She awoke in an alley to the splash of rain. She was naked, a foot-long gash in her back was still bleeding, and her identity implant was gone. Lore Van Oesterling had been the daughter of one of the world’s most powerful families…and now she was nobody, and she had to hide.
Then out of the rain walked Spanner, predator and thief, who took her in, cared for her wound, and taught her how to reinvent herself again and again. No one could find Lore now: not the police, not her family, and not the kidnappers who had left her in that alley to die. She had escaped…but the cost of her newfound freedom was crime and deception, and she paid it over and over again, until she had become someone she loathed.
Lore had a choice: She could stay in the shadows, stay with Spanner…and risk losing herself forever. Or she could leave Spanner and find herself again by becoming someone else: stealing the identity implant of a dead woman, taking over her life, and creating a new future.
But to start again, Lore required Spanner’s talents—Spanner, who needed her and hated her, and who always had a price. And even as Lore agreed to play Spanner’s game one final time, she found that there was still the price of being a Van Oesterling to be paid. Only by confronting her family, her past, and her own demons could Lore meld together who she had once been, who she had become, and the person she intended to be…
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