What is this old Sci-Fi Short-Story/Novelette?
February 11, 2015 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to identify/find this pre-1980 story set in America, about an epidemic (highly contagious, spread skin-to-skin) where everyone's turns grey and the victims have hallucinations. The protagonist is on the run (along with a woman?), trying to escape roaming victims (who have a craving to touch his uninfected skin). In that last aspect, it has a zombie apocalypse feel to it. I believe it was a little-known work by a big-name author. Can anyone tell me what it is? SPOILERS BELOW


Other things I think I recall about it:

--Someone finds a meteorite and cuts it open, missing the concentric-shell warnings from the aliens who sent it into space. Insides, he finds a fishy-smelling goo that he feeds to his cat, which disappears.

--People infected have their skin turn grey. What's actually happening is the multiplication of nerve endings in the skin, turning it grey, but giving wildly intense senses. What's thought to be hallucinations is really just super-sense.

--In the end, the protagonist decides to give in and get "infected", realizing it was an alien "gift", and he finds a whole new experience as his senses get intensified.

--I think it closes with a romantic scene where the sensations are more intense than mere humans, as he's now "post-human" or "super-human" in a sense (no pun intended).

Thank you!
posted by Sceadugenga to Writing & Language (6 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Walter Miller's Dark Benediction

He was the author of A Canticle for Liebowitz.
It's a great story.
posted by Seamus at 1:01 PM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can listen to a late-'80s public radio dramatization from Sci-Fi Radio on the Internet Archive.
It's the third show here.
posted by Seamus at 1:07 PM on February 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Thanks...that's it! Was getting very upset with myself that my Google-fu was insufficient with the bits I recalled from forty years ago. For some reason, I'd recalled it possibly being Ray Bradbury, so I bought up all his stuff and never encountered it. I've looked off and on for years, and only today finally decided to make my first AskMeFi post...answered in mere minutes!

Although I've read A Canticle for Liebowitz a few times, I've not really enjoyed it as much as others have, and as much as I feel I should.

Thanks, also, for the radio-show tip!
posted by Sceadugenga at 1:16 PM on February 11, 2015

Your description was so dead-on that I knew it right away. I remember reading it years ago and then heard it on a recent listen to the Sci-Fi Radio stream.
I too have those memories of stories read. If you, like me, ever read anthologies or sf magazines, you probably have hundreds of these half-remembered plotlines in your head.

I stole Canticle from my mom when I was a young boy, so I have a long love of Miller.
If you like the listening angle, a public radio station did a pretty good dramatization of it (follows the novel pretty well) that is also available on archive.org.
Before his death, Miller wrote a sequel, published posthumously, called Saint Liebowitz and the Wild Horse Woman. It's less monastic-intrigue novel and more post-apocalyptic-romp-across-a-splintered-continent novel. I would have liked the sequel better than the first if I had read it at 10.
posted by Seamus at 1:24 PM on February 11, 2015

I'm going to pass on this archive.org link to my now-blind father. I've been looking for things he'd like, to occupy his very active mind!

I actually read Canticle in a "Medieval Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature" college class, which helped me to understand the symbolism and monastic stuff. It's funny -- even though I didn't enjoy the book much personally, I see how good it is and have recommended it to others. I'll have to check out that sequel, even though I've always heard not-so-good things about it.

Do you know whether there there any current authors writing material that is similar to Golden Age sci-fi?
posted by Sceadugenga at 1:46 PM on February 11, 2015

Not the answer but loosely related: in 'Lathe of Heaven' by Ursula LeGuin, people's skin turn grey, there's an alien invasion, and a nice romance by the end...
posted by ovvl at 5:34 PM on February 11, 2015

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