“The Rapeworm” — Charlie Finlay

Charles Coleman Finlay is the author of the novels The Prodigal Troll, The Patriot Witch, A Spell for the Revolution, and The Demon Redcoat. Finlay’s short fiction—most of which appears in his collection, Wild Things—has been published in several magazines, such as The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and Black Gate, and in anthologies, such as The Best of All Flesh and my own By Blood We Live. He has twice been a finalist for the Hugo and Nebula awards, and has also been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, the Sidewise Award, and the Theodore Sturgeon Award.

Radiation, a new and exotic phenomena for much of the twentieth century, was seized on by writers as a pretext for all manner of unlikely but exciting developments, everything from giant monsters to Spider-Man. Zombies too, of course: In Night of the Living Dead, it’s suggested that the recently deceased are brought back as zombies due to strange radiation from a passing comet.

The idea of extraterrestrial influence being responsible for an exponentially expanding plague that transforms ordinary people into a sinister menace is an old one in science fiction. Perhaps the best known example is Jack Finney’s 1954 novel The Body Snatchers, filmed in 1956 as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and remade several times since), in which lurking alien seed pods grow perfect simulacra of your friends and neighbors, and the impersonators then proceed to murder and replace the originals. Another well-known example is Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel The Puppet Masters, about sluglike aliens that attach themselves to the backs of human hosts and take control of them. (The novel, which taps into the anti-Communist hysteria of the time, makes explicit analogies between the alien menace and the Soviet Union.)

For whatever reason, zombie stories of recent decades have tended to eschew cosmic explanations and have typically blamed zombies on man-made superviruses or else just left the question open. Our next story harkens back to this grand old tradition of zombies from outer space, and reminds us that we should never, ever forget to watch the skies.