Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

Who Goes There

Who Goes There?

John W. Campbell


As editor of Astounding/Analog Magazine, and to some extent in his writings, Campbell’s influence on the field of science fiction has been huge. And the title short story (it’s really a novella) in this collection is rightly famous. It was the basis for the two films known as The Thing – one directed by Howard Hawks (credited as Christian Nyby) and the other by John Carpenter (there was also a sequel). It’s interesting how faithful particularly the Carpenter version is to Campbell’s story, from its vivid and horrifying portrayal of the shapeshifting alien, to the infamous blood test that finally exposes it. All in all, it’s a chilling and effective tale of paranoia.

But Campbell was not much of a stylist, and his protagonists (always men – always) are pretty cardboard. It’s all very ‘boy’s own’, and his writings tend to be reviled by women, with good reason. In fact, in some of his stories the ‘man love’ becomes so overt you suspect the characters are gay and they know it (check out the first part of Twilight for an example). It all makes for an enjoyable retrogressive subtext reading, but Campbell generally plays everything ‘straight’.

Campbell was also famously what we now call an exo-racist – or exophobe (is there such a word?). He hated aliens, any kinds. His stories are full of humans (ie: men) winning out over and destroying them nasty foreign creatures. In fact, Isaac Asimov, who wrote for Campbell in the early days, set his Foundation series in a humans-only galaxy specifically because he knew his editor’s predilections.

Of the stories here, besides the title story, I think Dead Knowledge and Twilight are the best. Twilight presents a haunting, poetic, very Wellsian vision of one of humanity’s possible futures in decline. Here he points the blame at our fading curiosity, and has his ‘magnificent’ protagonist from the past try to reinstill that curiosity in the machines that are left behind. Dead Knowledge gives us another evanescent society, but this time the blame is pointed elsewhere. A terrific mystery or whodunnit story, this one – in some way similar to Who Goes There. And who are the culprits this time? Why, those pesky aliens, of course!

Story and Author

Tags/Hub Areas

Therapeutic Tags

Personal Rating

Who Goes There?

Shapeshifter, horror, Antarctica, paranoia, alien invaders, mystery

Ingenuity, heroism, intelligence, calm



Atomic energy, the Sun, inventor, free energy, thermlectrium alloy

Optimism, irony


Frictional Losses

Alien invasion, inventor as saviour, frictionless weapon

Survival, ingenuity


Dead Knowledge

Dead cities, alien organisms, invaders, mass suicide, mystery

Tenacity, strength of will, intuition



Chronoscope, self determination, long life, prediction, inventions, monopolies, dangerous knowledge, alternate timelines

Acceptance, letting go, conservative politics, a rationale for not helping others



Dying city, machines never stop, entropy, repressed LGBTIQ, time travel, extinction, HG Wells, lost curiosity, lost knowledge

Elegiac, wonder, poetry, outward thinking



Dying Earth, machines almost stopped, entropy, Neptune, time travel, curiosity sated, vigil

Elegiac, depressing, expansion as solution, manifest destiny, cautionary tale