Who Goes There? by Campbell, John W., Jr., 1935

Who Goes There? by Campbell, John W., Jr. - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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Who Goes There? (1938): This is the story that was filmed twice as The Thing. In the story a group of scientists who are in Antarctica to research magnetism come across a ship in the ice that they believed had been there for twenty million years. Outside the ship they found the corpse of one if its crew. They took the corpse back to their base and debated thawing it out. They were not afraid that it would reanimate, but were afraid of pathogens. The camp's doctor convinced the mission commander that there was no risk of pathogen as anything that came from an alien would have a completely different biology and cross contamination would be impossible. They thawed the creature out, and it in fact did reanimate. The creature escaped while the watch they put on it fell asleep and attacked the dogs. To their horror they learned that the alien had the ability to melt other beings, then convert their mass to alien tissue. That in effect transformed whatever the alien attacked into a new alien whose job was to go out and reproduce/transform other creatures. The scientists caught one of the dog half-way through the transformation process and electrocuted it. Then they realized that this could happen to men and they would never know. The camp doctor came up with a blood serum test to identify transformed men, but the test failed. The entire camp goes slightly insane trying to figure out who had the opportunity to be captured and transformed, then the doctor realized that once blood cells had left the host they turned into a new organism, with its own defense mechanisms. The doctor tests blood samples with a hot needle, and figured out who the aliens were. One of them was in a locked room. Everyone made haste to get to it once it was identified.

Kinner - or what had been Kinner - lay on the floor, cut half in two by the great knife McReady had had. The meteorologist stood against the wall, the knife dripping end in his hand. Van Wall was stirring vaguely on the floor, moaning, his hand half-consciously rubbing at his jaw. Barclay, an unutterably savage gleam in his eyes, was methodically leaning on the pronged weapon in his hand, jabbing - jabbing, jabbing.

Kinner's arms had developed a queer, scaly fur, and the flesh had twisted. The fingers had shortened, the hand rounded, the fingernails become three-inch-long things of dull red horn, keened to steel-hard, razor-sharp talons.

Blindness (1935): A brilliant scientist dedicates his life to understanding and mastery of "sub-atomic energy." It is very pulpish in that the central conceit concerns how science can defeat any problem, and the scientists who do are all visionary heroes. Itís about the greatness of brilliant men who dedicate themselves to the public good, and the self-sacrifice they will endure to succeed, all for society. It is absolutely riddled with hyperbole, though it is not as dated as other pieces by other writers, and it is somewhat infectious.

Men will never again have to worry about power. never again will they have to grub in the Earth for fuels. Or do things the hard way because it is less costly of power. Power -- Power for all the world's industry. All the wheels of Earth's factories driven by the prodigal atom. The arctic heated to a garden by it. Vast Canada opened by it to human habitation, clear to the North Pole.

Itís also an exercise in wish fulfillment for the author. The main character is named John MacKay. I'm not sure if I've mentioned it yet, but Don A. Stuart is a pseudonym for John W. Campbell. The two are both named John, and have a Scottish surname.

Frictional Losses (1936): This is an amazing alien invasion story that manages to convey the horror of war without once describing a battle. The story opens as an "old" man in his forties and a young man sift through the rubble of New York City looking for working technology. Thirty years before Earth was attacked by the Granthee race. The Granthee had atomic weapons and a deadly heat ray that could be turned on entire cities at a time. The only reason that the humans won was because we numbered in the billions, and the Granthee had only a limited number of ships. But the war was completely and utterly devastating for the humans. Every city was destroyed, everyone in Asia died, Japan was completely submerged; after the war only two million humans remained, and captive Granthee told us that the second expeditionary force would wipe humanity out for good. The remnants of humanity were divided about what to do. Some even suggested mass suicide before the second Granthee force arrived. But several men buckled down and not only put back together the basic elements of a wartime infrastructure, such as communications, but devised new weapons and tactics that would shift the balance to humanity. In that respect it was a bit pulpish, but this is more of a military story so the overblown heroism goes down very smoothly.

Dead Knowledge (1938): Three men aboard a FTL craft arrived at a planet 27 light years from Earth. They went down to the surface of the planet and find a series of magnificent cities, but no citizens. They searched through an apartment block and found some very strange things. In almost every apartment they entered they found several humanoid corpses. It appeared that all of them died in suicide-murder style, and all of them were preserved by some fast-acting preservative that had been injected into them. In all cases the family members were shot in the head, then injected, but the eldest male died, painfully, from only an injection of the preservative. They search other cities and find the exact same thing, all over the planet.

The sun rose again with the fleeting ship's motion, rose and held as they cruised a thousand miles around the bulge of the planet, to slant down once more as the dark green of temperate foliage gave way to the brilliant colors of a tropical jungle. The ship slowed over a broken patch in the spreading jungle growth, a city whose buildings lay in broken ruins beneath the thrust of climbing plant-life. Shattered stone and glass half-hid, half-revealed the crushed bodies of the people who had built and died here. Broken rubbery pavements twisted and writhed over thrusting roots of giant tress towering half a thousand feet above the low white buildings. There was sound here, the faint rustle of a billion leaves in the slow-stirring morning air, and sharp tinkle and crack of masonry disturbed by a life that thrust out blindly, voraciously for more, and yet more room.

The three ascend to orbit to think about what to do. One of them goes to his cabin, and while there commits suicide. Shortly thereafter another does, leaving only one who thinks that his two crew members had some epiphany that drove them to suicide. Eventually it came to him. The planet was infested with semi-intelligent molecules that in the aggregate could take control of the human mind. Once they did that, they would have the host kill itself, and reproduce in the corpse as it disintegrated. The people of that planet had realized what was going on, so they all killed themselves and preserved their bodies so that the molecules could not reproduce with their decaying tissue. The crew had brought the disease on board, and had set the ship to take them back to Earth.

Elimination (1936): This is my least favorite story of the bunch. Ed wants his family attorney to patent a process for generation of limitless energy, and the foolish attorney doesn't want him to do so. The attorney was approached by Ed's father a generation ago and was asked to patent a device called a chronoscope, which allowed users to stare into a TV screen and see all the possible futures. Over the course of several weeks the scientists became addicted to watching the screen. They plotted out their entire lives and every choice they would have to make so that they would have happy, healthy, long and rich lives, but they just could not account for every variable and make huge mistakes along the way that led to a number of their deaths. Ed listens to the lawyer's story and then tells him to get his ass to work. This is a reversal of the traditional pulp story where science conquers all. The scientists are also reduced to sniveling, paranoid wrecks as they go crazy trying to learn their futures and keep the secret of the machine from everyone who hears of it. I think this one came directly from a Lord Dunsany story called The Futuroscope.

Twilight (1934): Somewhat lyrical and distanced story about a time traveler from the year 3059 found on the side of the road by a man named Jim Bendall in the 1930's. Ares Sen Kenlan, the traveler, is the first of the next generation of homo sapiens as designed by his father, a geneticist in the future. Kenlan had overshot his return from a trip to seven million years in the future where he witnessed the last heaving breaths of mankind on Earth. Campbell imagines a world where every competitor, threat, and in fact every other living thing on Earth had been destroyed by man in his quest to dominate the face of planet. Mankind had also developed machines and artificial intelligences to serve every whim of the species, and had created an artificial food industry to replace what was lost in the elimination of every other animal and plant on the face of the planet. As a result of the total domination of virtually everything in the solar system, mankind had lost all its curiosity and drive, and was slowly dying out, even though the cities and machines that they left worked perfectly millions of years after being abandoned. The story reads like a lament for the soul of mankind, and is one of the finest short-form Dying Earth stories I have ever read. It is noted today mostly for its atmosphere. Itís written in a voice that manages to sound breathless and full of wonder and old to the point of death at the same time.

Night (1935): This is an amazing Dying Earth tale, equal in scope and power to the first story, Twilight. A scientific experiment team has launched an experimental aircraft. The plane flies up to 45,000 feet and energizes an anti-gravity system. The aircraft crashes to the earth, but the pilot is not in the cockpit. Instead the system has transported him to the far future where he comes into contact with a dead Earth. The pilot searches a city he came to and finds nothing but million year old frozen corpses and non-functional machines. Eventually he came across a device with some power that was a communicator. He opened up a channel to Neptune and was transported to the outer planets where he learned that a race of machines had evolved to god-like existence. The machines were still benevolent and remembered that mankind had made them to serve, but they were contemplating allowing themselves to die too and sent the pilot back home. The pilot felt great loneliness when he was in the future, and likened his situation to one he was in when he was a youth.

"Did you ever sit up with a corpse?" bob looked up at us - through us. "I had to once, in my little home town where they always did that. I sat with a few neighbors while the man died before my eyes. I knew he must die when I came there. He died - and I sat there all night while the neighbors filed out, one by one, and the quiet settled. The quiet of the dead...And I thought of that night I had spent, sitting up with the dead man. I had come and watched him die. And I sat up with him in the quiet. I had wanted someone, anyone to talk to.

"I did then. Overpoweringly it came to me I was sitting up in the night of the universe, in the night and quiet of the universe, with a dead planet's body, with the dead, ashen hopes of countless nameless generations of men and women. the universe was dead, and I sat up alone - alone in the dead hush."

Its not light reading, but it is awesome and vast in voice.

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)


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