This is a hard book to review whilst avoiding spoilers entirely, so if even mild spoilers bother you then all I will say is that I strongly recommend this book and you should stop reading this review now.
Lifeform Three is a curious title for a book – maybe even a little offputting – so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect. But as it turns out the title itself is an ingenious clue to the focus of the story’s plot. As with the author’s previous work the genre here is hard to pin down. For the first chapter or two it seemed like classic science fiction of the sort written in the mid 20th century, perhaps a little reminiscent of some of the brilliant, high-concept short stories that used to appear in Interzone. However, as the story unfolds it becomes increasingly clear that there’s a lot more to it. The lead character is a robot, but this unusual choice is not made arbitrarily or merely to fit the setting, but is pivotal to the plot. Likewise, almost all the little details of The Lost Lands – the book’s setting – turn out to be relevant to later twists and turns of the plot.
By the midpoint of the book I found myself reminded of novels like Brave New World and some of George Orwell’s writing – Morris imagines a future which implies more than a little criticism of the world we live in now. However, concerns that the book would turn into a heavy-handed preaching of values proved entirely unfounded. The setting forms the background to a pacy and well-told story which, by the end, left me with a great fondness for the central character despite his robotic nature.
I found Lifeform Three an interesting contrast to the author’s debut fictional work (at least under her own name) My Memories of a Future Life. Where the latter left the reader feeling unsettled and off balance at the end, Lifeform Three has a far more definite ending. To me, despite the dystopia it paints, the story seemed to end on a very positive note. Maybe there’s hope for the future after all?