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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr

at popapostle-dot-com

"The Things"
Written by Peter Watts
First appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine #40

January 2010


An alien creature awakens on Earth after 100,000 years frozen in the Antarctic ice...and finds that it's not alone.


Read the complete story at Clarkesworld


Didja Know?


This short story first appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine #40 (January 2010), an online magazine of science-fiction: Clarkesworld.


The story retells the events of the film, The Thing, in the first-person, from the point-of-view of the creature, lending quite an interesting twist to the story as we know it. 


I would argue this is the best of the sequel stories to The Thing, while the others (comic books and a video game) should be ignored as far as the official timeline of the Thing universe.


Didja Notice?


The story's title, "The Things", refers to humans this time, rather than the alien.


In The Thing, Dr. Copper and Childs seemingly test negative for "thingism". In this story, it is suggested that they were actually Things.


Initially, the Thing refers to Earth life simply as "the world", because it believes it is a world of communion among all life forms like the worlds it has travelled to previously. It does not initially recognize the concept of individual life forms.


The story suggests that all of the imitated humans are now the same creature, merely spread out over several different "containers".


At some point after MacReady's test, the Thing gets to Childs and imitates him. At one point, Childs assists Blair with getting back inside the outpost to steal parts, etc. and the two commune and share information by extruding and intertwining tentacles.


The story suggests that the Thing needs to consume the dead organic bodies of life forms in order to gain energy and extra mass for other transformations. Childs consumed part of the body of Fuchs after he killed himself to prevent takeover and Blair secretly consumed the biomass of Clark after being let back into the outpost by Childs.


The story reveals that the reason Childs ran out into the storm close to the end of The Thing was because the creature had decided to allow his Childs-form to become frozen in the ice again, to thaw out in some later time period when, perhaps, the world might not be so hostile.


The Thing laments on how it was so much more before the saucer crash: an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary, spreading communion and advancement of life on countless worlds throughout the cosmos. Most of the Thing was killed in the crash, only a small portion of itself (a few trillion cells, with only a small portion of the larger Thing's soul) was able to crawl away from the burning wreckage of the ship and became frozen in the ice, to be found 100,000 years later by the Norwegian camp.


The story suggests that the main portion of the Thing's soul hid inside the Norwegian dog and fled while the human forms it imitated fought off the attack at the Norwegian camp.


The story suggests that Palmer was already a Thing when he went with MacReady and Norris to investigate the crash site. It further suggests that Palmer was the first human imitated at Outpost 31 (the shadow on the wall at 15:38 on the DVD of The Thing).


The Thing does not seem to know how long it was buried in the ice, despite Norris' estimate of around 100,000 years. It wonders how many eons have passed and guesses perhaps a million years (although on Earth, geologically speaking, an eon is generally considered to be around a billion years). Since there was no rescue of itself, by itself, in all that time, it wonders if the rest of it even exists out there in the cosmos anymore.


Like it did at the Norwegian camp, the Thing stages a final battle with the human survivors as Blair-Thing so that they will think they destroyed it, while the Childs-thing freezes in the ice outside the camp to reawaken in some far distant future.


The story suggests that, after being perfectly imitated, the humans continued to move and act as themselves, with their own personalities, which is something the Thing had never encountered before; Earth is the first world in which the life forms on it are not all already in communion with each other and open to communion/joining with the Thing, embracing the addition of new forms for adaptability.


The Thing ruminates that it has the templates of life forms on a thousand worlds.


The Thing wonders how much of it's own soul/intellect it has lost due to the loss of so much of itself in the crash.


Observing the autopsy of the malformed human mass brought back from the Norwegian camp as both Palmer and Norris, the Thing sees Copper remove the brain from the body and doesn't know what it is. It thinks of the brain matter as "a great wrinkled tumor...cellular competition gone wild...a huge, twisted clot of tissue...encysted...a thinking cancer..."


The story suggests that the incomplete creatures we see the Thing begin to form at various times in the film are the result of only half-remembering all the creatures it has been since it has lost so much of itself.


The Thing is used to "incorporating souls, not rooming with them" as it has to do with Earth creatures.


As the story progresses, it begins to become clear that, of the thousand worlds the Thing has "communed" with, Earth is apparently the first whose life forms are all individuals and whose biomass cannot change into other forms.


The Thing finds that it can use a small burst of bioelectricity to wipe out the most recent memories of the imitated human so that it would forget that something else had controlled their bodies on those occasions.


The Thing is unfamiliar with the concept of dreams and nightmares until spending time in a sleeping human body and experiencing them. For some reason, it capitalizes the first letter of each word when discussing this new experience of Dreams and Nightmares.


At first, the Thing is only able to take control of the human skins after they have gone to sleep.


The Thing reflects that it is taking extreme concentration to remain hidden in the human skins. It's used to communing with the world it's on, not hiding within its forms.


The Thing refers to MacReady's blood test as the "thing detector". Perhaps it got the term from MacReady himself in an unseen bit of dialog.


The story reveals that the Thing left false clues and leads and destroyed real ones. For example, it created the computer animations and calculations that lead the outpost's occupants into believing the world could be taken over in a relatively short amount of time and it allowed the imitated Blair to run amok, destroying the outpost's means of communication and escape and then allowing Blair to be incarcerated away from the rest, where he could begin work on his own escape craft.


After being locked up in the tool shed, the Blair-Thing was able to change shape and easily slip out through the cracks and gather the mechanical parts it needed for the escape craft. The story suggests that the Palmer-, Norris-, and Childs-Things volunteered to bring food out to Blair in the shed so that they could bring extra food for his required metamorphoses (although the novelization of The Thing suggests that it was the cook, Nauls, still human, who delivered the food).


The Thing ruminates that events could have turned out much differently if it had never become Norris. Norris' heart attack and subsequent death ended not just the human personality's control of the body, but also the Thing's; the explosive reactions of Norris' body after death were just the instinctive survival reactions of the alien cells under the shock of the defibrillator paddles; this is what gave MacReady the blood test idea.


The shapes of life forms stored within the Thing were always used as adaptation before, not to hide and mimic as it has had to do here.


The Thing allowed Copper to die as if he were human after his arms are severed by the teeth that opened up on Norris' chest during defibrillation, not letting on that Copper was a Thing.


The Thing's narrative seems to suggest the dog-thing that emerges from its body during its final confrontation with MacReady was the half-corrupted memory of the assimilated dog, determined to retain its individuality, and the Thing feels it has been corrupted by our world and begins wondering who is assimilating who? So, in a way, Earth was assimilating the Thing as much as it was trying to assimilate the life forms it encountered here.


Near the end of the story all of the assimilations of the Thing have been destroyed except for Childs and there seems to be a bit of an internal argument going on between Childs and the Thing about which of them is the real monster, until Childs' soul dies in the freezing cold, leaving only the Thing in control of the imitation Childs body.


During the blood test MacReady devised, the Thing was expecting the humans remaining to be shocked that they were all shapeshifters from the beginning, as nature intended. Instead it itself was shocked when it saw that the humans' blood didn't react that way at all.


The Thing's narrative suggests that Copper's blood did react, just slightly shivering, when contacted by the hot needle. But the humans didn't notice it or, if they did, just attributed it to the trembling in MacReady's hand. The Thing hadn't been Copper long enough to have completed assimilation, so the blood wasn't able to react in the violent manner the other Things did. And Childs had been imitated for an even shorter period, so again, he passed the test.


The Thing reflects on the humans' biophysical shortcomings; that besides Norris' bad heart, Copper had sore joints and Blair had a curved spine.


By the end of the story/film, the Thing seems to feel sorry for the life forms of Earth, with statements in the narrative such as "each skin fights as desperately as I might, if one was all could ever have"; "the scale of their loneliness, the futility of their lives, overwhelms me"; "I was so blind, so quick to blame"; "I cannot escape into the future, not knowing what I know could I leave them like this?"; "offered the greater whole, they see the loss of the lesser...offered communion, they see only extinction"; "I will save them from the inside, or their unimaginable loneliness will never end." 


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