Two men seeking proof of alien life. The isolation of the Antarctic research station reaches breaking point when one of them starts acting odder than normal. Forever damaged by his experience, Charles returns to a very different life, unable to hold onto his career or forget what happened in the darkness…

I became terrified of the idea that I would perhaps knock one or more fingers clean off. It looks ridiculous as I write it down, but there, in the dark, in the cold, the thought of it gripped my soul horribly.

Wow, well I’ll try and do The Thing Itself justice, but you’re better off just reading it and marvelling in its mind-blowing awesomeness. The blurb would have you think it’s a version of John Carpenter’s The Thing (a film I love) but really only the first part deals with the isolation and ensuing madness of Antarctica. There’s philosophy, a shady organisation, artificial intelligence, a shoeless man on the run and whole raft of stories throughout time.

At the heart of the book is the theme of how humans perceive reality. We can only experience things in a human way, describe things in a human way. The concepts of time and space are human constructs even if we perceive that we are measuring them scientifically.

Roy is obsessed with the works of Immanuel Kant, an 18th Century German philosopher, so much so that Charles blames Kant for driving his fellow researcher mad. Yet Roy is convinced the answers of the Fermi paradox can be explained by Kant, and perhaps so much more.

The Fermi paradox deals with the argument for the existence of extra-terrestrial life and the fact that there is no proof of said life. The chances of us being the only beings in the universe are slim but, if so, then where are they? Perhaps it’s because we are looking for them in human terms, within the constraints of our perception of reality. Maybe aliens exist outside of what we can perceive, and taken further, this argument can give credence to the existence of a deity without proof too.

Some people say time = the only currency now, since it = the only limited resource.

You would be mistaken in thinking this is going to be a hard read when in fact, despite all the philosophy, it was a surprisingly fast-paced page-turner, with a dash of humour and plenty of style. It just also happens to be a work out for the brain cells too. The book partly follows Charles in the modern day but it also has pieces from the past and future, a little bit reminiscent of Cloud Atlas, but unlike Mitchell’s book, the connections of the different time periods all came together in the end.

The Thing Itself is published by Gollancz and is available now in trade paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Also reviewed @ For Winter Nights

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.