Read Things With Beards by Sam J. Miller Free Online
Book Title: Things With Beards|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 636 KB
v The author of the book: Sam J. Miller
Edition: Clarke's World
Date of issue: June 2016
ISBN: No data
ISBN 13: No data
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books Things With Beards:3.5 stars for this disturbing SF story, one of the current Nebula short story nominees. It's free to read online here at Clarkesworld. Review first posted on Fantasy Literature:
“Things With Beards” is a sequel of sorts to John W. Campbell, Jr.’s classic novella Who Goes There?, which I reread in preparation for reading this short story, though this story is actually based much more on John Carpenter’s film version of this story, 1982’s The Thing, starring Kurt Russell, which takes a fair number of liberties with the novella’s plot.
**Spoilers follow for both the novella and the film**
Both are about a frozen alien found by a group of scientists in Antarctica, which returns to life when it is thawed out and promptly begins to kill and assimilate the humans and animals living in the camp, turning itself into an exact replica of whatever it has killed, down to the molecular level. That, combined with the alien’s ability to read minds and thus mimic the assimilated man’s personality convincingly, makes it nearly impossible to discern who is human and who is alien.
At the end of The Thing, R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) has blown up the Antarctica camp and everything in it. He and a black man named Childs are the sole survivors, but they have no hope of rescue. It’s not even clear whether one or both of them are actually aliens. We get the answer to that question in “Things With Beards.”
In this short story, set in 1983, MacReady and Childs have been rescued and returned to the U.S. Although their bodies were frozen solid, they returned to life when thawed (cue ominous music). As the story begins, MacReady is meeting his old friend Hugh, a black man, in a McDonalds. They are former lovers, and quickly pick up their relationship again. MacReady has these odd blackouts when he’s alone with just one other person. It happens with Hugh, and MacReady (who has no recollection of the events in Antarctica) begins to fear what is inside him. At the same time, he’s also hiding his homosexuality and his sympathetic involvement with Hugh’s black radical movement, which has a plan to bomb multiple police stations in the city.Beards were camouflage. A costume. Only Blair and Garry lacked one, both being too old to need to appear as anything other than what they were, and Childs, who never wanted to.
He shivered. Remembering. The tough-guy act, the cowboy he became in uncertain situations. Same way in juvie; in lock-up. Same way in Vietnam. Hard, mean, masculine. Hard drinking; woman hating. Queer? Psssh. He hid so many things, buried them deep, because if men knew what he really was, he’d be in danger. When they learned he wasn’t one of them, they would want to destroy him.In Sam J. Miller’s version of this world, people who have been assimilated by the Thing are not consciously aware of it; when the Thing emerges, they have a blackout. (Apparently this is a hotly debated plot point in Thing fandom, per Miller’s blog.) I was intrigued by that aspect of the plot, which had never occurred to me when reading the original story, and it lent itself well to Miller’s story.
“Things With Beards” is a story brimming with ideas: the difficulties of a secretly gay life, racial conflict, AIDS, alienation, fear, prejudice, hiding our real selves behind a beard or mask. It’s message fiction, but more interesting and layered than most. It suffers, perhaps, from an overabundance of plot elements and ideas, and from being rather disjointed. The black activist plot element never really meshed with the rest of the story for me, and the fact that an already assimilated man would be dying of AIDS didn’t make sense, given my understanding of how the alien works. At the conclusion of the story, Miller offers up the theme to readers on a platter, but I wasn’t quite convinced enough to buy it.
Content advisory: horror story with adult themes, language and content.
Read information about the authorSam J. Miller is a writer and a community organizer. His fiction is in Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and The Minnesota Review, among others. He is a nominee for the Nebula and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, a winner of the Shirley Jackson Award, and a graduate of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop. His debut novel The Art of Starving will be published by HarperCollins in 2017. He lives in New York City, and at www.samjmiller.com
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