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Jeter, K W

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1950-    ) US author of importance as an author of horror novels, the highly charged claustrophobia of his style fitting the essential affect of that genre rather better than it does sf. His early work, generally conceived in sf terms, gives off an air of hectic congestion which sometimes interferes with the presentation of ideas, with the cognitively unencumbered articulation of some barrier through which the story (and its protagonists) penetrate; for him, as for most modern Horror writers, Conceptual Breakthroughs tend to reveal that which had previously been denied. Nevertheless, his first published novel, Seeklight (1975), fascinatingly combines tried-and-true narrative conventions (its protagonist is the scion of an ex-leader, whose rivals need to kill the lad) with exorbitant reality twists (a sociologist intermittently uses advanced technology to intervene and to make queries about the action). The Dreamfields (1976) similarly juxtaposes contrasting realities (see Perception), in this case a land of dreams occupied by Aliens but dominated by sick human teenagers. Morlock Night (1979) is a Sequel by Another Hand to H G Wells's The Time Machine (1895) which both extends the original story and, by conveying a Morlock invasion backwards in time to the sewers of late-nineteenth-century London, may well constitute the first significant steampunk novel, long before the flush period of that subgenre in the late 1980s. It is almost certain that Jeter himself invented the term Steampunk (letter, April 1987 Locus), in an attempt to describe what he and his close colleagues, James P Blaylock and Tim Powers, along with several other writers, had already been doing for some time.

Jeter's most significant sf may lie in the thematic trilogy comprising Dr Adder (1984) – his first novel (written 1972), long left unpublished because of its sometimes turgid violence – The Glass Hammer (1985) and Death Arms (1987); Alligator Alley (1989) as by Dr Adder with Mink Mole (see Ferret) is a distant outrider to the sequence. Philip K Dick had read Dr Adder in manuscript and for years advocated it; and it is clear why. Though the novel clearly prefigures the under-soil airlessness of the best urban Cyberpunk, it even more clearly serves as a bridge between the defiant reality-testing Paranoia of Dick's characters and the doomed realpolitiking of the surrendered souls who dwell in post-1984 urban sprawls (see Cities). In each of these convoluted tales, set in a devastated Somme-like Near-Future America, Jeter's characters seem to vacillate between the sf traditions of resistance and cyberpunk quietism. In worlds like these, the intermittent flashes of sf imagery or content are unlasting consolations.

Although sometimes technically sf, most of Jeter's later novels in his own name – beginning with the accomplished Soul Eater (1983) – have tended to abandon the consolations of sf. A partial exception may be the George Dower sequence of Steampunk tales, comprising Infernal Devices: A Mad Victorian Fantasy (1987) and Fiendish Schemes (2013), which is comfortably hilarious at points, but not reassuring in its use of sf devices that its protagonist signally misunderstands; the second volume, darker than the first and narrated in a deliberately distancing archaic diction, depicts a literally steam-driven world. Dark Seeker (1987) is a horror novel about Drugs, which invokes Charles Manson. Mantis (1987) is again horror, as are In the Land of the Dead (1989), The Night Man (1990) and Wolf Flow (1992). Only Madlands (1991), set in a parodic, Entropy-choked Disneyland-like Los Angeles (see California), and Farewell Horizontal (1989) – set in a Far Future City dominated by a huge skyscraper so exorbitant it evokes the fantasy Edifice (see the Encyclopedia of Fantasy), a structure itself surreally dominated by biker gangs – are sf, and their technical adventurousness did not dispel the sense that Jeter was making a slow farewell to the genre.

Much of his later work has consisted of Sharecrop contributions to various proprietorial worlds, including Alien Nation, Star Trek, Star Wars [for titles see Checklist]; of some interest in this output are his Ties – they are also in a sense Sequels by Another Hand – to the film Blade Runner (1982), comprising Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human (1995), Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night (1996) and Blade Runner 4: Eye & Talon (2000), and making use of some original Philip K Dick material. The sense of ebbing enthusiasm generated by these various Ties is not markedly altered by Jeter's most recent singleton, Noir (1998), a Cyberpunk novel whose detective protagonist's main job is killing copyright violators so that their still-living spinal cords may be incorporated into hi-fi system cables; the irreality of this concept, and the bad-joke names that proliferate throughout, are somewhat stiffened up by the constant interactive presence of the already dead, a Philip K Dick effect, as filtered through Jeter's own intensely florid sensibility. [JC]

see also: Fantasy; Gothic SF; Infodump; Medicine; Psychology; Sherlock Holmes.

Kevin Wayne Jeter

born Los Angeles, California: 26 March 1950



Dr Adder

  • Dr Adder (New York: Bluejay Books, 1984) [Dr Adder: hb/Barclay Shaw]
  • The Glass Hammer (New York: Bluejay Books, 1985) [Dr Adder: hb/Barclay Shaw]
  • Death Arms (Bath, Avon: Morrigan Publications, 1987) [Dr Adder: hb/Steve Godridge]
  • Alligator Alley (Scotforth, Lancashire: Morrigan Publications, 1989) as by Dr Adder with Mink Mole (see Ferret) [linked to Dr Adder: hb/Ferret]

George Dower

Star Trek

Alien Nation

Blade Runner

Star Wars

individual titles

about the author


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