Who Goes There? is a science fiction novella by John W. Campbell, Jr. under the pen name Don A. Stuart, published August 1938 in Astounding Stories. In 1973, the story was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the finest science fiction novellas ever written, and published with the other top vote-getters in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.
The novella has been adapted three times as a motion picture: firstly in 1951 as The Thing from Another World, again in 1982 as The Thing directed by John Carpenter, and lastly as a prequel to Carpenter's adaptation, also called The Thing, released in 2011. The story was also adapted in comic form in Starstream #1, published by Whitman Comics.
A group of scientific researchers, isolated in Antarctica by the nearly-ended winter, discover an alien spaceship buried in the ice, where it crashed twenty million years before. They try to thaw the inside of the spacecraft with a thermite charge, but end up accidentally destroying it when the ship's magnesium hull is ignited by the charge. However, they do recover the alien pilot from the ancient ice, which the researchers believe was searching for heat when it was frozen. Thawing revives the alien, a being which can assume the shape, memories, and personality of any living thing it devours, while maintaining its original body mass for further reproduction. Unknown to them, the alien immediately kills and then imitates the crew's physicist, a man named Connant; with some 90 pounds of its matter left over it tries to become a sled dog. The crew discovers the dog-Thing and kills it in the process of transformation. Pathologist Blair, who had lobbied for thawing the Thing, goes insane with paranoia and guilt, vowing to kill everyone at the base in order to save mankind; he is isolated within a locked cabin at their outpost. Connant is also isolated as a precaution and a "rule-of-four" is initiated in which all personnel must remain under the close scrutiny of three others.
The crew realizes they must isolate themselves and therefore disable their airplanes and vehicles, while pretending things are normal over their radio transmissions to prevent any rescue attempt from civilization. The researchers try to figure out who may have been replaced by the alien (simply referred to as the Thing), in order to destroy the imitations before they can escape and take over the world. The task is almost impossibly difficult when they realize that the Thing is also telepathic, able to read minds and project thoughts. A sled dog is conditioned by human blood injections to provide a human-immunity serum test, as in rabbits. The initial test of Connant is inconclusive as they realize that the test animal received both human and alien blood, meaning that either Doctor Copper or expedition Commander Garry is actually an alien. Assistant commander McReady takes over and deduces that all the other animals at the station, save the test dog, have already become imitations; all are killed by electrocution and their corpses burned.
Everyone suspects each other by now but must stay together for safety, deciding who will take turns sleeping and speculating when the patient monsters will finally have the upper hand. Tensions mount and some men begin to go mad thinking they are already the last human or wondering if they would even know if they weren't human any longer. Ultimately, one of the crew members is murdered and accidentally revealed to be a Thing. McReady realizes that even small pieces of the creature will behave as independent, selfish organisms. He then uses this weakness to test which men have been "converted" by taking blood samples from everyone and dipping a heated wire in the vial of blood. Each man's blood is tested, one at a time, and the donor is immediately killed if his blood recoils from the wire; fourteen in all, including Connant and Garry, are revealed as aliens. They go to test the isolated Blair and on the way see the first albatross of the Antarctic Spring flying overhead; they shoot the bird to prevent a Thing from taking it over and flying to civilization.
When they reach Blair's cabin they discover he is a Thing. They realize that it has been left to its own devices for a week, coming and going as it pleased, able to transform itself by squeezing under doors. With the creatures inside the base destroyed, McReady and two others enter the cabin to kill the Thing that was once Blair. McReady systematically forces it out into the snow and methodically destroys it with a blowtorch. Afterwards the trio discover that the Thing was dangerously close to finishing construction of an atomic-powered anti-gravity device that would have allowed it to escape to the outside world.
The Novel has been adapted three times as a motion picture:
The Thing from Another World (1951) was a rather loose adaptation. It featured James Arness as the Thing, Kenneth Tobey as the USAF officer, and Robert O. Cornthwaite as the lead scientist.
In the 1982 remake The Thing stuck more closely to Campbell's original story. John Carpenter directed the film from a Bill Lancaster screenplay. Prior to John Carpenter's involvement, William F. Nolan, author of Logan's Run, wrote a Who Goes There? screen treatment for Universal Studios in 1978, but it was not published until 2009 in the Rocket Ride Books edition of Who Goes There?; Nolan's alternate take on Campbell's story downplays monster elements in favor of an "imposter" theme, in a vein similar to The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney.
A third adaptation, also titled The Thing, was released on October 14, 2011. It serves as a prequel to the events of Carpenter's film.
In 1976, the story was also published in comic book form in issue 1 of Starstream (script by Arnold Drake and art by Jack Abel).
Secondary Magnetic Expedition
Although 37 men comprise the expedition housed at Big Magnet, only half are mentioned by name in the story itself, all but three by last name alone. By story's end, 15 are replaced by alien impostors.
- Barclay: present at alien excavation. Survived.
- Benning: Aviation Mechanic. Survived.
- Blair: biologist, present at alien excavation. Later revealed to be a Thing.
- (Bart) Caldwell
- Clark: dog handler. Later revealed to be a Thing.
- Connant: physicist, cosmic ray specialist. Later revealed to be a Thing.
- Dr. Copper: physician, present at alien excavation.
- (Samuel) Dutton: later revealed to be a thing.
- Garry: expedition commander. Later revealed to be a Thing.
- Kinner: cook. Later revealed to be a Thing.
- McReady: expedition second-in-command, meteorologist, present at alien excavation. Survived.
- (Vance) Norris: physicist. Survived.
- Pomroy: livestock handler.
- Ralsen: sledge keep.
- Van Wall: chief pilot, present at alien excavation. Survived.
- Vane: physicist.
- The Thing: the antagonist - a malevolent shapeshifting alien creature
- Charnauk: lead Alaskan husky, first openly attacked by theThing.
- Chinook and Jack: two other huskies.
The Thing in the Novel
- While the organism in Campell's novel has pretty much the same basic features as the modern version, there are some key differences that are worth to note:
- The organism, unlike Carpenter's creation, has an actual true form, which it defaults to when assimilating or otherwise not in disguise, It is is described as an ugly blue skinned humanoid, with three red eyes and worm/cilia hair. The characters discuss it being the form of the last assimilated organism before them, but they note that the tendency to default to that form likely indicates that it is its original/real visage.
- While the details of assimilation are kept relatively vague, perhaps to remain sensible to 1930's standards, the Thing appearently does not have such a gruesome assimilation method, as little to no violent evidence (torn clothes, blood, et cetera) remains, and the characters seem more shocked about its ability to transform than the horrifying process. It addition, it seems to assume its form rather rapidly and nonchalantly, as opposed to the more organic assimilation (as seen with Bennings and the dogs).
- How contagious the Thing is is deliberately kept vague, but considering that all but three mammals in the facility were assimilated in the end, it seems to have a remarkably fast and efficient method. However, it also appears to be conveniently less fatally contagious than the modern version, as one method of having an efficient blood test is to inject blood samples into a rabbit or dog and see whether it produces according antibodies. It seems to suggest that assimilation is also a physical digestive process, reliant on the Thing's larger biomass, only somewhat quicker and less gruesome.
- When cornered, the Thing, whether retaining its copied form or defaulting to the blue three eyed natural form, seems somewhat less dangerous, as it grabs weapons to fight.
- It's suggested that the Thing is telepathic and can communicate psychically with other Things. The 1982 movie and the 2011 prequel do not confirm that Things have any such ability to communicate without words. Then again, nothing in these movies rules out the possibility.
- The identity of the Thing as a cellular or even "traditionally" organic organism is also put into question. Its basic nature appears to be some sort of sophisticated "blob" monster with extreme morphological plasticity rather than a "living disease", and its essence appears to be some sort of plasm rather than actual tissue.