The Things • 2010 • First Contact short story by Peter Watts


Synopsis: An „explorer, an ambassador, a missionary“ has been sleeping for thousands of years in its capsule crash landed in Antarctica. When a scientific team found it, it woke up and assimilated them, without understanding the human nature, because life on Earth is completely alien to it.
Sooner or later it found out that human‘s work differently, not with a decentralized network like itself, but with a central brain. This is formulated in the following passage, one of the funniest, most revolting, and genius passages I‘ve ever found about alien thinking:

That was how it worked. That was how these empty skins moved of their own volition, why I’d found no other network to integrate. There it was: not distributed throughout the body but balled up into itself, dark and dense and encysted.  I had found the ghost in these machines.

I felt sick.

I shared my flesh with thinking cancer.

The story continues with the long battle of the humans against the alien.

Review: John Carpenter‘s first contact horror film is a classic and one of the best SF films ever. It’s based on John Campbell‘s 1938 novella „Who goes there?“.
You can read Watt‘s adaption as a standalone story without having seen or read its predecessors, but you‘ll be probably confused just like the alien after a while by the dropped references.
It doesn’t hurt to read the Wikipedia summary, because Watt has written this piece as a fan of the film and probably expected everyone to have seen the film.

The 2011 award season placed the story multiple times on second placed, showing that it‘s been well received. I just fear, that for newer generations, the film and story is not well known.

There are numerous treaties telling us that any intelligent alien would just look like us that contradicting these takes a great deal of setting and characterization.
The alien‘s characterization is a masterpiece of translating a completely different notion of how biological entities work to our way of self-awareness.

The plot itself is subordinate to the alien‘s first person narration. It’s a joy for nerds loving the film and getting the plot holes filled by this story. They alone are worth a praise, but will be meaningless for many readers.

Five stars already for several sections like the citation above. It’s a good thing that Watts didn’t produce a horror story like the film, but drew a different perspective – a loving, caring alien which just doesn’t grog the humans hostility.

Recommended for readers who like to know a real outlandish alien. And for lovers of the film.

Meta: isfdb. Available online at Clarkesworld. I’ve read it it in the anthology The Very Best of the Best.

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3 Responses to The Things • 2010 • First Contact short story by Peter Watts

  1. bormgans says:

    Nice quote indeed. Can’t wait for a new Watts novel.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That be an excellent quote. I enjoy Peter Watts but have not read much by him. I have never seen the film or even really heard of it. The First Mate gave me a run down of the history of the film once I read him the quote. Fun conversation.
    x The Captain

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andreas says:

      Many people recommend „Blindsight“ by him, though I haven’t read it myself.
      I don’t know how the film works nowadays with its special effects, but at the time it’s been great.


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