Ink to Film Podcast: Ep 11 - Who Goes There? (1938 novella)
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This episode aired on October 19, 2017 and was made possible by our generous patrons.
Luke: Hello, and welcome to the Ink to Film podcast, where we read the book…
James: …and then see the movie.
Luke: I’m Luke.
James: And I’m James.
Luke: And this week, we cover John W. Campbell, Jr’s 1938 legendary sci-fi novella, Who Goes There?
Luke: All right, are you ready to get into our third project?
James: Yeah, it’s a bit spooky…
Luke: Yeah, it’s at least creepy, that’s for sure. We’re getting into the book that inspired the movie The Thing, the famous 1982 movie by John Carpenter. We’ll be talking about that next week, but this week we’re going to discuss the novella. I’m excited to talk about it, how about you?
James: Yeah, I didn’t even know that Who Goes There? existed until we were checking out prospective projects for Ink to Film, so just knowing that this spawned The Thing, I was on board to read it. I mean it came out in 1938, and being a more modern book reader, I was a little worried that it might be dated or not as approachable, but I think it was fairly approachable, and it wasn’t a tough read.
Luke: No, not at all. I agree. It was a very accessible read, and I enjoyed it. You know, it’s a short read, and if anybody wants to check it out, I mean you can listen to the Audible book, like we did, but there’s also, I think, a PDF online, readily available. I’m not sure of the legality of it, but when you Google Who Goes There?, it’s one of the top results, and you can just read it easily that way if you wanted to do that and follow along. But I don’t think it’s required. And if you’ve seen the movie, you probably have the gist of what happens, and you can just kind of hear us talk about the differences. Although we’re going to save most of our movie discussion for next week. I wanted to start off by talking about John W. Campbell, Jr, because I did some looking into him, and he’s an interesting guy. Did you do any of that?
James: Slightly. I saw that he was a sci-fi guy, like whether he was creating it or facilitating it, he was involved heavily in sci-fi.
Luke: Yeah. And, I mean that’s true. So, this story is famous for being adapted several times. It actually first inspired a movie from the fifties called The Thing from Outer Space.
James: From Another World.
Luke: Oh, okay, sorry, The Thing from Another World. Yeah, have you seen that movie?
James: I have seen it. I watched it for a class, but I barely remember it.
James: I’ll actually get more into it when we’re talking about the movie.
Luke: Yeah, okay, interesting. I did not see it. But, from what I heard, it was very different, and The Thing was more like a Frankenstein monster or something.
James: A little bit, yeah. It’s weird. It’s definitely not very faithful to this source material.
Luke: No. I think we both listened to the Audible version of this, right?
Luke: Yeah, and this was read by William F. Nolan, who is an author who famously wrote the book Logan’s Run, which was also adapted into a film in the seventies. Are you aware of Logan’s Run? Have you seen that?
James: Yeah, I actually really enjoyed Logan’s Run. That’s a classic in my mind.
Luke: Cool. Yeah, I actually haven’t seen it, but when I heard that, I recognized the name, and I was like, “Interesting.” So, the book on Audible is read by this other, fairly famous author. Which I think is pretty cool. And I guess he knew Campbell. So, this story first appeared in Astounding magazine, but he published under a pen name. Later, it was put in a bunch of different anthologies over the years, including Analog, which is a pretty famous sci-fi magazine. He’s known as being a famous influence editor, and he helped develop many different sci-fi authors, like Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and L. Ron Hubbard, just to name a few. So, a lot of people think of him as being one of the most influential visions or minds in what’s often called the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Yeah, this is a big-name guy who had a very lasting impact.
James: He seems like the guy, you know, that people would turn to, to kind of punch up their sci-fi writing, so a lot of his influence can be seen today still.
Luke: Yeah, and he’s known for demanding his writers understand both science and people, which I think is a whole mark of modern sci-fi, in that it can’t just be a scientific discussion. It’s gotta also have real characters and believable people. And those two kind of coming together, that was kind of his thing.
James: You can tell in this story that he didn’t mess around when it came to the sciences, too. You can tell he was well-read, and he knew what he was having the characters talk about, and he wasn’t just making things up that weren’t true. He was using fairly accurate data.
Luke: It felt almost like a borderline, almost hard sci-fi to me. In that it has hard science. Now, a part of the problem is, I think we’re talking about cellular science and stuff like that, and that has come a long way since 1938, so I think some of the ideas maybe were very cutting-edge and didn’t quite hold up. Maybe were disproven over the years, or the thinking has changed. But for the most part, it felt like it was a really well-researched smart novella, I would say. Now, that man isn’t without controversy. It’s noted that he held many racist views. That he would talk about in public. He was known to say that he thought there were natural-born slaves, who would be unhappy to be free.
James: Wow. I had no idea.
Luke: He was an outspoken defender of smoking and Big Tobacco. He would attack all the ads that were coming out saying it was unhealthy.
James: Weird thing to…fight for, I guess.
Luke: Well, he was a lifelong smoker, and he just like…But, like, the thing was, he would try to debunk the science of it and call it all hogwash and stuff. And then he became obsessed with some fringe science himself, especially ESP and, like, psychic abilities. He became really interested in that research, and a big believer in it. And we get a little bit of that in here kind of talked about. And then he famously became interested in Dianetics and had a connection with L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology, so… His controversial views started to kind of alienate him from a lot of these writers he helped form, including Heinlein. People who would say they’d read these editorials he would publish and then be sickened by him. So, especially later in his life, I think he got a little bit extreme. So it’s interesting because, like, in some ways, you could say that kind of tarnished his legacy a little bit, but you also don’t want to downplay what he did for the genre. And I think, overall, he’s pretty well respected. I think proof of this is that there are several awards given annually in his name still. Including the John W. Campbell Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, which includes sci-fi and fantasy writers. Those are both really well-respected awards that I’ve heard of, so it’s interesting to think about his legacy. I’m not going to pretend to be some sort of scholar. I just did a lot of quick, slapdash research before we did this, so I don’t want to go into…I don’t know enough. I’m sure there are plenty more stories, maybe some really bad ones, maybe some really positive ones…I don’t know. But I just figured it was worth mentioning.
James: Yeah, I had no idea about his tarnished legacy, and having just watched a documentary the other day about Scientology, I just, like, find it really interesting that he was working closely with L. Ron Hubbard.
Luke: Yeah. Well, I think I’m ready to dive into this novella. How about you?
James: Yeah, let’s do it.
Luke: All right, so right off the bat, we’re in Antarctica. There is an expedition that seems to be about investigating some magnetic anomalies. This group is down investigating. I wanted to say that he leads off this novella by a long description of smells. Which is a really, as a writer, they say that if you can include smells, it’s a really evocative sense. And it can really bring things to life for the reader. And we’re hit with a bunch of these right off the bat, like seal blubber and sweat and cooking fat and dog smell, and all this different stuff. And I thought it really…it pulled me into the scene in a way I don’t expect from a lot of older things that I read. It was a really cool attention to detail that I appreciated. And then we get this group that are standing around the frozen body of a creature and talking about what they’re going to do with it, and discussing whether or not they’re going to thaw it out. We meet McReady, who is described as a looming, bronze statue. Him being like a bronze statue gets repeated multiple times throughout the novella. And we meet Blair and Commander Garry and a bunch of others. There are 37 men here it said, and there’s a lot of characters in here.
James: Initially I was a little overwhelmed. I found myself going back and figuring out names and who’s who and who was doing what, just because it seemed like a lot of people for such a short story.
Luke: Yeah, I mean because we’re talking about it in a podcast, I tried to make sure I understood who was who and who did what, but there’s a lot of names. It’s a lot of just kind of…dudes. Um, so they all kind of blend together.
James: Yeah, some of them end up not even being really relevant. They just do a thing or two and aren’t really mentioned again.
Luke: Yeah, sometimes people will just kind of show up, say something, and then blend back into the crowd. And then you don’t ever hear from them again. So, yeah, it can be kind of tough, but our major players we’ll try and stick to. McReady is definitely one. Blair and Garry and several others. Now, they decide…the theory is that this ship has been…well, first off, there was a ship, and it was crashed 20 million years ago. He thinks it’s because it tangled with the Earth’s magnetic field and lost. The oppressiveness of the cold and the isolation of this camp is established pretty early, and I think it’s really effective, and it reminds me a lot of many isolation-type scenarios in horror, like you know, cabin in the woods or being alone on a spacecraft with an alien. You know, these kinds of things are all effective because you’re so far from help. And I think this base is…he immediately establishes that. This is a very dangerous area, and it’s very far out of reach. Now, they talk about using thermite bombs to try and thin out the ice on the ship and, in the process, they destroy a lot of the ship and the technology inside. And they, you know, kind of mourn the loss of that. And one of the things they have left is this creature that’s frozen. And so they have this long talk about what kind of dangers there are going to be around thawing it out. And Blair, who is a biologist, is kind of leading this conversation, and he points out that there could be microbes in here that we would be unable to handle because we’ve never dealt with them. We haven’t evolved to deal with them. This is something I still read about. This is something people still worry about. Especially, like, coming in from outer space or even thawing out things from deep below the ice. There is a fear of this sort of thing, and for this to be coming up in 1938, it seems really prescient to me. So, Connant and Blair are arguing about whether or not they should do this, and Blair wants to thaw it out, but Connant is worried about the possible microbes and the infectious…and what kind of infectious stuff they might be releasing into the air. Blair seems convinced that, because its biology is so different and complex, there’s no way it could have survived being frozen. So, they decided to do it…Blair’s going to chip away at it with this kind of ice pick, while Connant kind of watches, and the rest of the group all funneled out, and we get a scene where Connant’s like falling asleep while Blair is picking away at the ice. And it’s very ominous, too, because it’s talking about this creature melting. We should take a moment to describe the creature, I guess. It’s described as having three eyes…like red eyes that are glaring with hate and malice, essentially. It’s got these worm-like hairs or something. It’s pretty creepy-sounding. Very monstrous. Kind of reptilian and rubbery. It’s got a lot going on. It describes tentacle-like appendages. So, yeah, pretty monstrous.
James: That’s funny because one of the characters, at one point, talks about how it’s frozen in kind of a malicious-looking way, and somebody says, like, “Who knows, that could be just how it looked,” basically. And then the other guy’s like, “Well, if that’s how it normally looks, and like that was its moment of acceptance in death when it was getting frozen, and if that’s its moment of acceptance, then I would hate to see it angry.” So, it’s just a lot of setting up for us to be like kind of scared of this creature.
Luke: Yeah. And, of course, we know this thing isn’t actually dead. And that comes to be true. So, there’s a weird moment where Connant is looking at the Thing and realizes that it is no longer sightless, and he kind of hears it moving, but then he goes back over and sits down. Did you catch this moment?
James: Yeah, he ends up in some kind of trance or something where he just doesn’t…he sees that it’s about…its skin looks like it was armored before, and now it looks more rubbery, and it’s about to break out of the ice basically, and he just like…he has a moment where he thinks about, like, pouring lighter fluid on it and then dropping a cigarette on it, but then he like stares at it for a while and then walks away and sits back down.
Luke: Yeah, so there’s some talk about the Thing possibly being telekinetic or having ESP of some kind. And one of the evidences that is given is that they all have these dreams now that they’ve found it, and the dreams kind of describe this Thing and how it behaves. And they think this is some sort of projection or something coming out of there. And, so this is kind of…I took this to be proof that it has the ability to…maybe not control, but suggest things and to maybe put someone into a trance, like you said. And it uses its abilities to kind of make it so that it can get free without him raising the alarm.
James: So, yeah, my read of this was he…as he walked over, as we find out later, the Thing has abilities to replicate or…like, absorb…and then replicate and basically become whatever it absorbs. And, so my read was, when he was standing over and staring at it, it was in the process of reaching out its tentacles and basically absorbing him and then it became…he became a Thing. One of the Thing’s spawn.
Luke: So you think what went over and sat back down wasn’t even him anymore?
James: Yeah, that’s what I got out of it.
Luke: Hmm. That’s interesting. Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of that kind of…a lot of stuff happens off-page. And, like, yeah, it’s hard to know at what time…when people become monsters, when did that happen? It’s very mysterious. But, yeah, so what happens is, Connant says that it’s gotten away, they all hear these sounds from where the huskies are being kept, and they go down there, and the Thing is like fighting with the huskies, and they’re all like chewing it and biting it, and McReady uses this giant blowtorch. And he tells somebody to get a cable so they can, like, electrify it, and so they do that. The dogs keep biting the Thing. They have this big showdown in the corridor, where finally they electrocute it with this, like, device that gets thrown together. It’s like these cables that shock it. And then the dogs just attack the body of it.
James: I thought that, especially for a book that took place in 1938, I thought it was interesting that they thought to…you know, electricity had been around, but I just thought it was smart of them to be like, “Let’s take a cable and electrocute it” rather than just continuing to blowtorch it. It seems like the electricity throughout is the most effective thing against the Thing.
Luke: Yeah, that seems to really get it. Shock it. And it turns into, like, a rubbery goo. So, next up we got Garry, and he’s…Commander Garry, and he’s saying that he wants to make sure this thing is finally dead for real this time. This is the first time where I noticed they said it was part Charnauk, which is the name of one of the dogs. And part Thing. Essentially that it had started to turn into one of the dogs, and I guess they interrupted it halfway through, and the Thing, they though, was this hybrid version. And then they started having this talk about how they think if it had been given more time, it would have eventually turned into a dog and been indistinguishable from the other dogs. Maybe even to the point that other dogs wouldn’t know that it wasn’t a dog. So, interesting kind of philosophical stuff starts getting pulled out about, you know, if it’s a monster but it’s an imitation that’s so good that even other dogs can’t tell, like, what is it then? And how does it think, and how is it still alien? And then they start bringing up the idea that it could be a person and doing the same thing to them, and how that maybe it’s so good at acting, essentially, that basically with its ESP powers, it’s able to know the thoughts and feelings of the people that it’s become, that it would be indistinguishable. Which is really creepy, and this starts to be. It starts to lay down this…which I think is the best part of this story…is all these guys start to look at each other with the suspicion. Like, you know, if it could be any of us, how do I know who here I can trust?
James: This is where the story goes from sci-fi/horror to sci-fi/horror/mystery. Because it’s like…it’s just bending every genre. And so we get to the point where there is this horrific monster, but the thing that’s really scary is that…isn’t necessarily the monster…I mean, it is the monster, but it’s more of just not being able to trust anyone, so it’s like…that could become even more dangerous than a monster. As soon as you start turning on everybody, then, rather than having one threat and you guys coming together to fight it, everyone around you is a threat.
Luke: So, Blair is basically driven mad by this knowledge…this idea. He starts giggling and saying that it’s going to take over the world and that it wants to take over the world. He sabotages the planes so they can’t get away, I guess, so no one can leave. And then eventually he just lies down, like giggling and crying, and they’re all like, “Okay, this guy’s gone completely nuts. He’s not going to be helping. He could potentially be dangerous and try and murder us all when he wakes up.” And they keep looking at Connant because he was the one who was watching it, and thinking that Connant isn’t really him anymore. He is now one of these monsters. So, a character named Norris starts talking about the nightmares, and how he had a premonition in his nightmares about how the Thing can change shapes and take on these different forms. And then he and McReady develop these theories about what this Thing was going to be like. They know that it can read minds and mannerisms. And by this time, the cook named Kinner goes to the galley, and Dr. Copper, which is like…it’s just mentioned in this way…at this point, whenever you hear someone doing something like that, I always take it to be like it means something. So, even though it’s just this offhand thing, like he just goes walking off, I’m like, “Oh, what does that mean?” Then we get Dr. Copper who starts talking about a blood test, and he thinks that if they harvest a bunch of dog blood, they can make this serum that they’d be able to mix in with a blood sample from a human, and they’ll be able to determine whether or not the Thing is in that person. And there’s a lot…you get into a lot of the science behind it, and how there’s certain blood that will reject other types of blood, and all this stuff. I don’t know. How much did you get out of the science talk here? Because it was a little over my head, and I’m not sure it holds up today, so…
James: Yeah, even…I thought this was weird. This is where I felt like he was really trying to be as scientific as possible about it, but basically what I kind of pulled from it was, if you put dog blood into human blood, the human blood would reject the dog blood. But if you put dog blood that also had the Thing blood in it, into human blood, the Thing blood would kind of try to adapt and become the human blood, and it wouldn’t react. Or something like that. But that’s not what ends up really happening, because there’s like tainted specimens and stuff here in a second.
Luke: Yeah, so that’s the theory, and they’re going to do this test, right? They’re going to develop a serum. They decide to lock up Connant while they’re figuring out this test. And they also want to keep Blair isolated. They’re going to take him out to this, like, shack. And put him out there and lock him in and keep him away from everybody else. And they kind of get him out there, and he is terrified and thinks everybody else is one of the Things. And he doesn’t want anyone to come inside, and he basically barricades himself into this room, even though he’s locked in. They just kind of leave him there because he’s basically gone mad at this point. And they go back and they start to develop this blood serum. So they can check each other. McReady is the only one who’s like pointing out, maybe at this point that like they’re all just being crazy. And he’s like, “As far as we know, this Thing is dead, and we killed it when it was attacking the dogs.” But he even seems unsure about it. And they all are looking and eyeing each other with suspicion. So, next up we got…the test starts to begin. They’ve developed this serum. And Connant’s watching the test tube, and it comes back…the test proves that Connant is a human. And they all relax, and everyone starts to, like, walk off. And afterwards, Commander Garry kind of notices Dr. Copper looking at this test tube, and he comes over, and I guess the test has just kind of shown now that the dog blood didn’t react to the serum either. Which proves that the serum has been contaminated with monster blood, which means two things. One, Connant is not necessarily not a monster. Because it was a false test. And two, since Commander Garry and Dr. Copper gave their blood to make the serum, one of them is a monster. And he announces this, and all of a sudden, everyone just stares at him, and there’s this really interesting conversation where they both talk about how they aren’t monsters but they can’t prove it. But they also know that one of them is lying.
James: Yeah, and honestly, so far in this story, I’ve grown to like Commander Garry, and so when I found out that he might…it seems like he is going to be a Thing, because it’s in Dr. Copper’s best interests to, if he was a Thing, to make sure that the tests were invalid or whatever anyway. So, he could technically still be one, but I just felt that they were leading it to…
Luke: But he wouldn’t have brought…the idea is that he wouldn’t have brought it up if he was a Thing, but it’s Garry who points that out. So, there’s all this really interesting stuff that Campbell is doing here, where they’re both doing things that you wouldn’t think it would do. And that’s…I think it’s also kind of the brilliance and just how good this Thing is at blending in that it’s gotten really good at finding a way to make it seem like it couldn’t possibly be a monster.
James: It’s reverse-psychologying everyone.
James: Just using reverse psychology to make everybody think…but if you’ve ever...you’ve seen Princess Bride, I’m assuming, right?
James: The cup scene with the poison. That’s what the Thing is doing to all of the characters in the book.
Luke: <laughs> yeah. And, so they sedate Copper. McReady kind of takes over. Oh yeah, Garry says, like, “You’re in charge now, McReady,” because he knows now that he might be a monster that no one can trust him. We just get this really interesting talk about how they can’t…you can’t know if somebody is a monster or not. You can’t listen to anything they’re saying. And it creates this paranoia in this group that I find really fascinating. To me, it’s the heart and soul of this story and what’s made it so lasting and made it so interesting. It really highlights the locked perspective of yourself and how you can never really know another person’s mind, and really anything about them. Despite what they may say.
James: Even if their actions show something, they could still be thinking something differently, so it’s like, unless you know someone for a certain amount of time, even then you might not truly know.
Luke: And, you know, that’s the basis of a lot of stories and books and movies that have been made after this. And you can take it to be a metaphor for so many things in real life, right? Like, people who are serial killers. Everyone who knows them talks about how they were normal, and how they seem perfectly fine. Or mass shooters. Unfortunately, we’ve been dealing with a lot of those in America. And, yeah, people who know them can’t believe it was them, right? And are totally stunned and say, “This person could have never done this.” And this is a great metaphor for that, like how, no matter what they say and what you think you know about somebody, you never know what could be hiding. Like, inside their mind. So, it’s really creepy in that way, too. That’s a chilling thought.
James: Yeah. Something I was going to bring up is…that you basically just answered…is sci-fi typically will have some underlying social message or something like that. And I was wondering what you got out of the story and what, socially, you think inspired some of this book in, you know, the 1930s.
Luke: I don’t know…I can’t speak for Campbell and say exactly he meant by it. That’s what I’m getting out of it as a modern reader. For all we know, you know, he could have had more sinister things…this could have been about him distrusting other races. I don’t know. I don’t want to put that in his mouth either. Because, you know, that could have completely not been what’s going on here. I don’t…I barely know anything about the man, so…it’s hard to theorize. But I can with confidence say that I thought about all these things, and I thought about how killers and people who have dark secrets in our society often can hide in plain sight, and all the people who are close to them will never know. And how chilling that is. Before we get into the second half of this book, I want to take a moment to talk to you about Audible. We are affiliates with them, and we can offer you a free credit and 30 free days, if you sign up through our affiliate link AudibleTrial.com/InkToFilm. You can go on there and find one of thousands and thousands of titles. I wanted to mention this book in particular. You can listen to this read by another famous author. I thought it was a really cool thing to listen to, but if you also wanted to get a bang for your buck time-wise, you can go listen to the 30–40-hour audiobooks of A Game of Thrones. The Game of Thrones series. And I wanted to mention that because, well I wanted to ask you, did you hear about Roy Dotrice passing away?
James: I did, unfortunately.
Luke: Yeah, he is the narrator…he reads the books. All the Game of Thrones series. I think his voice was so iconic, and he just does such a great job with that series. I thought I’d highlight him and say that to celebrate his life, go out and listen to him read one of George R. R. Martin’s novels, because I think they’re really good.
James: Yeah, Roy Dotrice, he actually also played a role in the TV show. He was one of the Maesters or something that was dealing with the wildfire.
Luke: He was a pyromancer, right?
James: That’s exactly what he was. Yeah, he was a pyromancer with the wildfire. What’s cool is that they gave him that little cameo role because he, like you said, read the audiobooks. And I didn’t even realize it until after he passed that he had a little cameo in the show like that. I actually listened to the audiobook for the first novel, A Game of Thrones. And I think he does a great job. He’s one of my…like, I’ve listened to a decent amount of audiobook up to this point, and I think he’s definitely one of my favorite readers.
Luke: Yeah, a great talent.
James: So, yeah, if you guys wanted to check that out, it’s AudibleTrial.com/InkToFilm. And you get 30 free days, and you can snag that A Game of Thrones with that free credit.
Luke: Oh, I also wanted to point out that I read on there that you can exchange credits. So, say you download a book, whether it be A Game of Thrones or something else, and you don’t end up liking it. That credit isn’t just burned. You actually can exchange it. You can say, “I didn’t like the book that I read,” and they have an exchange program on there, where you can switch it out for a different title. So, it’s really a cool service. I’ve been a member for a long time. And if you want to sign up, make sure to use our link, and that’s AudibleTrial.com/InkToFilm. All right, so McReady goes down to check on the animals. When he returns, he’s really ominous, and he says, like, “They’re all dead.” All the dogs and all the cattle. Come to find out, they all had transformed into monsters. And it seems like McReady was basically doing a test of “I shot it through the heart, and if it didn’t die, then it was a monster.” Which is a pretty brutal test to do, but it turns out they were all monsters, including the cow. And at the realization of that, Kidder, the cook says, “Wait. I milked them like an hour ago.” And he says…you know…it seems like people have been drinking this milk. So, there’s this whole thing of like, “Oh, shit, they milked a monster, and they’ve all been drinking it, and what does that mean now?” And it really starts to get…like, that’s a pretty crazy thing to think about. And they test the milk, but it doesn’t react, so they’re not sure if, like, because it was an imitation cow, maybe it could make imitation milk that would be indistinguishable from regular milk? I don’t know. But this kind of drives Kidder mad. He’s the next one who kind of loses his mind.
James: So, as they talk about how the Thing can be perfect replications, they’re talking about…they get into, like, the biology of it and how it’s such an advanced creature that it’s able to manipulate the cells within its body to basically, literally become the cells of another. And it got me thinking, like, it would be so interesting if we ever evolved to that point where we could…what he’s doing is manifesting something from nothing. He’s…it’s not losing any mass by creating something completely, wholly new. And so it’s just like an unlimited creature of mass that’s just creating more and more. The way that Campbell describes it is just like…I think he really knew…like I said before, he was well-read. He was fairly up on the scientific theories and that kind of thing in his time.
Luke: And it really makes this thing seem like a real threat. Like, you get the idea of how quickly this would spread. Right? And how devastating it would be. Because each one of these Things is its own individual version of the monster, with its own desires and thoughts, or whatever, but they also kind of work together as a whole. And it’s all about spreading and, like you said, it doesn’t lose any of its mass when it’s, like, capturing things and becoming things. So, it essentially can do this an infinite number of times. And it could take over the entire world. This is kind of what drove Blair mad, like, he was thinking about how this thing could take over the world and, like, literally everybody on the planet could become a monster. And it seems that he’s not sure that they should be able to…that anyone should leave this base. That might be the only way to be sure that it doesn’t spread. Van Wall brings up that he’s worried. He says, “What if everybody here is a monster,” right? Already. “And we just don’t realize it.” He says, “I could be the only one who’s real, like who’s a person. And the rest of you are all just these actors.” And so then they start talking about, like, well, why would they do that? Why would the Thing not show itself if it outnumbered us all. And they kind of come up with this idea that maybe it’s kind of passive, and that it’s not, like, out to violently eat everybody. It’s more about just, like, absorbing them. And so it’s just waiting for its chance to absorb this final person. But it’s also like we know this guy who’s saying that could be a monster himself, and he supposedly knows it, but he could just be lying. So, we can’t even believe what he’s saying. And they start talking about wanting to develop another kind of test. And McReady’s going to think about it while they decide to turn on this movie. They’re going to watch a movie, drown out Kinner, who’s like singing, like, psalms and stuff. He’s in like…they put him in a different room, like, nearby, and they can hear him shouting. So, they decide to drown him out by turning on these movies, and also because they’re all staring at each other and freaking each other out. They decide that, if they watch something, maybe that will kind of help with the situation. Like, lower tensions a little bit. And so they’re watching this movie, and McReady is thinking about things, and he seems like he’s coming up with an idea, and then he notices that Kinner has stopped screaming. Or stopped shouting and singing or whatever he was doing. So, he has them shut off the movie, and they go and check on him, and it turns out his throat has been cut. And he comes back in and says, “Well, now, in addition to mad men and monsters, we also have murderers among us.” They talk about…they start having a session about who killed him, and now we gotta worry about people killing people. What was your take on this…this part here? Did you think that’s what happened and someone did kill somebody?
James: I did, yeah. I thought everything had gotten to someone, and they just decided they were going to take it upon themselves to save the human race and start killing people they thought were monsters, and it was going to turn out that they weren’t monsters.
Luke: So, you thought the person who killed Kinner thought he was a monster?
James: Yeah, I thought he was taking it upon himself to just be like, “All right, these people are...” Like, I thought that it had gotten to him, and we were going to be dealing with murderers, as well as…like they were saying, murderers, monsters, everything. I thought it was going to be a situation where this person was just going to be lurking in the background also killing people.
Luke: Yeah, so you were kind of right. It turns out that is basically what happened, but Kinner is found to be a monster. But the person who killed him, who is Clark…yeah, Clark killed him, and he thought…he had decided he had to be a monster when he killed him. Now, I thought…I was sure it was going to come out that he just killed him because, yeah, like you said maybe he thought he was a monster, but like he just took an opportunity to kill somebody because he’s like paranoid and out of control. And I was almost disappointed when it turned out that Kinner was a monster, because it retroactively forgives what he did.
Luke: And I think it’s almost more interesting in a dark way to have him kill another real person, right?
James: The paranoia would have mounted even more, just because then you have somebody who’s lost…the other people have gone crazy, but this is the first person who had killed a human being, adding to the tension. I feel like…I agree.
Luke: He kind of tries to have it both ways. He’s like, “Oh well, you didn’t know that, so…” you know, he’s still introducing this idea. But he also kind of forgives it. He says, “Well, now that we know he was a monster, you might as well just admit what you did, because we’re not going to blame you,” essentially. And that’s why Clark comes forward. And it’s kind of weird because he didn’t know that. So, I don’t know. It’s interesting. I kind of wish he hadn’t turned out to actually be a monster, but… This is when McReady says he has a new test. He’s figured this new test out. He gathers everybody together in a room, and he says, “I figured out that if you cut a monster and it bleeds, the blood, as soon as it separates from the body, becomes its own entity, with its own self-preservation instinct. And because of that, you can get the blood and introduce a hot needle to it, and it will, like, pull away from the hot needle.” Whereas regular blood obviously would just sit there and, like, steam. And so he says, “That’s going to be the new test, and they’re going to find out who is and who isn’t a monster. All right, so they test Van Wall first. And he turns out to be human. And they go to test Dutton, and he just immediately transforms. They have to, like, gang up on him and kill him. As a pack. Just like bring him down and then tear him up, and they fry him with the electricity. Then they prove that Barclay is human. And then McReady then tests himself. Which feels like he probably should have led off with that, but he didn’t. He then tests himself, proves that he’s human. And then they go to test Connant and, all along, apparently, Connant has been a monster. I was kind of surprised at how quickly they went through these tests. This was like a spot where there could have been so much tension and so much, you know, with every person. Instead, it was like kind of…you know, McReady’s human, Connant…oh, he was a monster and they had to kill him. It was very fast. And then it finishes out with Garry, who…this was a cool moment. Commander Garry says, like, “Man, I can’t believe Connant has been a monster all this time. I was so sure he was a man.” He seems to be just so overwhelmed, and he just can’t believe it. And then come to find out he’s also a monster when they test him. Which I thought was really cool, because it just shows you how good his camouflage was.
James: Yeah, this happened so much faster than I expected, too. And it happened so much later than I expected it to, as well. Like, I was expecting this kind of scene to happen earlier on, and we’re close to the end here. And they just ran through all the guys. They were, like, “This guy…” There wasn’t much tension in that reveal, it was just like, “Here’s like six guys who are all monsters, and we ganged up on them and beat them. It wasn’t much of a struggle, so we’re pretty well off now that we took out all those bad guys.” So, it just felt like it was going to be, like, “Oh, it’s loose in the halls, and they’re having to chase it and run around, and they’re up in the ceiling, and…” You know.
James: More, like, tension-building monster stuff. But it ended up being more sci-fi, I guess, because they just figured it out with a test and…
Luke: Yeah, I think it’s part of the time it was written, for sure, but I do also get a sense that this is because Campbell wasn’t a horror writer. So he maybe didn’t think about the idea of building tension. Or maybe he didn’t think it worthwhile. And, you know, the dread that you can build and the suspense. Instead of doing that, he kind of foregoes all of that for these quick hits. Which was okay, but I think it was kind of a missed opportunity. Just personally, at least. All right, so we get to the final section here, and it comes out…we kind of just get it in summary…that 14 of the 37 or so that were still around test as monsters, and they just kill them all. And then they take the bodies outside to burn them. And then they decide they’re going to sanitize everything that was touched and put acid on any particles of blood, and just like really try and wipe out any sign of this. Of the Thing. And as they’re doing that, they realize, “Oh, shit, Blair’s still out there in the cabin, or shed, and we never tested him.” So, they decide to go out and test Blair. On their way there, they see this albatross flying in the air. And they shoot at it, and they cause it to fly away. But they’re all surprised to see it, because they didn’t think there would be any other animals. We’ve talked about how they’re really worried about the idea that, if it took the form of a flying thing, it could just fly away and get anywhere. So, when they get to Blair’s shack, they come in and they notice…they come in and see the monster…first off, they see that Blair is one of the monsters, and he’s basically transformed into what they pulled out of the ice, from what I read of the description. Like, it’s got the three eyes, it’s got the weird tentacles and all this stuff. It’s snakelike and monstrous. And they come in and it’s working on something. And they have the showdown where they shoot it a bunch of times, and I wanted to take a section here and read a little bit of the actual prose here, because I thought this was a really cool little selection:
The thing screamed a feral hate, a lashing tentacle wiping at blinded eyes. For a moment it crawled on the floor, savage tentacles lashing out, the body twitching. Then it staggered up again, blinded eyes working, boiling hideously, the crushed flesh sloughing away in sodden gobbets. (Page 37)
Which that, okay, that’s some good horror writing right there. That’s pretty grody. That’s a good description of a monster. So, yeah, I liked that. That was cool.
James: Yeah, I think he does a good job. It’s funny, because like you said, he can do it. That’s grotesque and very horror, kind of gory.
Luke: It’s a different skill to describe something in a gross way than to build suspense and have that suspense pay off, so…it is a little different. Yeah, horror writers do both well, often, but it is a little different.
James: Yeah. I don’t know. He seems to be like, wanting to be…maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s just that it’s from the thirties, but it seems like he’s purposely staying sci-fi. And even up to this end part here, this next part that we’ll talk about, it seems like he was really trying…I don’t want to say shoehorn, but he was trying to add in elements of sci-fi here at the end that would leave us with some very, very…much more sci-fi than horror or anything like that at the very end.
Luke: Yeah, so they roast Blair, or the Thing that Blair became, and basically it crawls out of the shack, and McReady flamethrowers it until it’s done. And then they go back inside the shack, and they notice the things that it’s been building, right? And one of the things is something called an atomic generator, they call it, and it’s giving off all this heat. And they notice hanging at the top of the shack, there’s this anti-gravity device, and it had straps on it and stuff, like it was going to…the theory being that it was going to strap this anti-gravity device to itself and fly away. And they got there just in time to stop it from doing this. And, also, they’re going to study this new technology, and it’s going to be this big find. And, really, the story ends on a very positive note, like, “Well, we went through all this crazy shit, but now we’ve got this new tech to study.” You know what I mean? Like, it’s going to be interesting, and McReady says at one point, “What about that albatross? Do you think there’s any chance…” And then they shoot him down, like, “Nah, no way.” They wouldn’t have built this anti-gravity device if it had gotten into the albatross. So, it’s interesting, because I didn’t think there was a lot of ambiguity there, but it seems like kind of a missed opportunity to put a creepy spin on it. I guess it depends on what he wanted to story to be.
Luke: But I was really surprised they didn’t put the spin of like, “Maybe it did get away” on the albatross. You know what I mean?
James: Yeah. It just seems like that’s a natural progression. That’s something that, if you have that in there, and the bird gets away, probably a good idea to at least leave people wondering about that bird.
Luke: Yeah. I guess you can still wonder, but from what we get in the text, it seems to be discounted as a possibility. And the other thing I was thinking was, like, this thing is so pernicious and so…it’s ability to transform and get into other life forms and the fact that they all drink the milk and we still don’t know what effect that may or may not have had, I’m still not sure about all these people. Yes, maybe they’re testing as not monsters, but does that mean they couldn’t get contaminated when they’re, like, cleaning up something that’s become something or become a carrier.
James: They very hastily…or Campbell very hastily was like, “Yeah, and they poured acid on everything and they killed everything, and it’s all clear now. And that, to me, seems like the place where he left it ambiguous. And maybe not even on purpose. Maybe it was one of those things where he was like, “This is covered. Don’t worry about that.” He wanted to readers to follow along with him. Which kind of leads me to something I wanted to say about this book. I did enjoy it. It was fun, and it might just be its age, but I felt like a lot…it was a lot of exposition-heavy scenes. A lot of him telling us what’s going to happen.
Luke: A lot of science, mmhmm.
James: A lot of him saying, “This is how the story’s going, and you’re going to come along with it,” basically, rather than having the reader, like…kind of forcing the reader to come along on the journey rather than having the reader create their own kind of…
Luke: Or inhabit the characters more closely.
Luke: The POV isn’t as tight as you get in a lot of modern stuff.
James: And I’m sure it’s just the age. It was written in the thirties, and it’s…
Luke: Yeah. It is. It’s the style…that was more the style at the time than it is now, for sure.
James: I just thought it was pretty wild that we…I kind of mentioned it, but an anti-gravity harness? That’s like…
James: That was the end game.
Luke: That comes out of the blue, right?
James: Yeah, out of nowhere we have anti-gravity, and we have this atomic generator that can power anything forever, and he made like a little sun is how I kind of interpreted from that.
Luke: Yeah. I kind of like the idea…because at one point early on, the idea is floated that maybe the Thing that they dug out wasn’t even actually its real form. That it took on the guise of something else that was in the ship? And I kind of liked that theory. But that kind of also gets swept under the rug. He proposes it, but then he’s like, “Nah, that’s not what happened. That was its real form.”
Luke: And with no real proof of that. But if you think…I’m just now thinking about how that is very similar to the plot of Alien. Right? And what happened with Alien and the architects. And how Alien and those movies have basically just a parasite. It doesn’t have…like they can’t make their own ships, right? And…
James: This is mostly Prometheus backstory stuff that you put in later, right?
Luke: Yeah, I guess that’s true. But I mean we never got the idea that the aliens are flying around in their own ships.
Luke: It was always more like they were parasites on these other races.
Luke: Anyway, it made me think of that. And maybe this is even a more capable version, because it can actually take the form and use their memories and understand things that they understood? But yeah, it was kind of given this different take at the end, where it felt like the Thing was actually this brilliant, star-traveling creature that was doing its own inventions and…I don’t know. It almost didn’t fit with what I pictured this monster to be.
James: And, I mean, we both have seen the film…
James: …which is a little different…
James: And so, I came in with certain preconceived notions of what was going to happen, and so they went hard sci-fi…he went fairly hard sci-fi with elements of horror and elements of mystery and that kind of thing. And, I mean, like you were saying, you see elements of this in Alien 40 years later, so…
James: It’s like he was laying the groundwork for people to use his material for a long time after that.
Luke: Yeah. I guess it would prove a point to say that next week we will be doing The Thing, John Carpenter. And it’s the film version of this that we’ve both seen and love. And I’m really excited to talk about it now that I’ve read this story, and get into the similarities and differences, and I’m going to be paying attention to a lot of things now that I otherwise wouldn’t have, now that I’ve read this, for sure.
James: Yeah. I’m excited. It’s a movie that I always like to watch around Halloween because it’s just one that’s really…it’s fun to revisit. It’s just a good 80s horror/sci-fi blend.
Luke: Yeah, it’s fun, and I hope you guys will be interested in talking about some more horror for the Halloween holiday. All right, I guess that’s it. So, if you guys want to keep in touch with us, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We are @InkToFilm on all three. We have a website, InkToFilm.com. You can go there, and it will send you to all the other places, and you can see all of our episodes. And if you would like to help us, the number one thing you can do is subscribe. Give us a rating on whatever platform you use, and if you’d like, leave us a little review. You don’t always have to do that. You can always just leave a star rating, and we would greatly appreciate that.
James: So, if you’d like to, you can leave us feedback at InkToFilm@gmail.com. Send us comments, concerns. If you’ve seen the film The Thing from 1982, send us your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you.
Luke: Yeah, and if you can get those in to us before Monday, that would be Sunday the 22nd, we might even be able to read some on the air. We’d also like to say thank you to Ross Bugden for the use of our intro and outro music. And also Audible. Thank you for our affiliate link. If you guys want to get that 30-day free trial and one free credit for a book, it’s AudibleTrial.com/InkToFilm. All right, and we’ll see you next week for the movie episode.
James: And I’m James.