Lifeform Three – Roz Morris
Roz Morris lives in London with her husband in a house straight out of a booklover’s dream. Each wall is decorated with bookshelves, with each room serving as a different section of her personal library. Morris is a self-proclaimed ‘sucker’ for beautiful language and stories, so it seems fitting that her study serves as the fiction room of the house, with walls showcasing the most important novels in her life. Morris has worked as a journalist, ghost-writer, editor and writing coach. In the past she has published books on novel writing, including ‘Nail Your Novel’, which has been defined as a writing mentor and buddy in book form. After emerging from the shadows of ghost-writing, Morris published her first novel My Memories of a Future Life in 2011. Her second ‘nailed’ novel, Lifeform Three, was released in December 2013.
How would one define Lifeform Three? Scifi? Dystopia? Fantasy? Or perhaps, all of the above? In her second novel Morris introduces the reader to a future world, very different from the normalities and comforts of today. Paftoo is a ‘bod’, a creature made to serve the ‘intrepid guests’ of the last remaining countryside estate of which he is groundsman, the once grand Harkaway Hall. At first glance Paftoo seems much like the other bods around him, the renew bods, the dispose bods, and many other bods besides, all built with one purpose, to serve. Look closer, however, and there is something about Paftoo which makes him different, something which sets him out from the rest of the group. He seems unable to contend himself with the life of servitude offered to bods. When Paftoo begins dreaming, of times past, nightly rides through the woods and mysterious messages, he begins an incredible journey. Paftoo nightly antics aid him on the path of rediscovery of his memories, his passions, and most of all, his beloved lifeform three.
The world Morris has created within the pages of Lifeform Three is an interesting one. The book is set, almost exclusively within the grounds of a crumbling manor house, the little that remains of a once grand estate, which now serves as a tiny spec of greenery in a vast concrete jungle. The estate now serve as little more than a theme park for the inhabitants of the desolate plains which exist outside. These ‘guests’ are so much more unresponsive than those we live amongst today. They speed around in cars which drive themselves, forever glued to the screens of their ‘pebbles’. This world, which favours efficiency over tradition and production over nature, and in which animals are categorised according to the order in which they were domesticated, is the result of intensive industrialisation and capitalism:
‘The sea levels rose. Once people had liked to live on the coast or by a river, but now the waves came and licked their homes away. The government built flood walls and the population retreated inland. They needed new cities, factories, farms and power stations. Places to live. Bypasses to drive there more directly. Between the roofs and roads there was no room for countryside.’
I love a dystopia – and I would call this a dystopia – which plays on very real current fears. Like the New York City presented in Harry Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room, these kinds of worlds are all the more real, and terrifying, because there is a very real possibility such a world becoming a reality.
Now I would like to introduce you to our main character, Paftoo. Paftoo as you will already know is a bod, but he is different to the other bods though, and I think the first clue in this is in his name. The other bods are numbered, Pafonenine Pafseven, and so on, but he is Paftoo, not Paftwo. Does this suggest that he is different to the others? I like to think he is named this way because he is extra, not the second bod, but an additional bod. His differences extend beyond the variation in his name, while during the day he picks up the rubbish left behind by intrepid guests, cleans up after the animals which roam the Lost Lands, he also thinks, and feels unsatisfied with his life:
‘To Pafnine and the rest, there is no future beyond the tally of scores at the end of each day. And then another day, numbingly the same.’
The bods are made to serve, and at the end of the day, when the sun sets and the intrepid guests go to wherever the intrepid guests go, the bods shut down. I found the idea of this quite disturbing, the thought of the robots just stopping, not sleeping or recharging, just staying where they are, open to the elements, is really quite sad. It seems much more pleasant to think of the grandmother in Ray Bradbury’s film Electric Grandma, who, at the end of the day plugs herself in to charge, sits down in her rocking chair and closes her eyes. This seems so much more compassionate to me. The bods are made to seem human, they are all different, with different haircuts and facial features, and yet they are not even given a place to be put away. And of course this is even worse when seen through the eyes of Paftoo, who himself does not shut down, but continues to roam the lost lands by night. The bods, standing around him in the darkness, or lying crumpled on the floor, wet and covered in leaves, is a horrible and depressing sight to imagine.
Paftoo does, he eventually discovers, have another reason for living other than serving the intrepid guests. A desire he must keep hidden for fear of being forced into a ‘sharing’ with the other bods – a ritual which promises to ‘make things better’ by deleting memories and rendering the bod a blank canvas, ready to question the meaning of life once again. When Paftoo beings to dream at first he is confused, but slowly, as he begins to uncover his lost memories, he realises what is missing from his ‘life’ – his lifeform three, Storm. The bond between Paftoo and Storm is unbreakable, so much so that the idea of being without him, even when he has only just discovered his existence, is enough to send him to the sharing suite:
‘Soon it will all be gone. He won’t have to worry about anything but the team and the chores.’
This brings me nicely onto my next point. What is it that makes us human? It is said that a robot is born to serve, and this is very much the case with Paftoo and the rest of the bods. But Paftoo has a decidedly human quality to him, his existence does not seem limited to a life of servitude, and he himself understands this:
‘If Paftoo’s cloud showed his true interests there would be only one; to look after Storm.’
The other bods do not have this self-awareness; they are not ‘interested’ in anything other than cleaning and achieving quotas. I’m reminded slightly of the house in Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains. There is something deeply saddening about a robot made to serve, which knows nothing other than what it is programmed to do. The bods care nothing for the decaying mansions left behind, just as the house in There Will Come Soft Rains remains oblivious to the fact that the people he was made to care for have been turned into piles of ash. While Paftoo can see the world changing around him, he understands that might lose his memories and it terrifies him:
‘The sharing has ripped something out of him. It robbed him of the individuality that mattered. It took away his memories of storm. Instead it gave him the empty routine the others call a life.’
I could go on, I would love to go on, but I feel as though I have already said too much. If I have piqued your interest enough to read this far, you should really read the book. Needless to say I really enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it. I am a little obsessed with dystopian fiction, and for me Lifeform Three ticked all the boxes. I found Morris’ style incredibly captivating, and the story itself had me reading on at the end of every chapter.
I am incredibly grateful to Roz Morris for supplying me with a free review copy of her book, and thus introducing me to the captivating world of Lifeform Three.