What if aliens did actually land on Earth thousands of years ago and had frozen in the Antarctic ice? What if those aliens could take over a person's body and literally duplicate that person so completely that no one would know or could tell the difference? What would you do? How would you act? That's the scenario faced by a group of researchers in Antarctica who discover that another outpost has been wiped out by murder and suicide in an attempt to stop the alien that they dug up from escaping and spreading to another unsuspecting outpost. Once the discovery is made and the first of the alien is revealed, paranoia and fear quickly mount. In the end, most of the research team is either killed by their comrades, killed directly by the alien, or killed in order to try and stop the alien from taking them over. And in the end, only two are left...
The movie version of the book was just as spooky and nervewracking, especially towards the end. Some of the book's scenes weren't featured in the movie, but it also ends with only two, Childs and McCready, alone in the Antarctic night...
Differences between the film
Although the novelization remains faithful to the film's plot, there are several notable differences between the book and the film:
- Windows is named Sanders.
- During their investigation of the ruined Norwegian camp, MacReady and Copper also recover several audio tapes. Back at base, the American team discover one of the tapes contains a recording of the chaos as the Thing runs rampant throughout the Norwegian outpost.
- The remains of the deformed Thing recovered from the Norwegian camp are burned before they can infect anyone at the American base.
- The Thing in the novel is even more virulently infectious than the creature in the film; ingesting even the smallest amount of it can cause an individual to become assimilated, as happens to some of the dogs in the kennel, after they attack the Kennel-Thing during its transformation and bite off pieces of it.
- When the Americans travel to the site where the Thing was unearthed, they find that the Norwegians accidentally blew the creature's spacecraft to pieces when they attempted to excavate it with explosives. The creature's spacecraft was similarly destroyed in the The Thing from Another World, but not the 1982 film.
- When it is found some of the surviving dogs have become infected and escaped from the kennel, MacReady, Bennings and Childs give chase on snowmobiles. They eventually find the dogs in an ice canyon, where they transform into Things and attack. Bennings is killed, but MacReady and Childs successfully incinerate the two Things. This sequence was featured in Bill Lancaster's second draft of the screenplay, but was dropped from the film.
- It is hinted very early on that Blair is building something whilst locked up in the outside shed. Furthermore, pieces of equipment start going missing from around the camp, and they are later found incorporated into Blair's flying vehicle.
- Fuchs is killed by the Thing with an axe, instead of burning himself.
- Copper survives the transformation of the Norris-Thing, which is destroyed before it can harm anyone. When the Palmer-Thing is subsequently revealed during MacReady's blood test, it kills Copper instead of Windows/Sanders.
- After destroying the craft being built by Blair beneath the shack, MacReady, Nauls and Childs are attacked by the Blair-Thing outside. Childs is blown away by the storm, but MacReady and Nauls manage to make it back inside.
- The finale is quite different in the novel, taking place in the camp's rec room rather than the generator room beneath ground. The survivors attempt to fortify the rec room and wait for the Thing to attack, although Windows/Sanders is killed by the Blair-Thing in the kitchen as he helps to barricade the outpost's doors. The creature then attacks the rec room, killing Garry before chasing Nauls into the rest room; Nauls kills himself by driving a wooden splinter through his neck rather than letting the Thing assimilate him. Instead of destroying the outpost with dynamite, MacReady uses the camp's tractor to demolish the buildings, before blowing up several canisters of hydrogen to kill the Blair-Thing in the rec room.
- When Childs and MacReady reunite in the ruined camp, they play a game of chess while they wait to die.