent barriers regarding homosexuality in SF or providing a mindwarping new way of looking at the artiface of Story. The story itself, on the surface, is simple. Lore, a children born into a ridiculously wealthy family is kidnapped and tormented. Eventually she escapes and instead of going back to her family tries to live out among society, where she meets master scammer Scanner, among other people. Eventually she tries to form her own identity, working as the lowest employee on the type of thing her own family patented.Read more ›
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