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Literature / Who Goes There?

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Who Goes There? is a Science Fiction novella written by John W. Campbell. Originally an unpublished full-length novel titled Frozen Hell, it was shortened and renamed and published under the pen name Don A. Stuart in 1938 in the magazine Astounding Stories. It directly inspired three feature films—1951's The Thing from Another World, John Carpenter's 1982 movie The Thing, and the latter's 2011 prequel of the same name (and more loosely inspired 1972's Horror Express)—and indirectly influenced several decades of science fiction works by inspiring other authors to rip it off. The X-Files adapted it twice, for instance, while The Terror is something of a Victorian-era homage.

The story follows a group of scientific researchers in Antarctica who stumble upon an alien life form, which revives after they thaw it from the ice it's been encased in for twenty million years. The alien has the ability to assume the form, memories, and mannerisms of any living being it consumes—while retaining most of its original mass—as well as read their minds and project their thoughts. Which members of the expedition are still human, and which are alien impostors? As the ice that's keeping them isolated from the rest of the world begins to thaw, the remaining humans realize they'd better figure it out soon, because the fate of humanity is very much at stake.

Author Alec Nevalla-Lee rediscovered Campbell's original manuscript for Frozen Hell in 2018, and it was published the following year after a successful Kickstarter campaign.

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".
  • 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: While the thing can absorb people and create multiple copies, the creature is less like a virus and more of highly morphological plasticity. The thing seems to envelop and digest organisms to copy them and grown more copies. 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.
  • Audio Adaptation: by the BBC
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted and discussed when Blair calls out the others for assuming the Thing is Obviously Evil because of its abhorrent appearance, saying it would likely believe that Humans Are Ugly.
    Blair: You are displaying the childish human weakness of hating the different. On its own world it would probably class you as a fish-belly, white monstrosity with an insufficient number of eyes and a fungoid body pale and bloated with gas. Just because its nature is different, you haven't any right to say it's necessarily evil.
  • Beware the Mind Reader: The Thing has Telepathy and Voluntary Shapeshifter abilities. It uses them to copy both the minds and bodies of its victims before performing a Kill and Replace on them.
  • Blob Monster: The Thing works like one in that it engulfs, digests, and absorbs its prey.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted; MacReady fires his revolver twice at the albatross to drive it off, once to destroy the hand-held death ray the Blair Thing was pointing at him, and once into each of its three eyes before throwing the empty gun at its face.
  • 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.
  • Copied the Morals, Too: The Thing acts exactly like whatever itís imitating, right down to the victimís feelings and morals. None of the Things ever attempt to sabotage the investigation, and Connant-Thing raises the alarm on the originalís escape for no other reason than thatís what the real Connant would have done.
  • 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.
  • Killed Offscreen: The last time we see Clark, McNeilyís talking about how heís the only one they know has to be human on account of him murdering Kinner. The only mention after that is them naming him in a list of people who turned out to be Things - presumably he was caught out by the blood test.
  • 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.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Notably averted, unlike in most of its adaptations. Once they figure out what theyíre up against, the researchers move in groups no smaller than four and suffer no further casualties.
  • Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: Blair.
  • Monster in the Ice: And why it's a bad idea to thaw one out. To their credit, some of the base personnel want to do this in formalin, which probably would have killed it before it had a chance to revive. Blair dissuades them, arguing that it's almost certainly the last of its kind in the universe and that only a careful slow thaw will leave it amenable to proper study.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The setting, the only place the Thing could have landed and not taken over the Earth.
  • 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 escaped as an albatross. However, the characters discuss this possibility and decide that it is very unlikely having shot the only albatross that they saw to prevent that.
  • 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.
  • 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 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: 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.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Invoked. McNeily points out that if Connant-Thing hadnít woken everyone up after being assimilated, the original Thing would have finished assimilating the dogs and nobody would have been any the wiser. Copper suggests that the Things simply donít have any priorities beyond being perfect imitations, and since Connant would have raised the alarm thatís what Connant-Thing does too.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The Thing's Modus Operandi.
  • 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 the dead and the men turned into Things, and the odds were generally in his favor.
  • Windows of the Soul: When one character looks the alien's original form in the eye, he decides that its favorite pastime was "torturing the local equivalent of kittens."