Monday, 16 May 2011
Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell
First published in 1938 'Who Goes There?' has become a classic of science fiction literature and deservedly so.
The book has been adapted for film twice; in 1951 as 'The Thing from Another World' and again (more famously) in 1982 as 'The Thing' directed by John Carpenter. It was the latter version that sparked my interest in finding the original book.
An American research team in Antarctica discover a spacecraft buried beneath the ice. Inside are the frozen remains of one of the 'passengers'. The team decide to bring the remains back to base and try to thaw them out. Somewhat predictably the remains aren't quite as dead as the team believed and before long it escapes, but it doesn't go far. The creature attacks, absorbs and mimics any life form it encounters. Once it has absorbed a life form it imitates them perfectly down to the last detail making it practically impossible to tell who has been got to and who has not. Before long a desperate struggle for survival begins as the men are torn between the desire to preserve their own lives by escaping and the duty to prevent the creature from reaching any human civilisation.
The book is barely more than 100 pages long but despite its short length it is very frightening and suspenseful. The feelings of dread and paranoia are brilliantly done and the creature is well thought out and put together. I loved the fact that two people would be having a conversation and you have no idea if one of them is a monster or not. Some of the characters are driven completely insane by the situation adding further to the danger of their predicament. Unlike Carpenter's 1982 version the book is not particularly gruesome or violent and most of the horror is suggested rather than spelled out on the page. Considering it was printed in 1938 it has aged remarkably well.
I loved the way the author allows the reader to get right into the story as if the reader themselves are one of the team. You are just as much in the dark as the characters are enabling the reader to really get caught up in the feelings of helplessness, frustration and apprehension. A brilliant work of suspenseful science fiction highly recommended.
Final verdict 5/5