While it seems most iOS 5 features will work just fine on the iPhone 3GS, the proof is in the pudding. Here's a video from AppleRumors.it (translated), an aptly named Italian Apple blog.
They do a side-by-side comparison between the iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4 and it gives a good sense of the speed differences between the two.
It seems 3GS owners (including myself) have nothing to fear from iOS5.
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Unless my 3GS is somehow slower than other 3GS's, iOS 5 does have an adverse effect on a 3GS's speed, at least at this early beta stage. I'd chalk this video up to being a poor demo.
Though I can't say I'm thrilled for the final release. If iOS 5 follows iOS 4's release pattern, 4.0 beta was incredible, and by 4.0 beta 3 or 4 sending a text was a daunting task, let alone boot up. Hopefully Apple focuses on legacy performance a little more, even though it's technically a goal of theirs to encourage upgrades.