Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Things

Short Story by Peter Watts
Available free as text and/or audio from Clarkesworld.

In 1938 John W. Campbell, Jr. wrote Who Goes There. In 1951 it was (loosely) made into the movie The Thing from Another World, which in 1982 was remade into The Thing by John Carpenter (which was of course novelized, sigh). Carpenter's Thing was much more faithful to the original story but he was a big fan of the movie too, so elements of both are present.

Anyway, Peter Watts (whose website you should read) has written a short story based on Carpenter's Thing, from the point of view of the Thing itself. The title is a take on how horrifying and bizarre we appear to it. Watts does a brilliant job laying out the thought process and emotions of the Thing, and it is impossible not to empathize with it. Also some issues with the movie are explained away much better here than they ever were originally.

So the plot is obviously the same as in the movie (and Campbell's story), but what really makes this stand out is the logic, the reasoning, the loneliness, confusion, fear, and sense of loss of the alien and how utterly different we are. This sort of empathy is not a rare theme, but it is rare to see it so brilliantly done. The story is horrifying yet sad yet (terrifyingly) hopeful. And the final line is just ... Wow. It makes perfect sense from the alien's point of view, and manages to convey so much fear and violence, and misunderstanding. If I ever need to give someone an example of a killer final sentence, this story has it. 5 out of 5 cancers dread new roommates.

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