Reading Lifeformed: Hearts And Minds I hit the ground not so much running as trying to find my feet, given this is the second instalment in a series of which I have neither heard nor seen the first, and which provides nothing for the reader in the way of what’s gone before. It’s another of that myriad of titles out there that presumes you’ve bought a ticket for the whole journey, but of course that isn’t always the case, by choice or circumstance, whether buyer or reviewer, because sometimes what’s on the rack or in the post is a random lot. So, FYI, this is a sequel to Lifeformed: Cleo Makes Contact, but there’s little to help you with that fact. Honestly, what happened to the good old days of a quick recap or a helpful editor’s asterisk or two?
Thankfully, this isn’t an overly complex affair, a Young Adults age-range offering from writer Matt Mair Lowery and artist Cassie Anderson that serves as a kind of alien invasion/apocalypse 101. Its basic premise is that a race of shape-shifting golem-like aliens have been conquering worlds for thousands of years and have finally gotten round to Earth, orphaning the young heroine, Cleo, in the process. Except Cleo isn’t exactly orphaned in that she has as her companion and protector a rebel alien who has taken the form of her dead dad. It isn’t quite clear how much of a link there is twixt it and him, but the alien is having an increasing number of flashbacks to Cleo’s childhood he shouldn’t have. In the meantime, it and she have formed a mini revolutionary army and become quite deft hands with Claymores and rocket launchers. Their exploits are handled by Lowery and Anderson in a way that stretches neither the boundaries of scripting nor definition of sequential art, but is passable enough.
All of which sounds terribly unfair, but I don’t mean it to be. Lifeformed: Hearts And Minds is nothing to shout about, but at the same time it’s not bad stuff. There are moments of imagery in the invaded world reminiscent of the atmospheric and under-rated movie ‘Monsters’, and snatches of nastiness from the aliens that genuinely jolt. What jolts most of all, though, is that this book lists in its credits a ‘Sensitivity Reviewer’. Really? I think this is the first time I have come across one of those and, truly, I hope not to again. No work of fiction should seek to ‘offend’, of course, but neither should it play safe in the fear of that. Fiction should challenge. It should stray beyond one’s safe zone. It’s what makes imaginations; forges people like you and me. No idea what, if anything, was edited away on the grounds of ‘sensitivity’ but, perhaps, therein lies this book’s ultimate flaw: that for all kinds of reasons it isn’t challenging enough. Mike Wild