This was a short story, probably late 70's, early 80's. The protagonist was an evil villain type, who thought himself super powerful, who was coming to take over the Earth. Everything seemed to be going just peachy until he realized that, on Earth, there were large deposits of that awful, dangerous, universal solvent 'Water', which, among his people, was used only as the most dangerous of weapons... but the Earthlings were literally made of an enjoyed bathing in. So much for that invasion!

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    Is there a question here? Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 13:24
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    @JeffZeitlin "What is the name of this story?" This is a story-identification question, so that is the implied question.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 13:28
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    @DavidW - I thought the title of the story in question was "The Universal Solvent"... Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 13:30
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    It's "Universal Soldier" brotendo Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 15:08
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    Well, I officially hate this edited title. I mean, boring. And it doesn't really fit either. Oh, well, hopefully it helps someone. And, yes, when I tagged it 'story identification' I kind of thought that was clear enough :) Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 2:02

1 Answer 1


Could this actually be the short(ish) novel The Return of Retief (1984) by Keith Laumer? A quick Google of short story alien solvent water turned up this other story id question which seems to match quite well. Borrowing the quotes from that answer:

"You threaten the Surviving One?" the mind-voice queried coldly. "Perhaps it will be as well if we proceed at once to pre-digestion. Very well, fellows, melt it down."

At once a fine spray of cool moisture enveloped the Terran. The fluid appeared to be expelled in minute droplets from pores covering the surface of leaves and stems alike. A drop trickled down Retief's upper lip, as the voice spoke again:

"You, O formerly Motile One, are now enveloped in a cloud of the most corrosive substance in nature. Prepare to be dissolved."

"That wouldn't be H2O, I suppose," Retief hazarded as his tongue touched the droplet on his lip.

"Precisely. Our methods of preparing nourishment are unparalleled. We ourselves are of course impervious to this caustic compound."

"I dare you to step up the volume," Retief said.

The swiftly evaporating mist had lowered the temperature to a bearable level, and his heat-parched skin was eagerly absorbing the water, which was now trickling down in an increased volume.

"You presume, O Motile One, to attempt to resist the corrosive action of the universe's most potent solvent?"

"Sure," Retief said. "I don't have time to be dissolved right now. If you boys are hungry, I'm in a position to offer you a full cargo of gourmet delights, if it isn't splashed all over the landscape, that is; or even if it is. I don't suppose you'd object to having to collect it."

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    I see these aliens' biology runs on the same nonsensoleum that powers the Wicked Witch of the West.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 21:49
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    @Kevin This answer concerns a Retief story. They are made up of nonsensoleum. But are fun.
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 0:31
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    Ok, now I'm annoyed... because I don't know if this is the answer. I love Laumer and Retief, I'm sure I've read this one, and it really fits... except where it doesn't. I thought this was a 'failed invasion of Earth' story. Let's see if anyone else can find something closer. If not I will mark myself confused and mark this as the answer. Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 2:04
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    @VaughnOhlman Could you be mixing up this story and M.Night Shyamalan's movie called "Signs" ? In "Signs" Aliens come to the earth, supposedly to invade, and are repelled by water which act as a very powerfull acid to them.
    – user3399
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 9:33
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    On the flip side of this, Larry Niven criticized the way the 1980s TV series "V" handled aliens and water. He pointed out that the starting premise was that the alien invaders wanted to grab lots and lots of Earth's water because they were very low on the stuff back home . . . but since they had interstellar travel, they could have settled for, let's say, mining the rings of Saturn, which are basically a collection of huge chunks of ice which don't have billions of native inhabitants ready to shoot at you if they feel threatened.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 23:59

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