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on 8 July 2017
Imagine the world in the not too distant future where all the land is gobbled up by housing, and the last remaining scrap of countryside is turned into a manicured theme park.
This park is tended by androids, known as 'bots', who clean up after the animals, (known as 'lifeforms') for the benefit of Intrepid Guests (visitors).

Paftoo is one such bot, but one who has memories, which have to be deleted to keep him compliant.
But no matter how many times he's reprogrammed, he just can't let go of the past. And the key to that past is his relationship with the particular lifeform three of the title, a horse called Pea.

As much a love letter to the countryside as it is a compelling story, this novel begs the reader to consider just what we as individuals will have to do to save our green and pleasant lands so that future generations can enjoy them.

Beautifully taut and well-crafted writing, with complex characterisation, Lifeform Three will appeal to readers who enjoy literary speculative fiction and thought-provoking environmental fiction.
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on 1 January 2014
For many die-hard science fiction readers like me, the one factor defining the genre is the question of what makes us human. The old masters of the art--Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, and Bradbury--regularly answered that question using robots, trans-humans, and even Martians. My favorite novels tend to fall into that category, and I've added new writers to my list, which now includes Gibson and Bacigalupi. This is my first experience with Ms. Morris' fiction (I am well-acquainted with her book and blog on writing). I'm glad to say that she has produced a wonderful, intimate fable using her non-human representatives, the bods, as a mirror to see what we may have sacrificed, what we have become, and to what dreams we still have a chance to attain as human beings. From the first lightning strike (reminiscent of "Johnny Five"), a very special bod, Paftoo, leads us on a journey of discovery as he pursues passions only a select few believe he should have. Along the way, he acquaints us with others who inhabit his world, a world almost entirely devoid of human beings who are little more than minds ushered around in special cars, isolated from the physical world. These are characters--bods and lifeforms--I really cared about. Her writing is lyrical and beautifully visual. It is the hallmark of effective writing. Whenever I read online site content, especially dealing with writing, I always wonder if the content provider really practices what he or she preaches. Can she pull it off? I'm glad to report that Roz Morris definitely knows what she's talking about. I will be recommending this book to others, including those who may not be fans of science fiction. I would be proud to use this novel as an introduction to the genre.
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on 17 December 2013
It's been a long, long time since I read a science fiction novel. Maybe thirty years. The closest I've come to doing so was the futuristic part of My Memories of a Future Life by the same author. I knew from MMOAFL that Roz Morris was a lyrical writer and I trusted her when I requested and received an advance review copy of Lifeform Three. My consternation in realising I had picked up a dystopian novel, and that the MC Paftoo was a synthetic lifeform, only stayed with me until the end of the first page, and then I realised the magic had begun.

Lifeform Three is a totally believable, some might say inevitable, scenario. Global warming, lands lost to rising sea levels, increased urbanisation and total reliance upon interactive technology. Synthetic bods manage theme parks based upon historical artefacts. When the sun goes down, the power goes off. Except something is different about Paftoo. To paraphrase the blonde who asked "Do dogs have brains?" the reader is soon thinking "Do synthetic lifeforms have souls?"

Then things start to get creepy. Paftoo has been here before, we've all been here before. Groundhog Day. But there's learning to be had, precious learning that can be tragically erased by a group "Sharing". After a few chapters you'll be begging the story not to put Paftoo through a Sharing.

Morris does a fantastic job attributing characters to these near identical androids. Although Paftoo is the one who breaks the rules, my favourite character is the enigmatic Tickets. Part ballerina, part nightclub bouncer, he holds the key to the story. He knows where that missing door on the cover of this book is.

Lifeform Three doesn't give us all the answers. It leaves plenty of room for the imagination. I really didn't want this book to end, it's that good. The emotional involvement reminded me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, but Lifeform Three is much more joyous and less tragic.

It wasn't until the end of the book that I realised there's no sex in it. None at all. If you're looking for rampant robot sex then you've come to the wrong place. If you're looking for a gripping read, at times tender, uplifting and hopeful, then Lifeform Three is the one.
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on 8 November 2014
A surreal, humorous and entrancing Sci-fi fable about memory and what it means to be human. The story is set in a theme park, Harkaway Hall, run by the Lost Lands management as a preserved enclave of old countryside in a world that has shrunk though rising sea levels. Enter the world of bods, robots designed to love serving. For efficiency, a ritual sharing has been devised during which the bod’s memories are regularly erased … a trouble shared is a trouble deleted.

The numerous P letters on the page (each bod’s name starts with Paf, followed by a number,) puts the reader into a stimulating trance that helps to access the confused mind-set of the protagonist, a bod whose name falls out of line as Paf-too rather than Paf-two. Aware he is unlike other bods – has dreams that stir memories, deviates from pointless instructions, has creative thoughts and acts out of turn upsetting the bod-order – he muses about his existence. The minimal present-tense writing style serves to keep the reader enthralled.

Human Intrepid Guests, the visitors of the theme park, are no less mindless than the average bod, only slightly different kinds of servants – consumers, goaded through electronic gadgets tied to games and a network anticipating their every need. They despoil this precious plot of green knowing that bods will clean up after them – re-do the grass, remove droppings from life forms, good old cows, sheep and horses (life form 3s,) or undo real rainbows that disturb the aesthetics of planned artificial ones. Each bod has a visible cloud above their heads, showing texts that boast of their achievements, and record their interests.

Paftoo is damaged, due to a kiss of lightning. His energy does not switch off after sunset, so he can move about at night, and also dreams, haunted by the passion of his past relationship with a horse. He makes connections. He sees the possible predicament of bods welded to machines, and is not keen on ever being used for operating the Rubbish Digester. In a scene highlighting the tragic comedy of events throughout, Paftoo records a disfigured bod’s flat acceptance while being dragged away by the dreaded black-clad Disposal bods.

An old part of Paftoo’s mind slowly recovers memories from five years back, before he was struck by lightning. A smooth operator, he hides his otherness, filling his visible mind-cloud with interests expected from bods. To have his memories erased becomes occasionally tempting. No troubling conflicts, no need to evaluate, no need to make decisions … freedom has its price.

Paftoo’s fellow bods go about their mechanical choreography, contained by simple instructions and dawn chorused promoting treats for Intrepid Guests. There is enthusiastic Pafnine, whose ardent interest is a strong team, Pafseven, a bit of a spoilsport, Paffoursix, who after a glimpse of memory panics and can’t get into the sharing suite quickly enough to erase his mind to blank. He could represent anyone afraid of the unknown.

There is a twist regarding the sharing ritual, which I’m not giving away, like the moon, which at some point in the story has a sideways smile.

I enjoyed the mystery character called Tickets, half gate, half girl, designed to resemble the elegant former daughter of the Harkaway estate, and employed to guard the entrance booth of the theme park. Strapped to the booth, she is a mess to look at, but has memories, and encourages Paftoo to regain his.

Paftoo’s sensitive and intimate negotiations with a horse (life form 3,) which he tames, are touching and delightful. Any horse lover will appreciate these scenes to the full. The relationship stands out as the very heart of the story.
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on 2 January 2014
Once you have got yourself into the mind of a robot - as Roz Morris has managed so effectively here - then hang on for the ride of your life. There will be no spoilers in this review so you can safely read all of it.

I found myself switching between two styles of reading, either consuming a few pages and then stopping to make the whole experience last longer or reading voraciously to gobble up as much of the tale as possible at one sitting.

My only criticism of this work concerns the end. It stopped and left me wanting more. Please Roz tell me more.

Basically. I loved it.
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on 30 April 2017
I read Lifeform Three in the space of a day and night. Paftoo's world is familiar, troubling, and bubbles with a faint menace. We barely encounter the humans who've created it, but as the bods' personalities and desires begin to depart from their programming, they seem far more real than their owners.

This is a compelling, fable-like novel that is reminiscent of Dick and Asimov, but also of Louis Sachar: it makes you wonder about your own loss of innocence. Highly recommended
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on 18 December 2013
This was an unusual book set in the future. The action took place in a country estate, The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, a hidden valley of the past which has been preserved as a tourist attraction. Indications are given that the world outside this estate is highly industrialized and nature has been eradicated. This is a world where the sea has encroached and there is no countryside.

The main character, Paftoo, is a bod. And initially I was uncertain whether bods were people, robots or clones, but whatever they were it was obvious they were conditioned, and unable to think for themselves. It was the bods who maintained the Lost Lands, and they performed tasks in accordance with their programming.

Bods do not eat or sleep, they just swich off. Paftoo, however, is becoming more aware and he dreams when he should be switched off. His dreams show him riding a horse and he becomes obsessed with finding it, but the horse of his dreams is gone and he has to find another one to take its place.

I was totally pulled in to Paftoo as a character and he felt completely real to me, even after I realized he was a robot like all the other bods. Paftoo is different though. He has feelings and emotions, and he no longer switches off at night like the other bods. He knows he is different so has to hide the changes he is going through, but he is unsettled and spends his time thinking about the horse, and wandering the estate.

I don't want to tell you any more about the book or I'll be giving away the complete plot. Suffice to say that I found this futuristic novel thought provoking, and interesting. This is a world where there are lifeforms and non-lifeforms. The lifeforms are the animals and the `intrepid guests' who never get out of their cars. And the non-lifeforms are the bods who are park assets, like the tractors and the equipment.

But for me, Paftoo was more real than any of the lifeforms.

This is a book well worth reading, and it will make you think.
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on 2 January 2014
Ms Morris's work has a distinctive style all her own, such that I think I could readily pick it out in any `blind tasting' comparison with other contemporary writers. If pressed to characterise her literary voice I'd say it was redolent of `fable' - though not the Tolkien, round-the-tribal-campfire sort, but of a distinctly modern form. There's also a subtle dream-like quality to this and her first book too, in that the `real world' is plainly still there and going about its business, but the story at hand is the all-consuming thing to the exclusion of matters mundane. So: a hybrid of strong storytelling, fable and dream - a `fabream' perhaps, or a `dreable'...

But all that's mere labelling. The story is the thing and this story engages from the start, never falters and carries the reader to their destination with startling strength and speed. Which (far from coincidentally I suspect) is also a parallel with the powers of the marvellously realised `Lifeform Three' creature described within these pages.

If Ms Morris can continue in such assured and idiosyncratic style with her next book then she'll have firmly established a literary voice all her own. Whatever subject she then chooses (and her two extant books vary greatly in subject) will come with the guarantee of that unique authorial voice. And will therefore merit buying even if she decides to write about accountants - which is high praise indeed.

In short: a wild ride. Highly recommended.
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on 5 February 2014
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.
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on 25 December 2013
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 3 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 3 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 3 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?
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