I’m not a big fan of dystopian fiction, but I’m an admirer of author and blogger Roz Morris. When I received an Advance Review Copy of this book, I was willing to give it a chance. I’m glad I did.
“Lifeform Three” takes place in a future time at a theme park called The Lost Lands of Harkaway Hall. Picture a dystopian Disneyworld where “intrepid guests” ride around in pod cars taking pictures with their “pebbles” (smart phones) . The story is told through the eyes of Paftoo, a “redo bod” who works with a team of fellow bods to clean up animal dung, leaves and other debris from the park. The park is one of the few pristine tracts of land left in this future world, ravaged by environmental degradation that has laid waste to the seashore and other bucolic vistas.
The bods are programmed to perform menial tasks and they receive points for the amount of waste they can clear in a day. “Shovel the leaves; don’t think. Hum a tune. That’s the way to make it easier,” Morris writes, through the prism of Paftoo. “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. And by the Intrepid Guests, who drive where they shouldn’t, break the fences, spread litter and set fire to the barn.”
When the bods finish their daily work, they power off at night into a sleep mode, all except for Paftoo. In the opening scene, Paftoo is struck by lightning while trying to coax a huge horse into a lorry (truck) during a thunderstorm. At night, Paftoo dreams of riding horses and finding a lost door in the woods, but his memories are fragmented. While the other bods sleep, Paftoo roams the grounds and discovers a secret world. He tames one of the horses that roam the pasture at night in an effort to piece together his past.
He dares not disclose his nocturnal experiences with the other bods for fear of being “shared,” a process by which a bod’s mind is wiped clean of all past experiences. “A trouble shared is a trouble deleted,” is the oft-repeated phrase used to explain the benefits of sharing.
Morris raises questions about the issues of the day, from climate change to social media. The visitors to this theme park rarely exit their vehicles to enjoy the natural beauty; instead they snap pictures with their phones. The bods entertain the arriving visitors with dances and performances designed to sell products.
The author gives readers a glimpse of how the planet might look and feel in a future age when rampant consumerism ravages the environment and people don’t talk to each other and don’t care about their own memories or their planet’s storied past.