This story was published in the June issue of Clarkesworld. It currently has 10 recommendations on the Nebula Reading List. (I’ve revised based on comments.)

MacReady is one of two survivors of an incident at an Antarctic research station. His lover Childs is the only other survivor. The station has been found burned down, with the residents blown to bits and only two apparently frozen corpses perfectly preserved. There is also something that resembles a spacecraft in the wreckage. Thawed out in surprisingly good condition, MacReady rejoins life in New York City and takes up the fight for civil rights in a society where gays are ravaged by AIDS and the police target blacks. His old lover Hugh takes him to a meeting where he joins a plan to bomb NYC police stations. MacReady thinks something is wrong with him, but can’t put his finger on it. He has gaps in his memory. He starts to jump off the George Washington Bridge, but reconsiders. He carries out his part of the plot, leaving a bomb at a precinct station. On the way home, he has a profound realization about monsters.

This story is a sequel to the John Carpenter move The Thing, which is adapted from John W. Campbell, Jr.’s novella “Who Goes There?” The two survivors of the destroyed station are infected by an extraterrestrial creature that emerges to claim other victims when conditions seem safe. At those times MacReady and Childs have memory lapses, realizing that something isn’t right, but with no idea what it is.

This is fairly long, written in present tense, and follows MacReady’s efforts to find a place in society again. It gives glimpses of the world around him, of what went on in Antarctica, glimpses of his past, and makes connections with issues current in society. It’s interesting as an extrapolation of the movie, but like most of the Nebula Reading List stories so far, it’s message fiction.

I’m certainly not the expert on literary criticism, but I think this is a postmodern work. It has a scattershot approach where Miller throws out a lot of different bits and leaves the reader to try to put them together into some kind of cohesive whole. Note: The following discussion contains spoilers.

Message 1: As far as I know neither of the works this sequel builds on has any mention of sexuality or racism. That suggests Miller has introduced the gayness of the characters and MacReady’s allyism with the Black Liberation movement to make some kind of statement. Progressive is what’s going to jump out at most people.

Message 2: Miller uses gayness as an excuse to bring up the AIDs epidemic, which was in full swing in the 1980s. He draws a parallel to the spread of the alien life form, as in the story MacReady trades the alien for AIDS through casual sex. This is interesting but not very deep, and I find the references dated. We’ve come a long way in prevention and treatment since 1980 and still referring to AIDS as the “gay flu” struck me as victimization.

Message 3: Through Hugh, Miller sends MacReady to a Black Liberation meeting. He’s right the movement was in sharp decline in the 1980s, but I get the feeling he’s not talking about 1980 here, at all. The issue of police shootings is current and has sparked a new movement, Black Lives Matter, with retaliation against the police from either inside or outside the organization. The fact that MacReady and the others agree to bomb police stations so readily is a questionable suggestion. Is violence against the police progressive, or something beyond that? Neoleft? A return to radicalism?

Message 4: Miller winds this up in the last paragraph by letting us know we need to make peace with the monster within.

Okay, so what’s this all about? Editor Neil Clarke’s estimation is apparently that it will piss a lot of people off. Because he runs a progressive magazine, I suspect he’s identified Message 1 and considers the story to be progressive because it’s about gay men as victims and defending African Americans from the police through retaliatory measures.

However, does it really say that? The problem with postmodernism is that the disorderly presentation means readers can draw different conclusions from the text. I can interpret the gayness and bombings to be just interesting sidelines to the main story here, but when I get to the main theme as stated in the last line, then I need to look back at what’s been said. If Miller has been talking about monsters, then gay men with AIDS carry a monster within that they communicate to others. Also, people who ally with the Black Lives Matter organization to retaliate against the police are monsters within. But this is all okay. Just make peace with yourself and go on spreading it around.

Actually, that reading could piss off a few progressives.

Regardless of the politics, I think this story is complex and well-developed enough to rate a possible nomination. I’d be happier if the messages were more subtle.

Three and a half stars.

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