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.
Steampunk, Technological Time & Beyond Victoriana: Advocacy and the Archive | Journal of Victorian Culture Online
I have been curious about what “serious” scholars have to say about the Steampunk ouevre, and I ran across this article in the online Journal of Victorian Culture. The full article contains no small amount of history/social studies jargon so the vocabulary is not for the faint of heart.
“Steampunk studies is an outlier in Victorian scholarship. In fact, steampunk subculture can arguably be called “neo-Victorian” or even “non-Victorian” in the way that it defies strict adherence to a certain periodization or topic relevance. Steampunk is an aesthetic movement inspired by nineteenth-century science fiction and fantasy. Over the years, however, that umbrella phrase has expanded to include speculation outside of an established time-frame (such as post-apocalyptic or futuristic), outside of the established geography of the Western world, and even outside of history (as with alternate history and secondary fantasy worlds). How can we, then, describe the relationship between steampunk academic work and Victorian studies?”