If lifeforms were horses, robots would ride... author Roz Morris interviewed by Katherine Roberts

Roz Morris

In Roz Morris' Lifeform Three, the robots have purple hair and maintain a futuristic theme park known as the Lost Lands, where various Lifeforms are kept for the enjoyment of their human visitors, who tour around the perfectly-groomed fields in driverless vehicles taking photos and playing on their 'Pebbles' (a type of smartphone).

I spoke to author Roz Morris about her thoughtful and entertaining SF novel which, with the rapid advancement of technology in recent years, feels as if it might be only just around the corner.

Katherine: I think this is the first book I've read where all the main characters are robots. Your bods are obviously programmed for certain tasks in the Lost Lands, and yet your hero (or possibly heroine?) Paftoo comes across as a very likeable and realistic character. Did you find his/her story easy to write?

Roz: He was a challenge, yes. I wanted him to be like an intelligent child - perceptive and curious, and aware that his world had baffling and absurd rules. I wanted him to develop a keen sense of his difference, how he is not like the other bods. That came from my own experience as a child. I couldn’t figure out how to fit in with the other kids. They seemed to find life so easy, while I was quiet and thoughtful and full of questions. Paftoo’s inner life came from that - a world that seems to want you to be the same as everyone else, when you’re not at all. And actually, who is the same as anybody else?

Katherine: Very true! In your book, the Lifeform Three of the title is horses...
 as a fellow horse lover, I'd have been tempted to make them Lifeform One! Why did you decide to make horses Three? Are the lifeforms in the Lost Lands numbered in order of importance, or some other system? 

Roz: They’re definitely Lifeform One for me! At one point, Paftoo’s mentor, Tickets, explains that the lifeforms were named in order of their importance to humanity. Dogs are One, cats are Two, horses are Three. You could argue it for ever - and that’s the point. Like all systems, much depends on the people who invented them. I wanted readers to question the order because that’s how rules work in real life - if you don’t think the same way as the rulemaker, they seem to be nonsense.

Katherine: Ah yes, I see now, and I guess the dog/cat argument could go on forever! If I remember rightly, bees are Lifeform Fifteen... which suggests they are fairly important to the park? The Lost Lands seem to be undergoing a makeover from a wildlife sanctuary for Lifeforms to a tourist attraction for Intrepid Guests - how important do you think it is to preserve existing lifeforms such as bees (and horses) for the future?

Roz: I wouldn’t want to do without bees or horses! And you’re right, that’s one of the warnings in the book. The Lost Lands changes its priorities all the time. If a new boss comes in, or a new financial plan, they might happily rip up the rules they’d lived by before. So we need to be careful we don’t get rid of something we’ll be very sorry we lost.

Katherine: We definitely need to look after our bees! Yesterday (May 20th) was World Bee Day, and I understand a third of the world's food supply depends on pollination by bees, so it's good to know bees survive in your Lost Lands :-)

Moving on to non-lifeforms, I'm fascinated by the names you use in the book, e.g. 'Pebbles' for phones... I immediately thought of older mobiles that are sometimes called 'bricks', so a 'pebble' sounds to me like a smaller lighter version. Was this intentional?

Roz: Oh, how interesting! I wasn’t thinking of bricks, but that’s a lovely connection. I wanted a name that sounded more appealing than ‘phones’, because I thought they would probably be a brand name that would become generically used - like Hoover. I thought the name should sound organic, because it underlined the idea that they were creating a virtual world with these phones, an artificial way of living. Pebble sounded like something you’d pick up on a beach because it was pretty and you liked it as a talisman.

Funnily enough, I wrote the book before phones became so ubiquitous and indispensable. At the time, they were just used for calls and texts. People weren’t surfing the internet much, and we didn’t have all the apps that now run our lives. Also, advertising wasn’t so visible or predatory as it is now - but I felt it might go that way. To create the technology, I did a lot of research into how people might use phones if they were more than phones - especially for tricky day-to-day situations, such as making conversation or deciding where to have lunch. I figured out that advertisers would fund it all because they would spy on what you liked and sell it to you. And now… this is really our world.


Katherine: Ha yes, we're already living in a version of your future! And we have computers that ask us to prove we're not robots... so maybe ours is even scarier? Your robots have numbers for their official names, using 'Paf' as a prefix (it took me a few pages to work that out!) What does 'Paf' stand for?

Roz: Paf stands for Park Asset Field Redo Bod, though a lot of that wouldn’t be pronounceable, so Park Asset Field. It reminds the reader in a subtle way that these are not people, they’re machines in the ownership of the Lost Lands. I had the idea in a motorway service station. I noticed that a hand drier had a label on it, saying Sanitary Customer Unit 4587. I stared at it for ages, wondering what strange cataloguing intelligence came up with that. It was just a hand drier, but it had an alien name and a number.

Katherine: Sanitary Customer Unit... whatever next?! In your Lost Lands, there is a glad called the Zone of Silence, where visitors' phones do not work but birds in the park go to roost. You comment in the book that this Zone is a place "away from the drench of information and snitch of surveillance", and yet Intrepid Guests often complain about it having no reception for their phones... I wonder how you view such 'silent zones' in our current world?

Roz: My whole life, away from my computer or my car, is a zone of silence. I have a phone, but it’s a very simple one that can only do calls and texts. No internet. Not because I don’t love the internet - I do. But when I go out I don’t want to be wired to it. Generally when I go out, I’m going for a run or to ride my horse, and I want to be completely with the trees and woods, and with the horse.

Katherine: Same! My mobile is 2G, and I do internet/email on my own terms sitting at a desk, either at home or in the office. Hmm, I wonder if this could be a horse-person trait? You have two strong horse characters in the book - Storm and Pea - and the riding scenes in particular are very realistic. Do either of them resemble horses you've known in real life?

Roz:
Pea was strongly based on my first horse - an enormous, opinionated black Irish hunter called Byron. I used to ride him in the woods around an old stately home in Surrey. I was aware that we were treading on the past - that under his hooves were old stories and old times. I wondered how we would treat these places in the future, and if we’d even ride horses any more, and have this wonderful sense of our feet in nature and ourselves as natural creatures. It is certainly a luxury to be able to do this, especially with the need to use our land wisely.

Also, I used to love pony stories when I was a kid. I loved the relationships with the ponies - usually hard won, but so rewarding. That still has a real magic for me - I’m sure it is for anyone who has an animal as part of their family. You build your unique communication and trust. Lifeform Three is partly an affectionate nod to the pony stories I read to bits when I was a kid; it’s also a grown-up love letter to horses and to the countryside that is my sanity and sanctuary. 


I kept Byron until he was 30. Eventually I couldn’t ride him because he developed a heart condition, but he still loved to go out so I took him running with me on a lead rope. Now I have a younger horse, Val - who, in character, is quite like Storm in Lifeform Three. Not a brave fellow, but very willing and trusting. He’s become a favourite with my newsletter readers because I write about our evolving partnership every month. I’m glad you enjoyed the horses - I’d always wanted to write a horse story, and wanted a special way to do it. 

Katherine: Byron and Val sound lovely! And it's interesting to speculate that robots might one day form similar bonds with horses (maybe when they have worked out how to prove they are not robots?). Thank you very much, Roz!


Find out more about Roz Morris and her books at https://rozmorris.org/

Connect with Roz on Twitter @Roz_Morris

Roz’s newsletter can be found at https://tinyurl.com/rozmorriswriter

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Katherine Roberts writes fantasy and historical fiction for young (and older) readers, often featuring horses or their magical cousins such as unicorns. Find out more at www.katherineroberts.co.uk



Comments

Thank you, Katherine, for those lovely questions! Wishing you glorious rides.
PS The spam catcher has just asked me to confirm I'm not a robot.
Ashen said…
Great interview.
I enjoyed Roz's 'Lifeform Three.' And, if I remember right, I even wrote a review of the book, which I only do when I 'grok' the ideas and love the writing.
You're welcome Roz, and thank you very much for the interview!

PS> I also just had to prove I am not a robot!!! :-)

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