For my next adventure into the annals of science fiction classics I've decided to check out The Thing. John Carpenter's 1982 classic is based on a novella by one of science fiction's great editors: John W. Campbell Jr. He allowed some of the greats of science fiction such as Heinlein and Asimov to get their starts. He tends toward hard science fiction, so things could get tough.
Who Goes There? (1938) By Don A. Stuart a.k.a. John W. Campbell Jr.
In an isolated Antarctic research facility, several scientists discover a crashed alien spaceship and a creature frozen in the ice. There is some disagreement as to whether the creature will survive the thawing process. They leave a man to guard it as it thaws, but he later reports that it eluded him while he was napping. The creature attacks their sled dogs and they discover it can imitate any creature on Earth.
The idea that something can become exactly like us and take our body and mind for itself has haunted humanity in myth and folklore. "Who Goes There?" brings the myth to science and makes it all the scarier for it. This extension of myth even jumps into our human characters with the massive MacReady, an almost demigod, who mush face and vanquish the mythical Thing. It manages all this with an awesome amount of tension and terror.
MacReady the 'man of bronze' is second in command of the station. He takes over command once Commander Gary is under suspicion of being a thing. He is a large, powerful man who easily takes command and doesn't crack under pressure. Despite his impressive description, he has a solid human side and fears more for the others than himself.
There are a lot of characters, 17 named and 37 total people on site. It is difficult to parse them out, but the tension remains on MacReady, Blair, Norris, Garry, and Kinner for the most part. There is even some attention paid to the strain of facing the unknown and the madness that can result.
The Thing, as it is called in all the related media, Begins a a giant greyish blue brute with long claws and three red eyes. It quickly spreads throughout the station turning man against man as it tries to achieve its goal of propagation. The only major difference between it and the most popular version is that this one is suspected to be psychic.
The dangers of Antarctica are not only explained, but demonstrated several times. Campbell is know for his lengthy sections of psudeo and real science, but the sections in this story aren't overly long and help to drive tension and sow mistrust among the men.
In the End
The end is entirely different from its successors. It has a weighty philosophic end that I feel is packed with symbolism that makes me want to go over the rest of the story again and see if there's anything I missed while being swept up in the mystery.
This novella could have definitely been expanded into a full on novel. There is some time skipped that would have been tedious the way it was set up, but it could have easily been expanded to be as tense as the rest. It is an excellent story on its own and interesting to compare to its successors. If you love John Carpenter's The Thing, you owe yourself this quick read.
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Tomorrow we move on to the first film version based on this novella: Howard Hawks' The Thing from Another World!