In Lifeform Three, author Roz Morris has created a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. The story is deceptively simple, as is the prose, all held in perfect balance to allow the characters to shine. And what characters!
Before I talk about Paftoo, and Pea, Tickets and Pafnine, however, I have to set the scene, just a little. Imagine our world some time in the future. It has become a world of back-to-back cities with podcars that drive themselves while their human occupants sleep. It is a world of rampant consumerism and jaded appetites. It is a world where animals, especially wild animals have become a tourist attraction.
In this world, animals are categorized according to the order in which they were domesticated – dogs are lifeform 1, cats are lifeform 2 and horses are lifeform 3. Was that a spoiler? Yes, but just a tiny one.
Now imagine a crumbling manor house set in acres of land, a tiny pocket of nature tucked away in a sea of concrete. This is Harkaway Hall, or what’s left of it. Dubbed the ‘Lost Lands’, the estate has become a tourist destination, and is maintained by a small army of bods, humanoid robots with shaggy purple hair and Manga eyes.
Enter Paftoo. Paftoo is a bod, but he is not quite like the other bods. During the day he collects the poop dropped by the animals that roam the Lost Lands, but at night, while the other bods switch off, Paftoo dreams. He dreams of lifeform 3’s galloping across the fields. He dreams of himself riding a lifeform 3.
That is the mystery underlying the story. How and why has this one bod become so different? And why would it dream of horses? Deeper still, though, is a darker theme about intelligence and self-awareness, aspirations and freedom. Paftoo is not human, yet he is not just a machine either, and in his journey we can see a reflection of ourselves. That is what makes this story so utterly wonderful.
For those interested in such things, Lifeform Three is technically science fiction, but as far as I’m concerned it’s science fiction literature.
Did some of you cringe? Did your eyes glaze over?
Please don’t be put off by the ‘L’ word. Lifeform Three is not arty farty. It doesn’t use obscure vocabulary just for the sake of it. It doesn’t bore you to tears with pages of flowery descriptions, and it does not go round in circles contemplating its own navel!
Lifeform Three is science fiction literature because it tells the perfect story. Nothing is missing. Nothing is superfluous. Everything fits, and flows as if it could not possibly be any different. Yet despite that, it’s not predictable.
As a writer who reads a hell of a lot, I often find myself re-writing sentences in my head as I read them, or mentally questioning some part of the plot or characterization. It goes with the territory. With Lifeform 3, however, there was not a single moment when I stopped to re-read a sentence or passage because it had jarred me out of the story. Didn’t happen, not even once. That is the sign of a truly good story.
So… Would I recommend Lifeform Three to you? You bet I would! Using my own, personal star rating system, Lifeform Three gets 11/10, and joins a select list of novels that I think will still be wowing readers in a hundred years’ time. That, by the way, is another thing it has in common with real literature – it lasts.