In high school we learned a type of ink wash painting called sumi-e. The goal was to create a picture in as few brushstrokes as possible. Once a line of ink was laid down, that was it; we were not allowed to paint over that line twice.
This memory came to mind while reading Roz Morris’ brilliant new novel, Lifeform Three, the literary equivalent of sumi-e. In an unspecified future where mankind, surprise, surprise, has gone and bollixed it up, stands a nightmarish theme park. Once a stately home, it’s now maintained by machines and robots called ‘bods’,’made to serve’ and do the scut work.
Everything is geared towards the punters, ironically named Intrepid Guests, who bumble about, eating and generating rubbish, stitched to their Pebbles, defined by their monosyllablic clouds, bombarded by insidious singing and advertising. (Frighteningly, not all that futuristic.) But things are about to change when bod Paftoo meets Lifeform Three…
Morris takes familiar themes – as readers we all have our favourites and find ourselves continually drawn to them – and spins them into a highly original work. Tropes are shattered, melted down, and re-fashioned. Powerful messages and questions emerge without the reader being repeatedly coshed or made to feel guilty.
Will what makes us human survive mechanisation and supertechnoeficiency? What does make us human, anyway? And will life, like Kahlil Gibran’s children, always long for itself?
Honestly? I don’t know about life, but I’m jealous of the way Morris can, in so few words, illuminate a scene or a character, sometimes heartbreakingly so, as with an excluded character metaphorically wiped away in a brave new world where, sadly, the old hierarchies continue.
I have not read speculative fiction of this calibre since Ray Bradbury was in his prime. And though not as High Gothic, Morris’s work also reminds me of Mervyn Peake, himself a creator of unforgettable words and worlds.
As to whether this is a work of science fiction or fantasy: the artist Ben Shahn once noted, ‘If artists were asked to choose a label, most would choose none.’ Lifeform Three is one of those books that not only transcends, but possibly transforms, genre. Its appeal covers a broad spectrum. The young, drawn in by the Mangaesque main characters and the deceptively simple prose, would enjoy the novel as much as us elders, and everyone inbetween.
There is so much more I want to say about Lifeform Three. But that would only delay you purchasing it. Please experience Morris’s wonderful novel for yourself – you will be the richer for losing yourself in this haunting word-painting, of dreams, of longing, of life, of love.