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
Who Goes There?
Shapeshifter, horror, Antarctica, paranoia, alien invaders, mystery
Ingenuity, heroism, intelligence, calm
Atomic energy, the Sun, inventor, free energy, thermlectrium alloy
Alien invasion, inventor as saviour, frictionless weapon
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