Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Who Goes There? (1938)

I'm not sure when or where I picked up this little gem -- maybe I stumbled over it at a random paperback swap-shop, lost somewhere back among the years; maybe it was the object of a targeted search on ABE.com, bought from some dealer located west of Timbuktu; maybe it was at the bottom of a box collected during one of our Over the Transom book hauls, and from there it jumped to my bookshelf. Who knows. But because I've had it in the neighborhood of forever, the truth is I probably stole it from my old friend Justin's house.

Campbell's titular story has been filmed three times to date, twice titled as The Thing. He was a writer and a professor and an editor who, at the helm of a magazine called Astounding Science Fiction (still publishing as Analog Science Fiction and Fact), single-handedly shaped the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He was also Justin's grandfather.

Like many who grew up in the Church of the Latter Day Geeks, my sci-fi intake at that point chiefly consisted of Star Wars, reruns of Star Trek and The Twilight Zone, and whatever zany giant insects were stomping around during Mad Science Week on Afternoon Thriller Theater. So this was my first exposure to harder science fiction, emphasis on the scientific (not to mention social -- Who Goes There? is at heart a series of characters logically puzzling through a zero-sum game involving each other, a kind of locked-room whodunnit taking place prior to the murder) rather than the fantastic. Campbell was long gone by the time Justin and I met each other as seventh-grade classmates, but plenty of his books were still around -- or at least so many that I (allegedly) nabbed one for myself without anyone noticing (so far as I know).

That group of writings which is usually referred to as "mainstream literature" is, actually, a special subgroup of the field of science fiction -- for science fiction deals with all places in the Universe, and all times in Eternity, so the literature of here-and-now is, truly, a subset of science fiction.
     -- John W. Campbell, in the introduction to Analog 1 (Doubleday, 1963)