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Author Topic: EP298: The Things  (Read 13334 times)
eytanz
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« on: June 24, 2011, 06:36:28 AM »

EP298: The Things

By Peter Wells

Read by Kate Baker

Originally appeared in Clarkesworld

Nominated for the Hugo Award for Short Story, 2011
---

I am being Blair. I escape out the back as the world comes in through the front.

I am being Copper. I am rising from the dead.

I am being Childs. I am guarding the main entrance.

The names don’t matter. They are placeholders, nothing more; all biomass is interchangeable. What matters is that these are all that is left of me. The world has burned everything else.

I see myself through the window, loping through the storm, wearing Blair. MacReady has told me to burn Blair if he comes back alone, but MacReady still thinks I am one of him. I am not: I am being Blair, and I am at the door. I am being Childs, and I let myself in. I take brief communion, tendrils writhing forth from my faces, intertwining: I am BlairChilds, exchanging news of the world.

The world has found me out. It has discovered my burrow beneath the tool shed, the half-finished lifeboat cannibalized from the viscera of dead helicopters. The world is busy destroying my means of escape. Then it will come back for me.

There is only one option left. I disintegrate. Being Blair, I go to share the plan with Copper and to feed on the rotting biomass once called Clarke; so many changes in so short a time have dangerously depleted my reserves. Being Childs, I have already consumed what was left of Fuchs and am replenished for the next phase. I sling the flamethrower onto my back and head outside, into the long Antarctic night.

I will go into the storm, and never come back.


Rated appropriate for appropriate for older teens and up for disturbing imagery.


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« Last Edit: July 15, 2011, 11:35:05 AM by eytanz » Logged
Rain
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« Reply #1 on: June 24, 2011, 07:04:28 AM »

Some good and bad things to say about this

I think the narrative is very confusing and relies on people knowing the plot of The Thing, i have already read the story once and i still found it hard to follow. I also think the story repeats itself for much of the time, it is hard to say because the story is not linear, but i think you could cut a third of the story and be left with something better.

That being said i think it is the best of the Hugo nominees so far, and overall an interesting story. If i was more familiar with The Thing i would probably appreciate the story even more. So i liked it, it was a good story.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2011, 07:07:54 AM by Rain » Logged
Dem
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« Reply #2 on: June 24, 2011, 09:09:54 AM »

I just heard this on Clarkesworld and commented there http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/watts_01_10/ (74), so it was interesting to re-visit it so soon. This time, I already knew that it was based on a film so I didn't spend the first half wondering why it seemed familiar. And Norm kindly made that clear for the EP audience. With that insight, rather than being distracted by the fact of a different original (if such is possible), I found myself placing the two interpretations alongside each other to peg together the parallel misappreciations of two sentient species in their fight for survival.  As I'm human, I pretty much get it, on behalf of McReady et al, and so it's easy to be horrified at the alien's gross invasion. With this story, I am able to be the invader who doesn't understand and feels sorry for us, for what we're missing, due to our dreadful insularity. This feels more like it, when I'm thinking of Hugos. Good to hear Kate Baker over this way again, too.

I do think I might have to have a sit down talk with myself though - last year I rooted for Spar which was about other sorts of biological outcroppings gaining unwelcome entry!
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jrderego
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« Reply #3 on: June 24, 2011, 11:41:04 AM »

Wow. Fanfic gets a Hugo nom.... Very sad.
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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #4 on: June 24, 2011, 12:32:10 PM »

As for the story itself, it was interesting, if drawn out a little longer than seemed necessary.  What interested me more, though, was the question of where one draws the line between reinterpretation as a legitimate literary device and fan fiction.  We've seen it here on EP before (EP083, Daniel Schwabauer's War of the Worlds-inspired Ulla), and it turns up time to time both in genre fiction and mainstream works.  Is it the transformative nature of the derivative work?  I'm not really involved in the fanfic community, but I understand that there's plenty of transformative work in that field.  Is it the age of the original work (after all, you don't see Gregory Maguire writing a grittier reinterpretation of Harry Potter), or its notibility?  In this case, stories like this one would seem to fall on the borderline at best.  A part of me is concerned that maybe it's just a question of the professional "cred" of the writer -- if you're an established writer with some published work under your belt you can write and publish things that for anyone else would be rendered unpublishable by the "fanfiction" label.  Any thoughts?

::NOTE:: Looks like Jeff said it much more succinctly while I typed this up Wink
« Last Edit: June 24, 2011, 12:41:58 PM by bolddeceiver » Logged
jrderego
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« Reply #5 on: June 24, 2011, 12:57:50 PM »

As for the story itself, it was interesting, if drawn out a little longer than seemed necessary.  What interested me more, though, was the question of where one draws the line between reinterpretation as a legitimate literary device and fan fiction.  We've seen it here on EP before (EP083, Daniel Schwabauer's War of the Worlds-inspired Ulla), and it turns up time to time both in genre fiction and mainstream works.  Is it the transformative nature of the derivative work?  I'm not really involved in the fanfic community, but I understand that there's plenty of transformative work in that field.  Is it the age of the original work (after all, you don't see Gregory Maguire writing a grittier reinterpretation of Harry Potter), or its notibility?  In this case, stories like this one would seem to fall on the borderline at best.  A part of me is concerned that maybe it's just a question of the professional "cred" of the writer -- if you're an established writer with some published work under your belt you can write and publish things that for anyone else would be rendered unpublishable by the "fanfiction" label.  Any thoughts?

::NOTE:: Looks like Jeff said it much more succinctly while I typed this up Wink

It's annoying to see this story with these accolades, and it's not because it's a bad story. It's not. In fact the POV prism it puts the Campbell story through is an interesting one, and the insights of "THE THING" are ... well ... they're way cliched, but still well done. No complaints there. What I do complain about is that it takes the characters created by John W. Campbell, reimagined by Howard Hawks (less so) and John Carpenter (moreso) and uses them as a big chunk of the storytelling element. It also leans heavily on the audience's knowledge of those characters and the events at an antarctic base to make the story have any sort of narrative clarity. That's as damn near a textbook definition of fanfic as it gets.

What annoys me (getting back on track) is that this story was nominated by the fan community who have evolved to see no greater intrinsic value in originally created works as they do in derivative works. I guess that's why there are shelves of Trek, Wars, and Halo, and other media novels that outsell new works. It's not so much that the writers of original material aren't good enough is that's the so-called fans don't see the difference between a China Mieville novel and a Star Trek novel.

I hope Universal, who owns the rights to The Thing, raises a fuss.
« Last Edit: June 24, 2011, 01:11:12 PM by jrderego » Logged

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bolddeceiver
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« Reply #6 on: June 24, 2011, 01:17:17 PM »

I hope Universal, who owns the rights to The Thing, raises a fuss.

I doubt they will, though; I'm guessing enough people are putting The Thing on their Netflix queue to watch/rewatch because this got the Hugo nod that they're not going to mind the coattail-riding in the least.
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« Reply #7 on: June 24, 2011, 01:19:21 PM »

Count me confused. Hard to follow, but the parts I could follow had me enthralled and terrified. Over all I liked it.
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dragonsbreath
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« Reply #8 on: June 24, 2011, 02:38:20 PM »

Good story despite being hard to follow. With regard to the "Thing" I prefer the original 1950's movie of that name.
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jrderego
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« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2011, 02:50:57 PM »

Good story despite being hard to follow. With regard to the "Thing" I prefer the original 1950's movie of that name.

Without that film we'd never have the quote "Keep watching the skies!". I was thinking about it this month too as James Arness died very recently and he played the monster in that version. Campbell's story "Who Goes There" is an excellent read, and is in the public domain and freely available online. Carpenter's film is much closer in feel and plot to the story than the Howard Hawks film.

The text version I found was this -

http://www.scaryforkids.com/who-goes-there-by-john-w-campbell/

It used to be a project gutenberg but there might be a rights thing now withe Universal shooting a dreaded remake...
« Last Edit: June 24, 2011, 03:00:28 PM by jrderego » Logged

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Dem
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« Reply #10 on: June 24, 2011, 04:20:11 PM »

As for the story itself, it was interesting, if drawn out a little longer than seemed necessary.  What interested me more, though, was the question of where one draws the line between reinterpretation as a legitimate literary device and fan fiction.  We've seen it here on EP before (EP083, Daniel Schwabauer's War of the Worlds-inspired Ulla), and it turns up time to time both in genre fiction and mainstream works.  Is it the transformative nature of the derivative work?  I'm not really involved in the fanfic community, but I understand that there's plenty of transformative work in that field.  Is it the age of the original work (after all, you don't see Gregory Maguire writing a grittier reinterpretation of Harry Potter), or its notibility?  In this case, stories like this one would seem to fall on the borderline at best.  A part of me is concerned that maybe it's just a question of the professional "cred" of the writer -- if you're an established writer with some published work under your belt you can write and publish things that for anyone else would be rendered unpublishable by the "fanfiction" label.  Any thoughts?

::NOTE:: Looks like Jeff said it much more succinctly while I typed this up Wink

It's annoying to see this story with these accolades, and it's not because it's a bad story. It's not. In fact the POV prism it puts the Campbell story through is an interesting one, and the insights of "THE THING" are ... well ... they're way cliched, but still well done. No complaints there. What I do complain about is that it takes the characters created by John W. Campbell, reimagined by Howard Hawks (less so) and John Carpenter (moreso) and uses them as a big chunk of the storytelling element. It also leans heavily on the audience's knowledge of those characters and the events at an antarctic base to make the story have any sort of narrative clarity. That's as damn near a textbook definition of fanfic as it gets.

What annoys me (getting back on track) is that this story was nominated by the fan community who have evolved to see no greater intrinsic value in originally created works as they do in derivative works. I guess that's why there are shelves of Trek, Wars, and Halo, and other media novels that outsell new works. It's not so much that the writers of original material aren't good enough is that's the so-called fans don't see the difference between a China Mieville novel and a Star Trek novel.

I hope Universal, who owns the rights to The Thing, raises a fuss.
It's interesting that I didn't find it derivative. Maybe that's because I didn't really like the film, which seemed coarse and sensationalistic, while this seemed sophisticated and insightful. If anything, this story feels as though it came first, with the rest devolving towards some mass market common denominator.
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jrderego
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« Reply #11 on: June 24, 2011, 07:16:10 PM »

What annoys me (getting back on track) is that this story was nominated by the fan community who have evolved to see no greater intrinsic value in originally created works as they do in derivative works. I guess that's why there are shelves of Trek, Wars, and Halo, and other media novels that outsell new works. It's not so much that the writers of original material aren't good enough is that's the so-called fans don't see the difference between a China Mieville novel and a Star Trek novel.

This is a very interesting discussion - interesting enough that I'm considering splitting it to its own thread except that I find it difficult to figure out what goes there and what stays here. Anyway. I definitely see your point, but I'm wondering if what you're describing is a collapse of an artificial value system that deserves to die. "Originality" is a modern virtue, an artifact of the late 19th century and early 20th century. Many of our classics are derivative - In the days of oral traditions, almost every story was derivative. Most of Shakespeare's play are derivative. The brothers Grimm made their mark retelling folk tales. What was important, for most of human history, is not how original a story was but how well it was told.

If a writer of a Star Trek novel can create something as well written and as engaging as the better Mieville novels, why should readers see a difference there, just because Mieville got to name the main characters?

I'm not saying that originality is not valuable - it is. But I think it's at most a secondary attribute of a story's quality. When comparing two stories that are equally well-written, the author of the original one deserves the metaphorical cookie (mmm... metaphorical cookies...). But I'd much rather read a well-written derivative work than a poorly written original one.

I need to think about how to answer this as I am dumbfounded by your question.
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matweller
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« Reply #12 on: June 24, 2011, 10:54:37 PM »

I felt much the same way, but was a little wary to say something. The story is well done, but the idea of a premier sci fi award going to a derivative work just feels wrong.

Speaking of derivatives of The Thing, I'm going to be Childs in an upcoming audio drama!  Grin
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Gamercow
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« Reply #13 on: June 25, 2011, 12:46:15 PM »

I liked this story, but at the same time, I would have liked it 100 times more if it was written in a world without The Thing.  It is derivative, and eventually falls into fanfic territory, but I think it adds enough insight into the alien's thinking that this story has value above the fanfic nature.  The idea of individual vs community, alien vs familiar, evolution and adaptation are all investigated in an interesting(if wordy) way.  I only have a passing knowledge of The Thing, and I actually think that may have helped my appreciation of the story, because I was not as caught up with comparing it to the original.

As for the subjectivity of something derivative.  There are degrees.  Some people can, and do, pull apart every story into neat little categories.  TV Tropes wouldn't exist and have such a following if they didn't.  but the usefulness of this exercise to me is futile, and often reeks of arrogant elitism to me.  Every story can be seen as derivative of some other work, even JR DeRego's Union Dues stories.  I feel that a story should be judged on its own worth, regardless of what influenced it.  That all said, when a specific work is referenced, it does fall into the fanfic category, as did this one. 

On another note, The Thing was released 29 years ago today.  
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Dem
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« Reply #14 on: June 25, 2011, 01:38:47 PM »

I'm not too happy with the idea of this being seen as derivative, as it is finely written. I'm certainly not happy with the notion of plagiarism, even though that was one of my first thoughts, before I knew the original was acknowledged. The closest I have come to a framework, after following this debate, is the notion of the 'found poem' which is a piece of text that can be 'changed in a profound and systematic manner; or untreated: virtually unchanged from the order, syntax and meaning of the original' (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Found_poetry).
I recall the film; I didn't like the film. I liked the writing in this piece and that is where the originality exists, along with the changed perspective and the novel insights. The bald theme, to me, is barely relevant.
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eytanz
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« Reply #15 on: June 25, 2011, 07:12:24 PM »

Moderator note: The interesting, but rather sprawling, discussion on the merits of derivative work has been split off this topic and moved here. This was not a clean split, as it was not always easy for me to decide what belongs here and what is tangential to the story itself. My apologies to everyone involved if you feel that your post now is odd in context.
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Dave
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« Reply #16 on: June 25, 2011, 09:55:57 PM »

I have listened to this probably five or six times since it first appeared on Clarkesworld. I remember reading it and then mentioning it on these forums, and Kate kindly pointed me to the audio. It remains one of my favorite pieces of fiction ever, and it is among Kate's best narration work as well.

The Things, in my humble opinion, stands right up next to the original story to which it is a companion, as a classic of the genre, more than deserving of the Hugo.

*edit*

I emphatically do not agree with the people calling this plagiarism or, worse, fanfiction. There's a world of difference between the derivative ramblings of a wannabe writer inserting themselves on the set of Star Trek and a sophisticated commentary on a classic piece of genre literature (or film, if you like) that is simultaneously thought provoking and entertaining. The Things does not merely mimic or steal from its predecessor, it recasts the original story in a new light. It adds new dimensions to the original, rather than casting a pale shadow as a plagiarist or fanfic writer might do. In the future, whenever I read Who Goes There, or watch The Thing, there will be a fresh new layer to the horror, thanks to this story.
« Last Edit: June 25, 2011, 10:05:59 PM by Dave » Logged

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« Reply #17 on: June 25, 2011, 11:20:58 PM »

Quote
I emphatically do not agree with the people calling this plagiarism or, worse, fanfiction.

See, that's funny, because to me it seems much worse to call it plagiarism  (which, I think we all agree, it isn't - neither in a technical sense nor do I think anyone actually claimed that, as far as I can tell) - which is an out and out crime - than fan fic - which to me, it is, no matter how sophisticated.  That kind of clumsy scenario you refer to as fanfic is a particularly much ridiculed form in fanfic called "mary sue" (but you probably already know that).  This though, is basic fan fic - in essence, using the exact same characters the author didn't create themselves in the exact same scenario that the author didn't create themselves.

Do I think that's inherently inferior?  Hard to say.  Technically, it could be better written than the original (again, I haven't listened to it yet and hold nothing specific against the story's content) - that whole bit about "a little green world" or whatever in the original always struck me as a bit purplish - but being better written wouldn't stop it from being derivative. So to me, aesthetically, it would always get an asterix.  This seems one of the prime examples of why a term like homage was invented in the first place, in fact, as in "paying homage" - the "paying" part even implies that the producer of the derivative work understands their work's minimized status relative to the original.  Maybe that's the formula - really well written fanfic is a homage, while lousy fan fic is fan fic (of course there are other ways to render homage that don't resemble fan fic at all, so lets' say "really well-written fanfic is a form of homage")
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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #18 on: June 26, 2011, 06:34:46 PM »

Well, after being force-fed two Watts novels recently I didn't expect to like this.

Surprise, surprise, I wasn't disappointed.

It certainly IS a Watts story, with his preoccupations of identity, evolution, of strange, fluid, alien biologies, and their violations of human biology. And mind you, a subject matters, I have no problem with that. It's the special extra-crispy light-destroying darker-than-the-anus-of-a-black-hole tone that Watts has with everything. Seriously, a bottle of bourbon, some 'Ludes, and old Cowboy Junkies albums will cheer you UP after reading a Watts novel.

Not that there aren't interesting ideas in them - or in this story. It's just that my insurance can't handle the anti-depressants one needs to recover.

Plus there's the whole "derivative/fanfic" thing. Which I'm not all that fond of but won't go on about that because of the topic split. Except to say that for he there's some extra ARRGHH!! because I've never seen the John Carpenter "The Thing". (I've just heard people talk about it forever) So I was about as confused as the narrator.

Oh well, at least he avoided the term "vampires" that he's fond of. Really, ENOUGH with the #!@Ying vampires!!
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Swamp
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« Reply #19 on: June 26, 2011, 08:00:47 PM »

Well, after being force-fed two Watts novels recently I didn't expect to like this.

Surprise, surprise, I wasn't disappointed.

It certainly IS a Watts story, with his preoccupations of identity, evolution, of strange, fluid, alien biologies, and their violations of human biology. And mind you, a subject matters, I have no problem with that. It's the special extra-crispy light-destroying darker-than-the-anus-of-a-black-hole tone that Watts has with everything. Seriously, a bottle of bourbon, some 'Ludes, and old Cowboy Junkies albums will cheer you UP after reading a Watts novel.

Not that there aren't interesting ideas in them - or in this story. It's just that my insurance can't handle the anti-depressants one needs to recover.

Plus there's the whole "derivative/fanfic" thing. Which I'm not all that fond of but won't go on about that because of the topic split. Except to say that for he there's some extra ARRGHH!! because I've never seen the John Carpenter "The Thing". (I've just heard people talk about it forever) So I was about as confused as the narrator.

Oh well, at least he avoided the term "vampires" that he's fond of. Really, ENOUGH with the #!@Ying vampires!!

InfiniteMonkey, this is NOT cool.  Please be civil and respectful to the authors, narrators, and forum members.  That is our only rule here.  Here is the link again just to remind everybody.  There are ways to say you don't like an author's overall approach to things and still be respectful.
« Last Edit: June 26, 2011, 08:06:18 PM by Swamp » Logged

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