Nicola Griffith, winner of the Tiptree Award and the Lambda Award for her widely acclaimed first novel Ammonite, now turns her attention closer to the present in Slow River, the dark and intensely involving story of a young woman's struggle for survival and independence on the gritty underside of a near-future Europe. 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 de Oest was the daughter of one of the world's most powerful families...and now she was nobody. Then out of the rain walked Spanner, an expert data pirate who took her in, cared for her wounds, and gave her the freedom to reinvent herself again and again. No one could find Lore if she didn't want to be found: not the police, not her family, and not the kidnappers who had left her in that alley to die. She had escaped...but
Set in a dystopian future, Griffith's second novel involves a woman's search for identity. (Aug.) -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 29, 2003
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Excerpt from Slow River by Nicola Griffith
At the heart of the city was a river. At four in the morning its cold, deep scent seeped through deserted streets and settled in the shadows between warehouses. I walked carefully, unwilling to disturb the quiet. The smell of the river thickened as I headed deeper into the warehouse district, the Old Town, where the street names changed: Dagger Lane, Silver Street, The Land of Green Ginger; the fifteenth century still echoing through the beginnings of the twenty-first.
Then there were no more buildings, no more alleys, only the river, sliding slow and wide under a bare sky. I stepped cautiously into the open, like a small mammal leaving the shelter of the trees for the exposed bank.
Rivers were the source of civilization, the scenes of all beginnings and endings in ancient times. Babies were carried to the banks to be washed, bodies were laid on biers and floated away. Births and deaths were usually communal affairs, but I was here alone.
I sat on the massive wharf timbers -- black with age and slick with algae -- and let my fingers trail in the water.
In the last two or three months I had come here often, usually after twilight, when the tourists no longer posed by ancient bale chains and the striped awnings of lunchtime bistros were furled for the night. At dusk the river was sleek and implacable, a black so deep it was almost purple. I watched it in silence. It had seen Romans, Vikings, and medieval kings. When I sat beside it, it didn't matter that I was alone. We sat companionably, the river and I, and watched the stars turn overhead.
I could see the stars because I had got into the habit of lifting the grating set discreetly in the pavement and cracking open the dark blue box that controlled the street lighting. It pleased me to turn off the deliberately old-fashioned wrought-iron lamps whose rich, orangy light pooled on the cobbles and turned six centuries of brutal history into a cozy fireside tale. So few people strolled this way at night that it was usually a couple of days, sometimes as many as ten, before the malfunction was reported, and another week or so before it was fixed. Then I left the lights on for some random length of time before killing them again. The High Street, the city workers had begun to whisper, was haunted.
And perhaps it was. Perhaps I was a ghost. There were those who thought I was dead, and my identity, when I had one, was constructed of that most modern of ectoplasms: electrons and photons that flitted silently across the data nets of the world.
The hand I had dipped in the river was drying. It itched. I rubbed the web between my thumb and forefinger, the scar there. Tomorrow, if all went well, if Ruth would help me one last time, a tadpole-sized implant would be placed under the scar. And I would become someone else. Again. Only this time I hoped it would be permanent. Next time I dipped my hand in the river it would be as someone legitimate, reborn three years after arriving naked and nameless in the city.