It’s always interesting to me to trace influences over time in Science Fiction and fantasy. I made an interesting discovery recently as I was reading Cap Kennedy #15, Mimics of Dephene (1975). This is a space opera series from the 1970s written by Gregory Kern, who was actually E. C. Tubb (1919 – 2010). The book would seem to be a relatively minor one in the series, but at the very top of page 62, (Daw Books, Inc. 1975, April), I found a fascinating paragraph.
To set it up, Cap and his colleague, a scientist named Jarl Luden, discover an alien mimic who is trying to pass as a human. Luden remarks: "'There is a certain test. Take some tissue, some blood, and touch it with a hot wire. Normal blood will not react, but that taken from a Mimic will incorporate an individual survival-pattern. It will recoil from the threat of heat.’”
My mind, and quite possibly yours, instantly leaped to the John Carpenter movie, The Thing, which opened June 25, 1982. Here’s the speech Macready gives in the movie just before running the blood test that reveals ‘The Thing.’ “You see, when a man bleeds. It’s just tissue. But blood from one of you things won’t obey when it’s attacked. It’ll try and survive. Crawl away from a hot needle…” In the movie they actually use a hot wire for the test.
I went back to the original novella that was the basis for John Carpenter’s The Thing. This is Who Goes There, by John W. Campbell Jr, which was published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1938. I’d read it a very long time ago but in checking it out I found that the hot wire test was used in that book. This is probably where Kern/Tubb got the idea for Kennedy #15, and would also seem the likely influence on Carpenter. Oddly, though, the wording in the movie is closer to that in Mimics of Dephene than in the novella. Coincidence? Probably.
However, a second tantalizing connection between the Cap Kennedy book and the “thing” is seen later. On page 93 of the Kennedy book, when a mimic is imitating Luden, Kennedy tells one of the forms to "Open your mouth." As soon as the being does so, Kennedy shoots him down. When the real Luden wants to know how Kennedy distinguished between the mimic and the real, Kennedy says: "...no Mimic could have known what was inside your mouth. Expensive dental work."
In the 2011 remake/prequel to The Thing, we find out that the creatures can't mimic dental implants and these get left behind when a human is taken over. This is one way to identify them. And this element did not appear in Who Goes There, or at least I couldn’t find it with a pretty close search. (I wonder if it might have been in the original script for that movie.)
Although certainly no proof of direct connection, the fact that Mimics of Dephene can be linked to both the 1982 and the 2011 movies, tantalizes me. I can’t find any evidence that Tubb himself had anything to do with either movie, so if there was an influence, it came from someone else. Were both links purely coincidental, or had someone who worked on these movies read Cap Kennedy #15? Could it have been John Carpenter himself? If anyone knows him, maybe you’ll ask him for me. I’d sure like to know.