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“The Things” / Peter Watts

From Clarkesworld Magazine #40 / January 2010
Reviewed by: Daniel R. Robichaud

"I am being Blair. I escape out the back, as the world comes in through the front." So begins Peter (Blindsight) Watts' contribution to the January 2010 issue of Clarkesworld.

In "The Things," an extraterrestrial being completely assimilates other life forms by means of an alien communion. In the fractious, paranoid natures of humanity, it soon discovers a grave threat: individual parts of the creature's whole are rebelling. Discord is the source of terror here, and the protagonist creature finds itself almost as much a victim as the human beings it absorbs.

If the premise and the character names peppering this tale sound familiar – Blair, Childs, Copper, Norris, MacReady – this is no coincidence. They are intended to resonate with fans of science fiction and horror cinema. "The Things" is a retelling of the 1982 film John Carpenter's The Thing as taken from the eponymous, shape changing being's perspective. However, this is no simple fan fiction. Watts uses what might have proved a hokey premise as a springboard for a thoughtful, chilling, and moving examination of humanity as both victim and monster. Knowledge of the source material adds layers to the tale but is not necessary for enjoyment.
In an interesting twist, "The Things" also incorporates the moods and themes from another cinematic influence: the early films of Canadian director David Cronenberg, where horrors are born from the body misbehaving in imaginative ways.
Watts' biology background lends the story a unique verisimilitude, while his skillful use of language produces a compelling narrative. The story sharply communicates the creature's dread at discovering humanity's values and terrors. The tale's greatest triumph: One of the most disturbing and alien creations in cinema is made empathetic.
"The Things" offers a gripping science fiction terror tale, as well as an intriguing interpretation of its source material.

Read “The Things” by Peter Watts.

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