Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: Slow River

Nicola Griffith
Awards: Nebula
Rating: ★ ★ – – –

I was generally impatient with this book.

It is set not too far in the future, when all of our sewage is processed and recycled by bioengineered microorganisms. The main character, Lore Van de Oest, is one of the heirs to a wealthy family that made money by creating and patenting many of these microorganisms.

At the beginning of the story, Lore gets kidnapped and the kidnappers demand ransom, but her emotionally-removed, dysfunctional family refuses to pay and basically writes her off as dead. Lore manages to escape from her kidnappers but ends up badly hurt in the process, lying an alley in the bad part of town. She is rescued and nursed back to health by a small-time cyber-crook named Spanner with whom she inevitably becomes romantically involved.

While recovering at Spanner’s apartment, Lore decides that this is her chance to escape from her family and all the baggage tied to her famous name. Spanner helps Lore get a new identity and for a while the two of them live a grimy life of cyber-crime.

Eventually Lore decides to investigate why she was kidnapped and why her family refused to pay her ransom. In order to figure it out she has to go undercover in one of the sewage treatment plants that uses her family’s microorganisms. This was the best part of the book. The water treatment plant uses a multi-stage ecological system to break down the sewage naturally, from pools of toxin-eating algae at the beginning down to fish farms at the end of the line. The technology behind it was really neat and not all that far off from what we could do today.

Unfortunately, I just didn't get into the rest of the book. Spanner is a pretty harsh and unappealing person who is willing to do just about anything for money including sell out her lover. And I didn’t really feel all that sorry for Lore as the poor little rich girl who is so beleaguered by her wealth and fame (even if she does uncover an awful history of abuse in her family).

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