John W. Campbell, WHO GOES THERE?

Ah, the terrors of the antarctic and the paranoid.  John W. Campbell's novella Who Goes There?  is a classic mix of suspense and science fiction that has inspired two movies (and one prequel) and stands up pretty well today.

Who Goes There? is about the accidental discovery of the ultimate infiltrator.  A variety of scientists are working at an isolated research station in Antarctica when they stumble upon an amazing discovery: an alien creature, and its spaceship, frozen in the ice.  The scientists accidentally destroy the ship trying to remove it from the ice, but they do manage to get the frozen creature -- an evil-looking thing with three red eyes, blue skin, and tendrils for hair -- back to their camp.  After debate, the biologist Blair gets to thaw part of it out in order to perform tests on it.

Unfortunately, the next day the scientists find that the creature has escaped from its icy prison and was in the process of killing and duplicating one of the dogs when the scientists found it.  The scientists conclude that the Thing can copy its prey both physically and mentally -- and it may have already replaced one or more of the scientists.  Blair had to be locked away from the others because in his paranoia he might have tried to kill them -- but is he really paranoid if some of the humans aren't really humans, but the Thing waiting to replace them?  It's up to the other scientists to create a test to determine who's human, before the copies can conquer the remaining humans -- and leave the base to absorb and copy more and more people...

Who Goes There?  was first published in 1938, and it's easy to see how the fears it inspires remain timeless: eliminate the alien factor, and you have the question of how good, intelligent people behave when they can't trust one another and can't leave the place they are.  The dialogue can be a little stiff and the scientific "proof" of telepathy certainly feels dated, but otherwise Who Goes There? is quite comelling and suspenseful.

This edition of Who Goes There?  also includes an introduction from William F. Nolan, along with Nolan's unused screen treatment of the original novella.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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