Science fiction and fantasy
by K. W. Jeter
Hocker comes across Tafe on his travels. She's a laconic, stoic woman who tends to dress as a man. Dr Ambrose tasks Hocker and Tafe with saving the world and foiling the destructive plots of Merdenne and his cohorts. Merdenne is like an evil twin of Dr Ambrose, his immortal nemesis bent on destruction, or so it seems. But can Hocker trust anything Dr Ambrose tells him, when Ambrose spouts so many mad assertions and claims to be Merlin himself?
Hocker goes on a quest to find the fragmented pieces of Excalibur in order to restore a weakened, old King Arthur to his full strength and save the day before it's too late for England and everywhere and everywhen else. His search takes him into the dank, dirty tunnels under London, and into a strange subterranean world rife with legends of the Lost Coin World. The Toshers who work in the tunnels have their own peculiar culture and ethics.
Some of the villains are a bit too one-dimensional. They're unremittingly evil, whether it's overt brutality or covered up with a veneer of politeness like Colonel Nalga, the Morlock. Tafe is a more interesting character, a survivor who doesn't always behave as Hocker expects her to, but she doesn't actually get to say very much in this short novel. Hocker is the one who does most of the talking, and his wordy Victorian language edges towards comedy because it's so exaggerated. But in spite of his buttoned-up manner and the story's pick 'n' mix approach to using legends and literary sources, Morlock Night is more of an adventure than a farce. It stays on the right side of silly by evoking a heady atmosphere of despair as the characters fight to survive underground or in different time periods, and by keeping the tension high until the end.
As with many time travel stories there are problems with paradoxes, inconsistencies, and confusion. The Morlocks should be able to look at history and know everything that's happened, in theory, so they should always have the upper hand unless time keeps changing course every time someone uses the time machine and alters history. The story doesn't hold together if you think too hard about it. However there's a nicely rounded ending that resolves some of these difficulties at least. Morlock Night is an enjoyable bit of fanciful steampunk that doesn't take itself overly seriously. It could easily have gone over the top by mixing up disparate legends with time travel, but I think the author gets away with it this time and the story ends up quirky and creative rather than patently absurd.
25th July 2011
If you like this, try:The Great Game by Lavie Tidhar
Lizards, aliens, robots and spies are some of the players in a high stakes shadow game for the future of the empire. The third in the Bookman series.
Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar
In this steampunk fantasy Milady de Winter investigates a gruesome murder inside a locked room in Paris.
Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Armoured corsets and steampunk style abound in the adventures of agents Books and Braun. The first Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novel.