A new season of the Torque Control Short Story Club begins this weekend, and I thought I’d take a look at the first piece up for discussion, especially as it’s by Peter Watts, an author I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I glanced at the comments before reading the story, which gave me some useful context – Watt’s tale is a response to John Carpenter’s film The Thing, which I haven’t seen; but reading a plot synopsis gave me an idea of the background. I don’t suppose it’s necessary to know about The Thing to understand ‘The Things’, but it did deepen my appreciation of the story.

So: a research station in Antarctica has been attacked by a creature able to take on the forms of its victims; only two survivors remain at the end of the movie, Childs and MacReady. Watts posits that ‘Childs’ is actually the creature in disguise, and tells his tale from its point of view – and what a beautifully unsettling depiction of a non-human intelligence this is. The creature in ‘The Things’ is no mindless monster, but a highly intelligent being whose awareness is suffused throughout its being, which is what allows it to assimilate others. There’s a certain grandeur, even a kind of nobility, about the way this being presents itself:

I was so much more, before the crash. I was an explorer, an ambassador, a missionary. I spread across the cosmos, met countless worlds, took communion: the fit reshaped the unfit and the whole universe bootstrapped upwards in joyful, infinitesimal increments. I was a soldier, at war with entropy itself. I was the very hand by which Creation perfects itself.

And now, here it is on Earth, faced with humans who can’t partake of its ‘communion’, because their intelligence is held within a specific part of the body. The whole concept of this is abhorrent to the creature, who views the human brain as a kind of tumour. And so, the creature becomes a monster to the human characters, because its motivations are as unfathomable to them as theirs are to it. All is very effectively done by Watts, and the second Short Story Club is off to a great start.