Friday, May 07, 2010

Here it comes!

Creeping across the frozen tundra. The Thing from another world.

Animal? Vegetable? An intermediate life form? Intelligent, certainly. Lusting for human blood.

Remember the movie? The Thing. Howard Hawks, 1951. The eponymous creature crash-lands its flying saucer near an American research station at the North Pole, setting off all kinds of scientific instruments: sound detectors, seismographs, magnetometers, compasses. "This geiger counter's going crazy!" says one young researcher. "Could be the Russians," replies dashing Air Force captain Pat Hendry. "They're all over the Pole like flies."

Not the Russkies this time. Just look at those probing tendrils. What to do? Captain Hendry organizes an assault. The chief scientist, Dr. Carrington, has other ideas. Destruction of the monster would betray science, he insists. This bloodsucking blob from outer space knows "the secrets of the stars," and must be studied. Carrington is impressed by the Thing's single-minded purpose, unencumbered by human distractions like love and sex. "No emotions, no heart, our superior in every way!" the mad doctor enthuses.

All of this came back to me when I saw the strangely terrifying image above in a recent issue of Nature, No, not a giant alien blob. A cancer cell. Invisibly small. Still, no less the Thing. No emotions, no heart. And, if my family history is anything to go by, destined to get me sooner or later.

Maybe.

You may remember how the movie turned out. Carrington rushes up to the monster shouting, "I'm not your enemy. I'm a scientist." Glop! Glug! So much for Carrington. Captain Hendry saves the day by frying the Thing with high-voltage electricity. The zapping with radiation didn't save my Dad. I'll put my faith in the scientists who are sequencing the genes of in situ tumor cells -- GATTACA, and all that. Perhaps not the "secrets of the stars," but certainly the secret of life on Earth.