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Morlock night by K. W. Jeter

Morlock night (1979)

by K. W. Jeter

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Wells sequel and porto-steampunk novel either is an embarrassment of riches or an over-egged over-reach. It's fun, but probably not a masterpiece.

Full review here: https://bibliomaneblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/07/morlock-night-by-k-w-jeter-a-review/ ( )
  Bill_Bibliomane | Oct 7, 2015 |
Originally posted at FanLit.

K.W. Jeter??s Morlock Night (1979) is often cited as the first novel to be categorized at ƒ??steampunk.ƒ? In a 1987 letter to Locus magazine, Jeter coined the term in an effort to describe the types of stories that he and his friends Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock were writing:

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of that era; like ƒ??steam-punksƒ??, perhaps.

As Tim Powers explains in his introduction to Morlock Night, Jeter wrote this book in 1976 for a British publisher who requested ten novels about King Arthur being reincarnated to come to Englandƒ??s rescue at different points in that countryƒ??s history. Powers, Blaylock and Jeter agreed to write the novels. When they divvied up the history, Jeter ended up with the Victorian era.

For Morlock Night, he decided to write a steampunk ƒ??sequelƒ? to H.G. Wellƒ??s The Time Machine. The premise is that the Morlocks, those brutish troglodytes who are our far-future descendants in Wellsƒ?? story, used the time machine to travel back to Victorian London where they plan to take over the city. Their use of the machine has created a channel in time that could make time collapse. Thus, itƒ??s not just England thatƒ??s in danger, but the entire universe.

King Arthur, who keeps being reborn but never realizes who he is until heƒ??s needed, must come to the rescue. To do this, heƒ??ll need Excalibur which, unfortunately, has also been traveling through time and has been divided into three parts. The narrator of Morlock Night, along with an adventurous woman wearing menƒ??s clothing, must find the Excaliburs so that Arthur can get his power back. This requires various excursions into the seedy parts of London and its sewers.

I think itƒ??s important to remember the purpose of Morlock Night (a steampunk story about King Arthur) when judging the novel. As a madcap Victorian adventure fantasy, it works well enough, and is similar in many ways to Jeterƒ??s Infernal Devices. The plot is quick, a bit silly, and doesnƒ??t hold up well to excessive scrutiny (e.g., Why is Arthur the only one who can beat the Morlocks? Doesnƒ??t England have an army for this?). Characterization is thin (e.g., What is the woman in menƒ??s clothing doing there? She doesnƒ??t contribute much and itƒ??s easy to forget sheƒ??s tagging along, though our narrator mentions that she makes a good companion. Is she a counterpart to Weena, the Time Travelerƒ??s female companion in The Time Machine?) Nevertheless, the setting feels genuine and the humor feels appropriately Victorian (e.g., I thought the toshing in the London sewers was hilarious).

So as a steampunk adventure, which is what it is, Morlock Night is successful. But as a ƒ??sequelƒ? to The Time Machine, as some (including Wikipedia) have called it, it doesnƒ??t work very well. The story contains many elements of, and allusions to, The Time Machine, but itƒ??s not meant as pastiche. The focus is definitely on wacky exploits in a foggy gas-lit London and not as a continuation of Wellsƒ?? thought-provoking warning about a possible future of human society. If youƒ??re expecting a sequel to The Time Machine, youƒ??ll be disappointed. If youƒ??re expecting to read the first steampunk novel, youƒ??ll probably be satisfied.

Thanks to Angry Robot for publishing this classic and to Brilliance Audio for putting it in audio format. Michael Page does a great job with the narration. I donƒ??t like his voice for the woman (but she doesnƒ??t speak much), but I thought he sounded just like a 19th century Englishman. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
I'm not sure how to rate this, because this book was hilariously hack. It was a quick, fun read in a high camp sense. I wonder if anyone has ever done a graphic novel version of this (the fact that I'm not even interested enough to look this up probably says something), because it seems like the kind of thing that would work even better with visuals, the Edwardian guy gaping at the Morlocks swarming all over London with an "OMFG!" look.

So yeah, it's a sequel to The Time Machine in which the Morlocks come back to London, and then ... you know, have to be stopped from their nefarious plans. There is also a submarine (which was confusing because where is it going to go?). It's a book where all the action just happens ... there isn't a lot of why involved, and what is there is delivered in goofy expositions.

But still, it was fun and moderately interesting to see some landmarks of science fiction come together -- clearly The Time Machine continues to be influential, and this book came about in the early days of steampunk so it does feel like it connects some dots if one is into that.

I also liked this quote, from the protagonist, who is one of the guys who was at the dinner in the Wells book where the inventor tells his story, and is then walking home in this book where he gets suddenly caught up in the Morlock invasion. Because who expects that, right? Anyway:

"The problem with secret knowledge, I mused bitterly, is that no one ever wants to tell you any of it." So I think it's clear that Jeter is in on the winkingness of it all. ( )
  delphica | Jan 31, 2014 |
On the cover this is portrayed as the first Steampunk novel. That is poppycock.
What it is is an odd little semi-sequel to The Time Machine. Which starts out in the Wells area before suddenly taking a left turn into Arthurian mysticism as Merlin attempts to gather a group to defeat the Morlocks.
Towards the end it takes another abrupt shift, almost as if the author has become bored of the book and decided to wrap it up quickly. Leading to a terrible final chapter of the hero reporting on how he won.
I was hoping for a lot more from this and am really quite disappointed. Go read Stephen Baxter's Time Ships instead. ( )
  munchkinstein | Apr 13, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
K. W. Jeterprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kirby, JoshCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, TimIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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'... and another - a quiet, shy man with a beard - whom I didn't know, and who, as far as my observation went, never opened his mouth all the evening'

      H. G. Wells, The Time Machine
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'An astonishing narrative, don't you think ?'
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Book description
Remember the original Time Machine and the Time Traveller's astonishing account of his journey to the far future when humanity had divided into two races - the worker-bestial Morlocks and the elfin-sheep Eloi? Remember also that the Time Traveller went back to that future and never returned?

What happened to his Time Machine? Did it fall into the hands of the Morlocks and did they make use of it to return to the time and place of its origin - the England of Wellsian days?

This is the completion of that epic story. this is what happened when the Time machine came back - with the Morlocks and its riders and London as their new hunting ground for human cattle!

MORLOCK NIGHT is a memorably different excursion in science fiction - a gripping "classic" adventure in past, present and future - with some startling surprises!
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A wild sequel to Wells' The time machine, with a brand new introduction by Tim Powers and scholarly afterword by Adam Roberts. -- Cover.

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