A Real-Time Review by Marni Scofidio
LIFEFORM THREE by Roz Morris
Kindle Edition, January 2014
As and when I real-time review this novel, my thoughts will appear in the reply-stream below, or by clicking on the title of this post.
‘Tired of streets? Ask your podcar to find The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall.
Discover an estate that kept its secrets for more than a century – a perfect valley of trees, streams, lakes and meadows. Teach your children about the old countryside. Make friends with lifeforms as they roam and play – cows, sheep and horses, just as they were in olden times. Cruise in your own personal tour car with fully interactive facilities. Try a footpath. Chill out in our five-star cafés. Browse our galleries for the ideal gift – there’s something for everyone!
The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall – a hidden valley of the past, preserved for ever, for you to explore.’
from LIFEFORM THREE, Chapter 2
Chapters 1 through 4 (Locations 1 – 319)
Like a foyer-less house, LIFEFORM THREE brings you straight into the lounge that is the wonderful story. Paftoo, groundsman, guide and redcoat all rolled into one, is a working bod at the Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall, once a stately home and estate, now a theme park that caters to its guests’ every need. As Paftoo tries to stable a bolshie horse, he’s hit by lightning and whites out. A self-driving podcar carrying Intrepid Guests, as the theme park’s visitors are called, stops. Of the party, only the five-year-old child is concerned for Paftoo. But his father reassures him whilst photographing a still-smoking Paftoo for his cloud: ‘It’s only one of those bods.’
Set in the nearby future in an England I sometimes think I can already see, like the outline of the lost city under the waves at Dunwich, the book does an extraordinary thing. Several extraordinary things. It sets out its stall without you noticing the set-up. No proselytising or making the reader feel the world’s issues are somehow their fault. It paints a fantastic, artificial, futuristic world that feels like one we already know. Finally, it tells a cracking story in words and sentences as beautiful and precise as a well-crafted watch or bracelet. LIFEFORM THREE is the Tiffany of science-fiction.
Not looking, or living, but viewing through a screen of whatever device is capturing the thing you won’t experience, not really, not until you post it on Facebook to get likes from your followers. Celeb culture. Sideshow tv in the form of 60 minute hates. Compassion fatigue. Big Brother and all the cyber-stops we make on the web every day silently collecting our private details.
I’m probably so far behind all that can go bosoms-up in modern times, but it’s all apparent between the lines of what’s left of Harkaway Hall. When not poovering up lifeform waste and whatever other detritus Intrepid Guests leave behind, Paftoo and the other bods perform in the style of favourite entertainers as gleaned from punters’ clouds. Privacy is gone, but no one seems to care. Which is the real horror?
Then, a shift: Paftoo thinks for himself in an emergency. A hay bale smoulders, threatening to burn down a barn. Paftoo puts the bale out by dumping it into a water tank, much to the annoyance of his fellow bods who, except for one called Pafnine, give him the silent treatment.
‘Paftoo wrests his mind back to the spade in his hands. Shovel the leaves; don’t think. Hum a tune. That’s the way to make it easier. A bod’s life is redoing. Because all the time, the Lost Lands are being undone. By the lifeforms, the rain, the wind, the seasons that strip the trees in autumn and make them grow like nonsense in the spring.’
As much as human civilisation thrusts forward, it sometimes feels like we are going backwards. Hard-won rights and considerations are in constant threat of erosion. The function of bods sails too close to slavery for comfort, though the faceless management at The Lost Lands would have you believe otherwise. There is something infinitely sad about a hard-working being left to ‘run down’ rather than allowed a spot or shelter of his or her own.
Like the best poetry and fables, this tale, a sharp wire beaded with exquisite words and phrases, both exhilarates and saddens. I must follow Paftoo to see where he leads me. Would the bods sing and pose to a chorus of ‘Are we not men / We are Devo’? I could imagine it, if any Intrepid Guests still have ‘Jocko Homo’ on their clouds.
1 This refers to the village in Suffolk, England, not H.P. Lovecraft’s imagined New England town
‘Jocko Homo’ lyrics © Mark Allen Mothersbaugh