Michelle Phillips, One Giant Read, University of Plymouth department of literature, May 2016
As I sat reading through my interview with Roz Morris about Lifeform Three, I was struck by a sense that is truly rare – I just knew the book about which we spoke was going to be special.
Her enthusiasm to discuss the deeper origins of the book told me that this was a woman who was not just writing science fiction, but rather literary science fiction. You see, Lifeform Three is for me, a study of character and not just the actual characters. Landscapes, settings, ultimately the world of the novel is made a character and Morris’ intense study of these characters and their humanity, or lack thereof, made me instantly reflective – I became nostalgic and a little saddened by the world of the novel and yet also intensely motivated to celebrate… let me explain.
Lifeform Three is set in the grounds of the last surviving country estate, the Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall – an idyllic country estate preserved in a world where every available area of countryside has been monopolised by metropolises and people increasingly live in the world of cyberspace, disconnected from and unappreciative of their past.
Lost Lands has become a theme park, built for human enjoyment and therefore not holding the significance it does for the ‘bods’, the machine-like servile creatures who maintain the theme park and whose one job it is to make the experience of the ‘Intrepid Guests’ as enjoyable as possible.
Instantly, there is the sense that we are seeing a world in which humans are superior and ‘bods’ although, artificially intelligent are necessarily inferior in the hierarchy of the novel’s society. In fact, nothing could sum this up more clearly than when a human suggests in the first chapter of the novel “it’s only one of those bods” in reference to Paftoo the novel’s protagonist.
What quickly becomes clear is that Paftoo is certainly not just a machine, he has the ability to remember the old days and more importantly, he has the ability to dream… but there are forces at work for whom that is unacceptable and soon Paftoo finds himself in a battle for his memories and his very soul…
With a richness and depth mimetic of authors such as Margret Atwood, Morris has skilfully crafted a novel which uses science fiction themes such as artificial intelligence to start a deep and long lasting dialogue with the reader about what it means to be alive, thinking and feeling and ultimately what it means to be human.
In rendering this world of a past in the future, Morris alludes subtly to the obsession of today’s society with technology – perhaps even at the expense of our landscapes, our very world. I for one, was certainly reminded of days spent at National Trust properties, desperately trying to reconstruct a past which simultaneously feels so alive and yet so far away. I think that’s where the ultimate success of this novel lies – there is an eerie hauntedness which makes this novel so frighteningly plausible.
Lifeform Three is mesmerising, mystical and captivating, thoroughly engaging and utterly compelling, this is a thoroughly recommended read for anyone looking for writing which pushes boundaries, blurs lines and leaves you desperate to discuss it for weeks after reading.