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Who Goes There?

Who Goes There?
Author John W. Campbell, Jr
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Publisher Astounding Stories
Publication date
August 1938
Media type Magazine

Who Goes There? is a science fiction novella by John W. Campbell, Jr., written under the pen name Don A. Stuart. It was first published in the August 1938 Astounding Science-Fiction.

In 1973 the story was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the finest science fiction novellas ever written. It was published with the other top vote-getters in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

The novella has been adapted four times as a motion picture: the first in 1951 as The Thing from Another World; the second in 1972 as Horror Express; the third in 1982 as The Thing directed by John Carpenter;[1] and most recently as a prequel to the Carpenter version, also titled The Thing, released in 2011.


  • Plot summary 1
  • Adaptations 2
    • Film 2.1
      • Versions 2.1.1
      • Depictions 2.1.2
    • Comics 2.2
    • Radio drama 2.3
    • Cultural impact 2.4
  • Influences 3
  • Characters in Who Goes There? 4
    • Secondary magnetic expedition 4.1
    • Non-human characters 4.2
  • Further reading 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Plot summary

A group of scientific researchers, isolated in Antarctica by the nearly-ended winter, discover an alien spaceship buried in the ice, where it crashed twenty million years before. They try to thaw the inside of the spacecraft with a thermite charge, but end up accidentally destroying it when the ship's magnesium hull is ignited by the charge. However, they do recover the alien pilot from the ancient ice, which the researchers believe was searching for heat when it was frozen. Thawing revives the alien, a being which can assume the shape, memories, and personality of any living thing it devours, while maintaining its original body mass for further reproduction. Unknown to them, the alien immediately kills and then imitates the crew's physicist, a man named Connant; with some 90 pounds of its matter left over it tries to become a sled dog. The crew discovers the dog-Thing and kills it in the process of transformation. Pathologist Blair, who had lobbied for thawing the Thing, goes insane with paranoia and guilt, vowing to kill everyone at the base in order to save mankind; he is isolated within a locked cabin at their outpost. Connant is also isolated as a precaution and a "rule-of-four" is initiated in which all personnel must remain under the close scrutiny of three others.

The crew realizes they must isolate themselves and therefore disable their airplanes and vehicles, while pretending things are normal over their radio transmissions to prevent any rescue attempt from civilization. The researchers try to figure out who may have been replaced by the alien (simply referred to as the Thing), in order to destroy the imitations before they can escape and take over the world. The task is almost impossibly difficult when they realize that the Thing is also telepathic, able to read minds and project thoughts. A sled dog is conditioned by human blood injections to provide a human-immunity serum test, as in rabbits. The initial test of Connant is inconclusive as they realize that the test animal received both human and alien blood, meaning that either Doctor Copper or expedition Commander Garry is actually an alien. Assistant commander McReady takes over and deduces that all the other animals at the station, save the test dog, have already become imitations; all are killed by electrocution and their corpses burned.

Everyone suspects each other by now but must stay together for safety, deciding who will take turns sleeping and speculating when the patient monsters will finally have the upper hand. Tensions mount and some men begin to go mad thinking they are already the last human or wondering if they would even know if they weren't human any longer. Ultimately, one of the crew members is murdered and accidentally revealed to be a Thing. McReady realizes that even small pieces of the creature will behave as independent, selfish organisms. He then uses this weakness to test which men have been "converted" by taking blood samples from everyone and dipping a heated wire in the vial of blood. Each man's blood is tested, one at a time, and the donor is immediately killed if his blood recoils from the wire; fourteen in all, including Connant and Garry, are revealed as aliens. They go to test the isolated Blair and on the way see the first albatross of the Antarctic Spring flying overhead; they shoot the bird to prevent a Thing from infecting it and flying to civilization.

When they reach Blair's cabin they discover he is a Thing. They realize that it has been left to its own devices for a week, coming and going as it pleased, able to squeeze under doors by transforming itself. With the creatures inside the base destroyed, McReady and two others enter the cabin to kill the Thing that was once Blair. McReady systematically forces it out into the snow and methodically destroys it with a blowtorch. Afterwards the trio discover that the Thing was dangerously close to finishing construction of an atomic-powered anti-gravity device that would have allowed it to escape to the outside world.

"No, by the grace of God, who evidently does hear very well, even down here, and the margin of half an hour, we keep our world, and the planets of the system too. Anti-gravity, you know, and atomic power. Because They came from another sun, a star beyond the stars. They came from a world with a bluer sun."




Who Goes There? has been adapted four times as a motion picture.

The Thing from Another World (1951) was a rather loose adaptation.[2] It featured James Arness as the Thing, Kenneth Tobey as the Air Force officer, and Robert O. Cornthwaite as the lead scientist.

Horror Express (1972) is another rather loose adaptation unrelated to the previous film. In 1906, Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), a renowned British anthropologist, is returning to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Express with a crate containing the frozen remains of a primitive humanoid creature. Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing), Saxton's suspicious rival and Royal Society colleague, becomes curious when a thief is killed by the ape-like creature within.

Its 1982 remake, The Thing, stuck more closely to Campbell's original story.[2] John Carpenter directed the film from a Bill Lancaster screenplay. Prior to John Carpenter's involvement, William F. Nolan, author of Logan's Run, wrote a Who Goes There? screen treatment for Universal Studios in 1978, but it was not published until 2009 in the Rocket Ride Books edition of Who Goes There?; Nolan's alternate take on Campbell's story downplays monster elements in favor of an "imposter" theme, in a vein similar to The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney.

A fourth adaptation, also titled The Thing, was released on October 14, 2011. It serves as a prequel to the events of Carpenter's film.


In the first 1951 film adaptation, the alien is a humanoid invader (i.e., two arms, two legs, a head) from an unknown planet. A plant-based life form, the alien and its race need animal blood to survive. He, or rather it, is a one-alien army, capable of creating an entire army of invaders from seed pods contained in (his) body.

In the unrelated second 1972 adaptation, Professor Alexander Saxton (Christopher Lee), a renowned British anthropologist, is returning to Europe by the Trans-Siberian Express with a crate containing the frozen remains of a primitive humanoid creature. The suspicions of Doctor Wells (Peter Cushing), Saxton's rival and Royal Society colleague, are aroused when a thief is killed by the ape-like creature within, which then escapes the crate. The creature finds more victims as it roams the moving train, each victim being found with the same opaque, white eyes. An autopsy suggests that the brains of the victims are being drained of memories and knowledge but there are none of the digestions and transformations alluded to in the original novella.

In the 1982 remake, director John Carpenter’s idea was to not compete with the direction of the original film. In both the novella and Carpenter's more faithful adaptation, the Thing can imitate any animal-based life form, absorbing the respective hosts' personalities and memories along with their bodies (although the telepathy aspect is omitted). When the story begins, the creature has already been discovered and released from the ice by another expedition. This version maintains the digestions and transformations alluded to in the original novella, via practical effects such as animatronics and stop motion animation.

The 2011 version followed the vision of John Carpenter by acting as a prequel, explaining the fate of the expedition which originally found the creature and its ship. The movie follows Carpenter's depiction, with the creature depicted using a combination of costume effects and CGI.


In 1976, the story was also published in comic book form in issue 1 of Starstream (script by Arnold Drake and art by Jack Abel).[3]

Radio drama

The story has been adapted as a radio drama. BBC Radio first broadcast their version on 24 January 2002.

Cultural impact

In December 1936, John W. Campbell published a story titled "Brain Stealers of Mars" in Thrilling Wonder Stories, which also features shape-shifting, mind-reading aliens. The earlier story has a humorous tone, but takes a philosophical note as members of another alien race describe living stoically alongside the shapeshifters.[4]

The Thing is one of the aliens featured in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. Barlowe's main illustration depicts the Thing halfway through its transformation into a sled dog.

The story is referenced, and embedded within The Rack of Baal, a 'choose-your-own-adventure' gamebook written by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, about a time-travelling special agent called "The Falcon".[5] A section of the plot plays out on a frozen world occupied by a single mining station crewed by only a few people. One inhabitant is one called 'Sil McReady', who, in a cynical inversion of the original story, actually turns out to be infected with the alien organism.

The episode "Ice" of the science fiction TV series The X-Files borrows its premise from the storyline. The episode "The Thingy!" of the family action-comedy series The Aquabats! Super Show! also borrows the story's premise, albeit in a much more comedic tone.

In 2006 Dark Horse Comics released a pre-painted snap together model kit of the alien as described in the original short story. It was sculpted and painted by Andrea Von Sholly. The model was unlicensed and was simply titled 'The Space Thing'.

In 2010, Canadian science fiction writer Peter Watts published a short story called "The Things"[6] in which the alien entity from "Who Goes There?" is the first-person narrator. The characters and events in "The Things" are the same as those in the original story. Confused, damaged, and unfamiliar with earth biology, the alien only slowly begins to understand why it has been received with such hostility. "The Things" was nominated for a number of awards, including the Hugo; it won the 2010 Shirley Jackson Award for best short story. In 2011, "The Things" was recorded and released by Escape Pod as an audio podcast.[7]


A. E. van Vogt had more or less lost interest in science fiction around 1930, but when he happened to chance on the August Astounding containing "Who Goes There?", his interest in the genre was renewed; "I read half of it standing there at the news-stand before I bought the issue and finished it. That brought me back into the fold with a vengeance. I still regard that as the best story Campbell ever wrote, and the best horror tale in science fiction."[8]

Inspired by Campbell's story, he wrote a short about a shapeshifting alien called "Vault of the Beast",[9] which was rejected, but his second story "The Black Destroyer" was accepted, which became the start of Van Vogt's science fiction career.

Characters in Who Goes There?

Secondary magnetic expedition

Although the expedition based at Big Magnet comprises 37 members, only 17 are named in the story, and all but three by last name alone. By the end of the story, 15 of them have been replaced by alien impostors.

  • Barclay: present at alien excavation
  • Benning
  • Blair: biologist, present at alien excavation
  • (Bart) Caldwell
  • Clark: dog handler
  • Connant: physicist, cosmic ray specialist
  • Dr. Copper: physician, present at alien excavation
  • (Samuel) Dutton
  • Garry: expedition commander
  • Harvey
  • Kinner: cook
  • McReady: expedition second-in-command, meteorologist, present at alien excavation
  • (Vance) Norris: physicist
  • Pomroy: livestock handler
  • Ralsen: sledge keeper
  • Van Wall: chief pilot, present at alien excavation
  • Vane: physicist

Non-human characters

Further reading

  • Campbell, John W; Nolan, William F (2009). Who Goes There? The Novella That Formed The Basis Of "The Thing". Rocket Ride Books.  
  • Hamilton, John (2007). The Golden Age and Beyond: The World of Science Fiction.  

See also

  • . This interview with John Carpenter includes pictures of the Thing and gives insight into how the book was translated into film.  
  • Gunn, James A. "The John W. Campbell Award." Center for the Study of Science Fiction. Center for the Study of Science Fiction, 11 July 2011. Web. 31 Oct. 2011.
  • John W. Campbell won an award from the Center for the Study of Science Fiction for best science fiction novel of the year in 1973. The contribution of his magazines to the science fiction world from 1937 until his death was also noted. Campbell's contribution to that community is noted in The John W. Campbell Memorial Award.
  • Leane, Elizabeth. "Locating the Thing: The Antarctic as Space Alien in John W. Campbell's 'Who Goes There'" Science Fiction Studies. Volume 32, Issue 2, July 2005: 225-239 Literature Criticism Online. Web. 3 November 2011. This source is a background on the inspiration for the story. It gives an idea where the story's concepts came from, which can give insight on how the film was adapted and created multiple times.
  • Marowski, Daniel G. and Stine, Jean C. “John W(ood) Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971).” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 32, 1985: 71-82 Literature Criticism Online. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. This source is a bio on Campbell and his work. This will show how he his writing has progressed or transformed to create this piece and maybe give insight on how his book became a movie. It gives insight on his contribution to the Science Fiction community; how his work was recognized, what his influences are, and who he influenced.
  • "The Thing (1982) - IMDb". The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2011. This shows the cast of the film and also shows pictures that pertain to the film. It also says what the nominations for awards that this film was up for. It basically gives a snapshot of what the film entails and who was involved. It is useful because it gives insight on to the importance of the film.
  • Witalec, Janet. “John Carpenter (1948-).” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol 161, 2003: 143-204 Literature Criticism Online. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. This source looks into Carpenter's history and the films he is involved with which can help with explaining his involvement, with the thing. It helps paint a picture of who he is through his work and who his influences are. It also is a collection of reviews of his work, which shows how his work was projected. It helps explain his importance to the Science Fiction community.


  1. ^ Canby, Vincent (June 25, 1982). , Horror and Science Fiction"The Thing".  
  2. ^ a b Maçek III, J.C. (2012-11-21). "'"Building the Perfect Star Beast: The Antecedents of 'Alien.  
  3. ^ "Starstream #1 (1976)". the  
  4. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1974). Before The Golden Age: A Science Fiction Anthology of The 1930s (Book 3). Doubleday. p. 775. 
  5. ^ "Falcon". Retrieved 2012-01-08. 
  6. ^ "The Things". Clarkesworld Magazine. January 2010. Retrieved 2012-06-21. 
  7. ^ "The Things". Escape Pod, episode 298. June 23, 2011. 
  8. ^ Fantasy Review Volume 1 No. 4, Aug.-Sep. 1947
  9. ^ Astounding Days
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