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 more loosely inspired 1972's Horror Express
), 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.
You can read the novella here
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.
- Alien Hair: The creature has "blue hair like crawling worms".
- 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 slightly 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, it seems unable to infect and devour people from within by using its blood or just a few cells. 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. The dogs are theorized to have bitten off pieces large enough that the pieces were still alive and could digest them from within.
- As You Know: Commander Garry begins the story with "you know the outline of the story..." to his base personnel before letting McReady tell the parts of the story the rest of the men don't 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.
- The Chessmaster: 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.
- Chromosome Casting: A male example.
- 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.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: Several of the men lose it, particularly Blair and Kinner. If they were still men at that point, that is.
- 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.
- "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. However, the characters discuss this possibility and decide that it is very unlikely.
- 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; one insisting that it must have spent its youth tormenting small animals.
- Red Herring: The serum test Dr. Copper develops turns out to be useless in detecting humans because one of the human blood contributors was already a thing and the things didn't leave any other dogs to start over with.
- Right Hand vs. 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: McReady is just about the only character who keeps his cool throughout.
- The Sociopath: Invoked; Connant is so freaked out by the alien that he insists "The thing grew up on evil, adolesced slowly roasting alive the local equivalent of kittens, and amused itself through maturity on new and ingenious torture."
- Ten 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.
- 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.