This is one of those very rare science fiction books that I actually enjoyed (and yes, I love fantasy. If you think they are interchangeable, we need to talk). And there’s a lot of science here – futuristic eco-friendly wastewater treatment is a major part of the plot – but the real story is about character growth, coping with and recovering from trauma, and relationships.
Slow River has a fairly complicated structure, following its protagonist, Lore, through three different parts of her life in alternating threads. One storyline is about Lore’s privileged upbringing. Another follows her after surviving a kidnapping and near murder, as she hooks up with a scam artist who takes her in. And in the third story – none of this is a spoiler because in the book it all happens simultaneously – Lore has left the scam artist and is finally rebuilding her life, beginning with an entry-level job at a wastewater treatment plant. As it happens, Lore knows all about wastewater treatment, which is good because things at the plant are about to go wrong.
Alternating between all these threads may sound chaotic, but it works well: there’s enough we don’t know to keep each story involving, and the distinct emotional arcs harmonize with one another. While there’s some technobabble, the focus stays on the characters, who are interesting and believable, and Griffith’s version of the near future doesn’t feel too far off. It is a positive version of the future in some ways – same-sex marriages are accepted, and the fact that Lore is attracted to women is a non-issue for her and everyone else in the book. There are some dystopian elements, mostly in the behavior of corporations, but Griffith comes down on the side of realism in these portrayals rather than going the over-the-top EvilCorp™ route.
So I enjoyed this, and consider it a good book, though it wants to be literary fiction as well as sci-fi and I’m not convinced it quite achieves that; there is some depth to the characters, particularly Lore and her primary love interest, Spanner, but Griffith doesn’t take it to the next level. Also, Lore’s leaps of logic regarding the identity of the book’s “true villain” prove troubling. She never confronts this person, but concludes that s/he must be responsible for certain dastardly deeds because: 1) s/he, along with over a hundred other people, was a major contributor to a fake charity connected, through a chain of other people and corporations, to someone who may be a saboteur and 2) s/he is said to have been sexually abused as a child, and therefore must have control issues. QED.
Oh well, I’m unlikely to go out of my way to recommend this to people, but I liked it and do think it deserves more attention than it has received. Three and a half stars.