nicola griffith is one of the best writers out there and if you haven't read her books you should. let me start with saying that this is griffith's first novel. i also admire that she writes books about people who happen to be women who happen to love other women. both Ammonite and Slow River are top-notch sci-fi novels, from writing to story to characterization. women contract the virus too but, unlike men, have a chance to survive it. there is a little bit of gender dig in this, cuz of course if women can survive the virus they can also run things for the company. these distinct communities/nations are treated pretty much the way herds of bison would, which is of course horribly reminiscent of the various colonial "discoveries" effected by europeans in the rest of the world (if you haven't, read Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account, a sobering report by an enslaved african accompanying a spanish expedition into the "west indies" of the ways in which european discoverers felt that entire villages, cultures and people were theirs to name, pillage, and dispose of).
I delight in that sort of passage in fantasy novels, where I expect magic; I delighted in it in Griffith's Slow River, which is SF but in the more "realist" vein, practically Mundane SF. (Also it really sends the message: Jeep's a tough place!) The way that that character trait completely informs the way Marghe reacts to and advances the plot is just another sign of Griffith's immense skill as a storyteller. It's not a book for people who like tight plots where every question raised is answered by the finale -- the finale just raises more questions about the future of the characters and the world. Instead it's a book for people who like history, who like to explore the hidden ways the past shapes the present and who are drawn to those turning points where the smallest decisions by individuals have the power to dramatically alter the fates of whole societies.
Although my copy doesnt have the authors note (bummer) I see around the traps that she wrote this, or began to write this as an experiment, in that it only has women in the cast. As Ursula Le Guin said, But a lot of books, like Moby Dick, eliminate one gender, and yet nobody thinks anything about it. I choose to see as half-humour, half-homage, the plot whereby she kills off the men with a virus, as Joanna Russ had to do on Whileaway to study women on their own. Four or five times I forgot that we only have women on the planet: a bunch of sailors, a draggle of kids; I pictured males for a moment, and then went, oops.
By the author's careful setup, the anthropologist main character is forced to take large risks, leave civilization, and step into the unknown, in order to learn about the inhabitants of planet Jeep and uncover their secrets and the true nature of the virus that killed over half the population, and to which she carries a possible vaccine.
I did like some of the details about the subcultures -- the viajeras in particular -- and I think I would have enjoyed a story that was just about the world and its cultures without the "Company conspiracy" part of it.
An anthropologist (Marghe) seizes and unique opportunity to study a people on a planet that was colonised hundreds of years ago but which contained a virus that killed all of the men (and some of the women). Their colony survived due to the remaining women somehow gaining the ability to have children without men.
Griffith presents here the radical idea that a planet inhabited only by women would be... The story follows one Marghe Taishan, an anthropologist sent after that last expedition by the SEC, some sort of governmental organization which isn't the same as Company (see how annoying that is?) but might as well be. Once there she has some misadventures among the various tribes of the planet and there's some sort of looming thread regarding a spaceship Company has stationed there and then some other looming threat of a marauding group of nomads, but this is mostly just a story about Marghe finding a home (and, subtextually, of a woman becoming aware of the shared history of other woman-identified women and forging a place in such a community for herself).
Una din cele mai neobinuite lecturi ale ultimilor ani, cu o idee de societate veche, dar totui nou i interesant, i cu o execuie care mie mi s-a prut mult mai reuit decât în cazul câtigtoarei premiului Nebula, Slow River.
Im curious to read more of Nicola Griffiths novels.