In the novel¹ The Time Machine by H.G.Wells, a late 19th century inventor travels forwards in time to a future Earth, where humanity has evolved into two separate species. On the beautiful, terraformed², landscaped garden of the surface live the gentle, childlike Eloi. The Eloi live simple lives of pleasure and luxury, spending their days dancing, playing games, and feasting in architecturally pleasing halls on the gigantic nourishing fruits that grow freely without any need for farming.
Underground however, in vast, dark warrens linked to the surface via deep wells, live the Morlocks – pale, hairy, and monstrous. They dwell in the tunnels, among great, ancient, still functional machinery, which they maintain and repair. In fact it is this machinery that keeps the surface so pleasant. The Morlocks are crafty and cunning, and there are thousands of them.
Once darkness falls the Eloi hurry inside, sleeping behind sealed doors, for night is when the Morlocks climb up the wells to the surface. Morlocks who enjoy hunting and eating Eloi (not to mention the occasional time traveler). They can be warded off by fire, but in their Edenic paradise the Eloi have lost even this basic technology. An Eloi caught outside after dark rarely sees the sun rise again.
So, who gets off best in this situation?
On the face of it, the Eloi appear to be the ones who have it made. They don’t need to work, they live in peace and harmony, and their environment is completely benign with no poisonous plants, no venomous insects, and no predators. So long as they get indoors before dark, they need not have a care in the world. The Morlocks in contrast are forced to live underground, driven away by the sun, working all day and night to keep the Eloi in luxury, their only pleasure being an occasional trip to the surface to take vengeance on their oppressors.
But when you stop to think about it, things aren’t that clear cut.
The Morlocks are more than strong enough to rise up and destroy the Eloi. In addition to their numeric inferiority, those dunderheaded simpletons are so pampered as to be completely incapable of defending themselves. In one scene a bunch of Morlocks come after some Eloi armed with the Morlock equivalent of tyre irons, and the Eloi just sit there whimpering, too stupid to get up and run³. The Morlocks wouldn’t even have to resort to military measures, they could just turn off the machinery that makes life so easy for the little wimps (you can’t tell me that a race who don’t even know about fire could survive more than a few days without everything handed to them on a platter). With the totally useless Eloi out of the way, the Morlocks would be free to take the surface. Sunlight wouldn’t be a problem, they could just adopt a nocturnal lifestyle, sleeping in converted Eloi feasting halls with all the windows bricked up during the day. So why don’t they? What stops them from rising up and overthrowing their masters?
The only reasonable conclusion is that they like it this way.
Think about it. Underground the Morlocks have complete control of their environment. There’s no sun to hurt their eyes. They can keep whatever hours are convenient, without being tied to a 24 hour cycle. They have machinery to tinker around with. Why would they give all that up for a bit of open sky and greenery? (there are probably entire libraries of Morlock philosophy based on variations of the concept “nature is overrated”). If they feel the occasional need for a bit of open air all they need do is scurry up one of the ladders, and (if they feel so inclined) kill and eat a few Eloi (to be blunt no great loss – culling the ones too stupid to get indoors after dark is probably good for the species on the whole anyway). The Morlocks keep the machinery running because they like the status quo (and if they wiped out the Eloi, there’d be no more tasty snacks).
The Morlocks are smart, efficient, and understand technology. They are obviously the masters. The most you can say for the Eloi is that they’re pretty.
So, what is my purpose in pointing all this out? Well, let’s sum up the Morlocks. They are highly intelligent. They prefer controlled environments, and have an aversion to bright light. They are pale, badly socialised (eating the people upstairs is the height of rudeness) and they have an overwhelming fascination with and aptitude for technology. The conclusion is obvious.
The Morlocks are Geeks.
In Stephen Baxter’s overly long and complicated sequel to The Time Machine (titled The Time Ships) he has the narrator recall an exhibit he saw in the abandoned and decaying “Palace of Green Porcelain”, an ancient museum he explored in the first novel. This was a cross sectional model of a gigantic pyramid city. In the top levels are wealthy, beautiful socialites and millionaires, living lives of pleasure and luxury. Down below, in the subterranean levels, are vast hordes of soot grimed workers, toiling away to maintain the lifestyle of these sybarites. He reflects on how this was the obvious beginning of the split between the Morlocks and Eloi.
I would disagree.
Today, worldwide there are ISPs and software companies packed full of Geeks, locked away behind elaborate security systems, creating and maintaining the digital world for the computer illiterate end-users. We sit in our windowless cells, coding away, not caring that our backs are becoming hunched, our skin pale, or our eyes photosensitive from staring at CRTs for too long, because we love what we’re doing. For the true Geek, overcoming a tricky coding problem is every bit as exhilarating, satisfying and fulfilling as kicking the winning goal, or getting the phone number of the hottest girl/guy at the party. And in our offices and cubicles we’re meeting and socialising (in our own strange way) with others, of both sexes, just like ourselves. And some of us are breeding.
Computers are everywhere. Soon they’ll be in your fridge, your oven, even your shower. And we Geeks are the only ones who can make them work. We are the future. We are the next step in human evolution. We are the ones who will inherit the Earth. We are the Morlocks.
Look out Eloi. We’re coming to eat you 😉
1 This is the book, not the movie. Hook up Wells’s coffin to a generator and you could probably power a city the size of Dallas after that little bit of Hollywood ‘creative rewriting’.
2 Wells didn’t use the term “terraformed”, he probably passed away before it was even coined, but it’s pretty clear that’s what he was implying.
3 OK, there may not actually be a scene like this in the novel, it’s been some years since I last read it, but it’s exactly the type of behaviour you’d expect from the dull witted idiots.