Friday, February 25, 2011

Who Goes There?

Once upon a time, probably when I was an underclassman in high school, I was a sci-fi buff. My oldest brother belonged to a book-of-the-month club, and many of the selections he made were science fiction novels. I read them all (in addition to pilfering his stash of Omni magazines), usually without his permission, as I felt that being the youngest in the family, it was my bratty birthright to go snooping through my siblings' things. Sadly, my affair with sci-fi didn't last very long, and I returned to my first love, fantasy, then moved on to horror. But every once in awhile I'll revisit past flings, and that brings me to Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell. You may not be familiar with this one--after all, it was first published in 1938 and has been in and out of print ever since. It's the tightly written tale of a team of scientists stationed in the Antarctic who come across an otherworldly visitor frozen in a block of ice. You can probably guess where this is going: the ice melts, the alien is still alive, and in an attempt to survive and escape, it wreaks holy havoc on the team. This alien, however, has a rather cunning attribute: it can assume the shape of any lifeform it comes into contact with, and once the scientists figure this out, deadly paranoia sets in. Am I ringing any bells yet? Yep, you probably know this story in its big-screen treatment as John Carpenter's slimy tentacle-fest The Thing (1982), or if you're a classic film buff, The Thing From Another World (1951). If you enjoyed either of these movies, now you know what inspired them. Campbell tells this story like he was right there in the middle of the action, surrounded by the snow and ice of the Antarctic and wondering if his colleagues are who they claim to be. So, if this is your thing (no pun intended), then give the novella a try. Besides, you know what they say: the book is always better than the movie!

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