Steampunk Book Review: Morlock Night
In case you weren’t already aware, K. W. Jeter was the first person to put the word Steampunk into print. You can find out more about that story here.
Morlock Night was released in 1979 and asks the question “What happened after the events of The Time Machine?” H. G. Wells’ classic tale is told through the vehicle of a dinner party being held by a man known only as “the time traveler.” Jeter’s story picks up right as the party has broken up for the night and the guests are wending their dreary ways home through the London fog.
One of the guests, a Mr. Edwin Hocker, shares his walk and his skepticism with another guest, the mysterious Dr. Ambrose. Hocker is appalled by the turn their conversation takes and finally extricates himself from Ambrose’s company only to be thrown into a nightmare version of his beloved London far in the future. In this world he is confronted by a scenario where the Morlocks, our subterranean future selves, have taken control of the time machine and have invaded the year 1892.
Thankfully this future can still be prevented, and with the guidance of Ambrose, who by the way is the wizard Merlin, Hocker and his compatriot from the future, Tafe, are sent on a series of quests. First, the reincarnation of King Arthur needs to be found and freed from Merlin’s nemesis, Merdenne. But the aging king is in failing health, a condition that can only be stopped by the magical sword Excalibur, the power of which has been diminished through the machinations of Merdenne and his use of the Time Machine.
But even more dire than the ensuing Morlock invasion is the rift in time itself, which is slowly undoing the universe. If Hocker cannot succeed all is lost for not just the human race, but the entirety of existence.
I always enjoy a story with imagination, and Morlock Night certainly fits the bill. Jeter constructs a story that includes Arthurian folklore, Atlantian technology and the time travel paradox that is seen through the eyes of a Victorian gentleman. There was a lot of flag waving for England, but many of Hocker’s biases about class and gender are confronted and changed, which adds the weight of social commentary to a fun story. The combination of disparate elements such as the Morlocks and a submarine stolen from the former residents of Atlantis reminds me of epic tales like Verne’s Mysterious Island, so as long as you go in expecting to suspend your disbelief Morlock Night has a lot to offer.
But, a bit of criticism about the ending. I had already guessed the twist so I was gearing up for an epic climax and was disappointed. The final good vs. evil happens in only a few pages. It felt like Jeter was under deadline or something and just had to wrap it up quick. I am reading his other two steampunk books, Infernal Devices and Fiendish Schemes, and I hope they get to come fully to fruition.
For a complete list of K.W. Jeter’s works, click here.
I’m so glad you like Jeter too! Morlock Night first got me interested in steampunk (although Infernal Devices made me fall in love with the genre: I’ve never laughed so hard as when I first read that! I know Jeter has his critics (many don’t like him mixing in the myth / folklore aspects like merlin and selkies I think…it’s all a bit, as you say, ‘suspending disbelief’ ) and I think you’re right that Jeter wrote both this and Infernal devices on editorial order so he may well have been pressed (although actually the deal fell through I believe and he had to find a different publisher? Or maybe that is urban myth…) Sorry, I don’t mean to take up all your comment space with my rambling, just a very big Jeter fan (and Mark Hodder – a very close second!) The point I make to those who disparage him is that he made the first in-wave, he was the pioneer and that’s a lonely and uncertain place to be: I have to respect what he was trying to do, even if I can see the glaring faults with the finished article.
Thanks for another great post, honey 🙂 🙂
January 23, 2014 at 1:59 am
I have been trying to get a hold of Infernal Devices for weeks through the library but so far no luck I have Fiendish Schemes, and it says it is a “stand alone” sequel so I am hoping I can read them out of order and not miss out on much.
January 23, 2014 at 8:40 am
Great review. Looking forward to your thoughts on Fiendish Schemes and Infernal Devices.
And Biahelvetti is so right about Mark Hodder. Loved his first book, Spring Heeled Jack.
January 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm
I read it and reviewed it about a month ago 🙂 I LOVED it!
January 24, 2014 at 8:23 am
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