Who Goes There?, written by John W. Campbell, Jr., is my second book for Vintage Science Fiction Month. Originally published in August 1938 in Astounding Science Fiction magazine under the pen name Don A. Stuart, this is the novella that John Carpenter adapted for his 1982 movie The Thing.
In Who Goes There?, a group of scientific researchers are in the Antarctic studying various things when they come across some weird shit buried in the ice. First they find the body of something that they know right away doesn’t belong on Earth. This leads them to the discovery of the space craft the alien was flying when it crashed. They try to thaw the space craft out of the ice with thermite, but it ignites and is destroyed. What they’re left with is a big chunk of ice with an alien frozen inside.
So of course they want to thaw the ice and get the alien out so they can do tests on it and all that jazz, but it turns out that the alien is just in a kind of frozen suspension and once the ice is thawed, it gets up and goes about its business. And its business (from the human perspective) is taking over the world, which it does by absorbing living things around itself in order to BECOME those things, and more specifically, consuming the humans around itself, because that’s obviously the best way to be successful with that taking-over-the-world agenda. And the way the alien life form does this is very interesting, so I’ll leave the details out of this post in case you don’t want ALL the spoilers.
But what this book is really about, aside from the science involved (and don’t ask me how realistic the science is, because I have no clue, honestly), is how you deal with a situation in which an alien can become an imitation of any of the people you’re isolated with in the Antarctic. These guys (yes, they’re all men) have no idea who might be an alien imitation and who might be the actual person they look like. How do you test for that when all of your scientific tests are based on terrestrial life forms? How do you trust one another? What do you do to ensure the safety of the rest of the planet? And they’re men, so of course most of it involves violence and killing (and having not been in a situation like this, I have no idea how I would react, either).
At 75 pages, Who Goes There? can easily be read in one sitting, and I found it pretty interesting. I found it interesting to try to come up with solutions that were somewhere between zero and OH MY GOD EVERYONE MUST DIE. Heh.
Then I watched The Thing to see how they compared. I am a big John Carpenter fan, so I knew I would like it (and be pretty terrified), and I had already watched it when I was 9 or 10 years old (I’m pretty sure my uncle let me watch it with him). I remembered it being scary, and I remembered that the dogs didn’t get a happy ending, but that’s about it.
I watched it right before bed.
That was a mistake.
I have a firm belief that old (horror) special effects are way more terrifying than today’s CGI, and you cannot convince me otherwise. The special effects in The Thing are ON POINT and utterly disgusting. And I must have blocked the vast majority of that film out when I watched it as a kid (or I covered my eyes a lot), because I DID NOT remember the alien being that disgusting and scary. WHY DID IT SOMETIMES HAVE TO LOOK LIKE A DISGUSTING ALIEN SPIDER?! No. Just no.
The basics of the movie (alien, distrust, violence) followed the basics of the book. The differences were mainly additions to and slight variations of the original storyline. If the movie had followed the 75-page novella exactly it would have been a very short movie. So I get it. The premise was the same and the way the researchers handled the situation was basically was the same. The ending of the movie is far more bleak than the ending of the book.
Have you read Who Goes There? or have you seen The Thing? What are your thoughts about how they handled the situation? Would you have done anything differently?