Who Goes There?: The Novella That Formed The Basis Of “The Thing”
John W. Campbell
Rocket Ride Books
Trade Paper, 168 pages, $15.95
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
How stark and frigid: Antarctica; white and cold, a group of male scientists; intellectual and remote. Yet there’s something that breaks the ice. A thing from another world, cool and calculating, but possessing a pulsating passion that punctuates an antagonistic agenda. John W. Campbell wrote the 1938 novella entitled Who Goes There? It became the basis for the 1951 film The Thing, and its 1982 remake. The movies’ adaptations approached Campbell’s material in different ways. The earlier one, ostensibly directed by Christian Nyby, but with lots of input from producer Howard Hawks, retained a lot of scientific jargon (the overlapping dialogue has been both praised and criticized.) And added a brainy babe for eye candy. The later big screen variation focused on the visual: Director John Carpenter’s version is perhaps best remembered for Rob Bottin’s astonishing special effects/makeup. The original literary source mixes large patches of conversation, action snippets, and atmosphere. Considered a classic of science fiction, the story also falls into the horror genre. The entity referred to as “The Thing” is a nightmarish concoction; eating away at body and soul.
An alien spaceship is discovered by the team of methodical researchers. The vessel is buried in the ice, and gets inadvertently destroyed when the men attempt to thaw its interior. In the process, the ship’s pilot is revived. The being is hideous in appearance, and hostile in disposition. It possesses unearthly, advantageous adaptive skills: The power to ingest the form, intellect, and manner of the sentient creatures that it consumes. An extreme example of “you are what you eat,” The Thing wreaks physical and psychological havoc among the thirty-six guys stationed at the outpost. Even the sled dogs aren’t spared, and the highly descriptive depiction of mutt mutation is most appalling.
Though nothing can quite equal, in terms of sheer repugnance, the rendering of The Thing: “It was face up there on the plain, greasy planks of the table. The broken half of the bronze ice-ax was still buried in the queer skull. Three mad, hate-filled eyes blazed up with a living fire, bright as fresh-spilled blood from a face ringed with a writhing, loathsome nest of worms, blue, mobile worms that crawled where hair should grow–” This particular passage doesn’t mention an additional attribute: Tentacles. Rather vile, indeed.
Insidious in invasive imitation, the alien embodies a basic fear. If the enemy can assume the aspect and mien of an ally, who can be trusted? Paranoia pervades the claustrophobic setting; and there’s the knowledge that despite the sequestered environment, The Thing has a larger goal in mind.
Included in Rocket Ride Books’ edition is an introduction by the venerable William F. Nolan, as well as his unfilmed screen treatment of the narrative. The novella, itself, is of definite interest to anyone curious about the award winning tale and its subsequent cinematic interpretations. Nolan’s contributions are frosting on the cake, adding more flavor to a work which has justifiably achieved legendary status in genre circles. Although choppy due to the abundance of science-laden speeches in many of the scenes, the story still chills. Certainly, its thematic influence can be seen in the novel The Body Snatchers (which became Invasion of the Body Snatchers, on celluloid.) The Thing to which John W. Campbell gave life, won’t die. A movie prequel is reportedly slated for release this year. The Ice Man cometh again.