Book Review: Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell

Who Goes There? and Other Stories - John W. Campbell Jr.

The Basics


A science team in Antarctica have discovered an alien being frozen in ice. Their curiosity gets the better of them, and they thaw it out. Bad things ensue.


My Thoughts


John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite films. Easily in my top five. Not only do the special effects astound me no matter how many times I view it, but the gripping suspense that plays throughout makes it so you can’t look away even when you may want to. It’s up there with the best horror films ever made, because while the monster is indeed terrifying, it doesn’t rely on effects alone. It scares on a level deeper than that, creating a paranoia that has every character isolated within the group.


So I had to read this. I felt obligated as a fan to get into the source material. I was prepared in a couple of ways, like seeing that publication date for one. 1938 is not 2013. In accepting that, I could take a lot with a grain of salt. Like the fact that the story begins with McReady giving a long chunk of exposition, opening with the immortal, “as you know." As you know? Then who is he talking to? Well, the invisible audience, obviously. That’s never a good choice from a writer.


McReady himself is apparently fashioned from pure bronze. Otherwise why would he be constantly referred to as bronzed, to the point that his introduction to the audience involves about five uses of “bronze" from his hair to his hands. And there’s another guy, who’s name eludes me, who was made of steel. He was steely all over and a damn fine man with steel in his eyes and his fingers and so on you get the idea. 1938. Repeat it to yourself like a mantra.


At the end of the day, the way I judge this book is not on moments where things were described hilariously or exposition was given to a room of men who already knew all that was being said. I judge it on the kernel of an idea that led to a film that fired my imagination and continues to do so to this day. It has that kernel and more, which was a pleasant surprise. No, I didn’t expect much from this novella. I expected Carpenter changed a lot, and he did change some. But the trademarks are here. The things that made Carpenter sure that this could make a great movie, a better one than the previous attempt, are all here. The suspense, the paranoia, the hysteria, unfortunate human nature, and an alien that attacks in the most frightening way possible: from within.


If you’re willing to allow for a little cheese, you might be surprised how this pulpy story actually has some meat to it.


Final Rating