Hello again to my readers. I thought it was time for a slight change from my usual focus. Perhaps something colder…and more horrific? To fans of Golden Age science fiction and horror, John W. Campbell Jr is a titan. He is famous in science fiction circles for being the most prolific editor of the most famous pulp science fiction magazine, Astounding Science Fiction And Fact (which later changed its name to Analog Science Fiction And Fact) and for publishing many of the highly regarded figures of the time such as Issac Asimov – in fact publishing some of the stories which became Foundation and Nightfall one of Asimov’s highest regarded stories – as well as Robert A. Heinleinand A.E Van Voght.
Frozen Hell is something of an unexpected discovery. It is actually a first draft with many additional details and small changes of one of Campbell’s most famous stories: Who Goes There? If the name Who Goes There? sounds familiar it will be more familiar as any of its various film adaptations: The Thing From Another World (1951), John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) and the (terrible) prequel released in 2011.How odd. I thought I could hear Sgathiach screaming for a minute there. The manuscript was found in the libraries of Harvard University and a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign was created to produce a book of this version. The campaign proved to be very successful (as a matter of fact I was a backer) and an audiobook version was produced alongside a physical paperback and digital e-book versions.
The plot is understandably very familiar: A group of scientists in the Antarctic – including a McReady, some things never change – have discovered quite the oddity in amongst their studies and giant storms: an abomination. An alien thing. And one that has its own intentions. How will these men deal with an monstrosity that can imitate anyone or anything? And who among them truly is human in this frozen hell?
Frozen Hell is a very interesting read and listen. Not only is it interesting for historical reasons but it is also quite entertaining. Some of the descriptions given to various scenes are very evocative and make it easy to visualise both the beauty of Antarctica and the horror of what’s going on around these men. I have to also bring special mention to the brilliant way Campbell shows the slow breakdown. At first things seem normal. Definitely very isolated but normal, then of course the thing is discovered and the cracks begin to show. First just one man..but then…will any of the others go mad from the revelation? And if so…how and why?
I will have to say that despite my praise of and fondness for Frozen Hell I do feel that the version originally published in 1938 as Who Goes There? is the superior story. It is more tightly written with more of a direct focus on the horror of the situation. There are also a few less extraneous details here and there. As much as I appreciate those extra details in Frozen Hell it does feel like it takes longer to get to ‘the point’ so to speak. Don’t get me wrong however! Frozen Hell is by no means bad. It is great in fact. But in comparison Who Goes There? is a genuine masterpiece of science fiction and horror much like the John Carpenter film version is a masterpiece in its own right in the world of cinema
Narration for the audiobook version of Frozen Hell was performed by a Mr Yuri Lowenthal. Lowenthal is a voice over artist known mainly for his performances in the animation industry be it American cartoon shows or Japanese anime. Notable performances include Sasuke Uchiha in the various different Naruto or Boruto anime series, Simon in Gurren Lagann (a personal favourite of mine) and the part of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the recent smash hit video game simply entitled Marvel’s Spider-Man by Insomniac Games a highly respected company.
Lowenthal’s narration for Frozen Hell is performed rather well. He does a good job of matching the tone of the piece and does fantastically well in those scenes where characters begin to turn on each other or wonder if they are going mad. He also manages rather well to give each important character their own distinct voice so it is much easier to tell who is who during the large group scenes. In fact his narration made the audiobook surprisingly easy listening to the point I almost listened to the entire thing in one go which is quite rare for me.
One small minor problem I must note for my readers is simply the general lack of availability for this audiobook. I received a physical and audio copy originally as a Kickstarter backer and held off on my review to make sure the book had a chance to become more widely available to the general public. The digital version of the book is very easy to obtain on Amazon however the physical and audio versions of Frozen Hell appear to only be available through the book’s official publisher Wildside Press and not on mainstream websites such as Amazon, Audible and others or at least not their UK branches. I do highly recommend the book especially to fans of Campbell and others like him or those who have an interest in the general history of science fiction and horror. However I do feel its general lack of availability can be a nuisance.
In conclusion if this sounds like your kind of thing? Hunt a copy down! It will be more than worth it. Even if you are merely interested give this audiobook a chance it deserves it. Now…perhaps I should return to The Folly? Check on the Rivers?