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Literature: Who Goes There?
"Who Goes There?" is a science fiction novella written by John W. Campbell. It was published under the pen name Don A. Stuart in 1938 in the magazine Astounding Stories. It directly inspired the 1951 movie The Thing from Another World and the 1982 John Carpenter movie The Thing, and indirectly influenced the next few decades of science fiction by inspiring other authors to rip it off. The X-Files, for instance, adapted it twice.

The story follows a group of scientific researchers in Antarctica who stumble upon an alien life form. In the novella (and the John Carpenter film) the alien has the ability to assume the identity, memories, and mannerisms of the humans. Which members of the expedition are still human, and which are aliens pretending? As the ice that's keeping them isolated begins to thaw, they'd better figure it out soon, because the fate of humanity is very much at stake.


This novella provides examples of:

  • Alien Blood: The greatest weakness in the creature's disguise is that its blood, once separated from the body, is a separate organism with its own instinct for self-preservation.
  • An Axe to Grind
  • Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: People repeatedly make the mistake of assuming that you can't be a Thing if you attack a Thing.
  • The Assimilator: It's a little different (and less nightmarish) than the movie version created by John Carpenter. While the thing can absorb people and create multiple copies, the creature is less like a virus and more of highly morphological plasticity. While pieces of its body will act independently of the main body, they cannot infect and devour people from within. Instead this version of the thing seems to envelop and digest organisms to copy them and grown more copies. Still horrific but less so than an enemy that can attack you on a cellular level.
  • As You Know
  • Badass Beard: McReady, Van Wall the pilot.
  • Blob Monster: The Thing works like one in that it engulfs, digests, and absorbs its prey.
  • Call Back: When Kinner is screaming prayers until his voice goes hoarse, MacReady comments he must think God can't hear well. At the end, he reverses this: yes, God can hear them quite well.
  • Chromosome Casting: A male example.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: The Thing plays on the expectations of the researchers by acting in ways that seem self-destructive, but actually further its goals in the long run.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Norris's nightmares. Turns out he's just picking up on The Thing's thoughts.
  • Dissonant Laughter / Laughing Mad: happens to almost everybody.
  • Do Wrong, Right: "Boys, meet Clark, the only one we know is human—by trying to commit murder and failing."
  • Fake Static: Commander Garry and Copper discuss whether or not to invoke this, together with Apocalyptic Log, if it becomes necessary to ward off a rescue attempt.
  • Faking the Dead: Kinner.
  • Genre Savvy: Aside from thawing The Thing out in the first place, everyone is extremely rational about the situation, possible consequences, and lines of action. Death by Pragmatism is completely averted.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!
  • A House Divided: Once it becomes clear that anyone could be the alien, the bickering starts.
  • Incendiary Exponent: The alien's spaceship is made of magnesium-alloy metal. It reacts...poorly... to the thermite-based attempts to enter it.
  • Just Think of the Potential: MacReady laments having accidentally destroyed the alien's spaceship. They get hold of some alien tech in the end, however.
  • Kill It with Fire: The initial attempts to kill The Thing using a blowtorch; and then later, the bodies.
  • The Leader: McReady is this, even though he's technically second-in-command to Commander Garry.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Blair.
  • Lost in Character: The Things.
    Garry spoke in a low, bitter voice. "Connant was one of the finest men we had here—and five minutes ago I'd have sworn he was a man. Those damnable things are more than imitation." Garry shuddered and sat back in his bunk.
    And thirty seconds later, Garry's blood shrank from the hot platinum wire.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The setting for the novella. The Carpenter movie also uses Antarctica, but the 1951 movie uses the North Pole.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: A Discussed Trope here. Most of them think it's illogical for something from another planet to be compatible enough with humans to eat and/or infect them. They learn the hard way that the universe is always one step beyond logic.
  • Thirty-Seven Little Murder Victims: The extreme cold outside forces the researchers into close proximity where they can all see each other easier, but the creature can also assimilate them easier.
  • Pan Up To The Sky Ending: Combines with The End... Or Is It?, as The Blair-Thing is killed, but there is a possibility another Thing might have been in the body of an early albatross that the heroes saw flying north.
  • Paranoia Fuel: Yeah, trapped in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an ice base by storms and cold, with a shapeshifting alien that can eat you and duplicate you while making multiple copies of itself. There's a good chance you won't be getting any sleep tonight while your clutching a weapon glaring at the door.
  • Phlebotinum du Jour: Since this was written before nuclear power was a practical proposition, electricity and magnetism are the focus of all the high technology. The radios and planes are disabled by breaking their magnets, and the Thing is killed with an overpowered high-tension cattle-prod.
  • Plant Aliens: Word of God is the alien is closely related to carrots.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: The Thing has three of them, and a murderous Death Glare. The characters are majorly creeped out long before it comes back to life.
  • Red-Headed Hero: MacReady.
  • Red Herring
  • Right Hand Versus Left Hand: The protagonists assume—incorrectly—that you can't be a Thing if you attack a Thing. As it turns out, its imitation is so good that it won't break character if another Thing gets outed, and will attack it just to keep up its own appearance. Once separated, every individual Thing has its own survival as its own priority. That's why the blood test works.
  • Shock and Awe: the best way of permanently killing The Thing is electricity, high voltage, for as long as it takes.
  • The Stoic
  • The Sociopath: Invoked; one character is so freaked out by the alien that he insists it "spent it's childhood torturing the local equivalent of kittens".
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting - and how.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Benning is a mauve shirt throughout, but generally tags along with barclay and macready, but his final fate isn't revealed. It can be assumed he survived, as he was not mentioned by macready when he lists a few things, and the odds were generally in his favor.
When Worlds CollideLiterature of the 1930sA Witch Shall Be Born
The Once and Future KingHugo AwardAnthem
Who Fears DeathScience Fiction LiteratureThe Wild Boy

alternative title(s): Who Goes There
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