In 1892 a book was published by H. G. Welles entitled The Time Machine. It became the inspiration for many other books, films, tv shows, comics and radio programs dealing with time travel, whether, directly and indirectly. It has been redone in movies, comics, and tv many times itself. In 1979 a book called Morlock Nights was published. Some give it recognition as the first steampunk novel, an offshoot of the word “Cyberpunk” as, 8 years later, in a letter to Locus Magazine, K. W. Jeter, the author, dubbed the book “Steampunk” and thus coined the term. Steampunk is a genre which I know next to nothing about. All I know is that is popular among the Cosplay crowd, and it usually involves men and women adventuring in Victorian era London or the American Frontier with gadgets a little ahead of their time.
Morlock Nights is written as a direct sequel to H. G. Welles classic. Being both a fan and a completist, I took this as an opportunity to reread The Time Machine before going on to read Morlock Nights. For anyone unfamiliar with Welles story, it is told from the point of view of a dinner guest as he listens to his unnamed hosts tales of an adventure into the future.
The time traveller tells of inventing a time machine, using it to travel to the future where he discovers that humanity has diverged into 2 species. One a fun-loving, kind, yet lazy and naive species that likely evolved from the rich, called the Eloi. The other, a subterranean dwelling, vicious species that likely developed from the working class, called the Morlocks.
After loosing his Time Machine to the Morlocks, the Time Traveller must use his wit and cunning to regain it and return to his own time. Beyond being a Victorian era tale by a writer I enjoy, I am drawn to this book for its simplicity in examining time travel. It doesn’t over-analyze the effects of time travel like books such as The Backwards Time Machine (which I briefly mentioned here) yet still tells a story which I believe to be plausible, unlike stories such as Back To The Future, which I very much enjoy, but don’t believe the science of for a second.
Welles’ protagonist describes time as being a forth dimension. An object can’t exist with hight and depth and width if it doesn’t have duration. The Time Traveler also explains that man can mostly only travel front and back and side to side. He needs assistance to travel and great distance up and down. And though we feel like traveling through time may be impossible, we simply need a tool to assist us. This may not be the first time that the concept of traveling time is explored in fiction, but it is the first time of any significance. And for me, this is the perfect explanation. I don’t need the author to tell me about quantum physics, and light speed, and mathematical equations to get his point across, he just needs to give me the basics and stick to them.
The rest of the story is pretty straight forward, there aren’t any massive plot twists, or radical shifts. We have an established goal, an established enemy, and there are some struggles in overcoming them, but excitement comes in the thoughts and feelings of our hero, not from the unexpected. This book is also the inspiration to my blog name. Although I’m not traveling to the future, I am looking to fiction for assistance in travelling that fourth dimension. It is how I learn about what has got us to where we are today, and helps me to spend a few days living as a Victorian adventurer, or a pulp detective, or a 60’s astronaut.
Morlock Nights is not the book I was expecting it to be. It follows one of the few guests of the Time Traveller, after he hears the nights story. (Side note listening to the time traveller that night would be exactly like listening to the audiobook of the story, which on YouTube is 4 hours long. I don’t know if I would have stuck around someone’s place for 4 hour while he told me a long fantastic story, especially if I thought he was a loon).
Anyways, our hero in this story, who is given a name, Mr. Hocker, find himself leaving the Time Travellers house, and talking to another possible wacko, who questions over and over again the possibility of time travel being possible. After Hocker ditches the new wacko, he finds himself and a women from the future in the midst of an invasion. Turns out, the Time Traveler had been telling the truth, and that on another adventure had gotten himself killed by more advanced Morlocks who had taken his technology and come back in time to take over England. If you think that is what I mean by the unexpected, your wrong. That second wacko he met, he saves them an reveals his true identity. He is Merlin. Yeah, Merlin, from King Arthur lore. And they have to rescue Arthur, and search for a bunch of Excaliburs to restore his power. And once they do this they can stop the Morlocks, who have also used their stolen time machine to set up a base in the future and pilfer ancient Atlantian technology.
I enjoyed this book, especially the revelation of Merlin and Arthur, but I did have some qualms. Some time travel qualms. I will do my best to explain them, I apologize if I don’t make any sense. Merlin explains that Arthur’s power comes from Excalibur. Ok. He also says that his evil duplicate (yeah), has gone through time and brought 3 other Excaliburs to the present. Ok. And that with four Excaliburs existing simultaneously that the power is split between the four and that Arthur can only access a quarter of his power from the Excalibur he has. Ok. But then it is revealed that the other three Excaliburs are hidden in the future so that Hocker can’t retrieve them. This is when I got confused. Wouldn’t that mean that the Excalibur they had would be the only one at the time and be able to access all the power? Guess not. Also, when they are at the Morlock base in the future, she should know already if they had won or lost. I’m very particular about time travel logic and this book, while having an interesting twist here and there, and still got me to worry about the characters fell a little short on the science side. The end of the book does feel rushed and they save the day through a large amount of luck. But it mastered its fantasy element, so it does make up for what it lacks.
I do feel I need to speak of his female sidekick, Tafe. Most of the time she is a meaningless character, she doesn’t really have any motivation for being there, she doesn’t develop a significant relationship with Hocker, she arrived in the beginning in what I believe to be a hole is time (where Hocker finds himself in the future and learns of the imminent Morlock invasion), but they don’t give her a reason to stay. She doesn’t have any development over the course of the book, and for a majority of it is disguised as a man who hardly talks. Almost pointless. With one exception. When it comes to fighting, she is 100 times more brutal and tactical than our Mr. Hocker. Maybe her point is to get her hand dirty so that we don’t loose faith in our hero, I don’t know, but I sure did enjoy reading the scenes where she did shine.
It wasn’t you typical book, nor what I was expecting, but it did hint at what I enjoy in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. And the surprises of the book were surprises and didn’t muddle the story up. It wasn’t nearly as simple, or as masterful as The Time Machine, and I doubt that Mr. Welles would have approved of this sequel, but I enjoyed it.
Thanks for reading!