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Looking for name/author of short story I read maybe in the 1970s where aliens are fleeing their collapsing civilization.

With the last of their strength, they arrive on Earth a long time ago, when mammals were tiny creatures. The aliens want to take over or become symbiotic in an intelligent creature, but they know that it will be millennia in coming. They have to choose one species, the species they think will become intelligent. Once they've made their choice, they can't choose again.

With its eight legs, they feel that spiders offer the best chance in the future, and they become one with the spiders. Unfortunately for them, it's the mammals that become the dominant, intelligent species. But it explains why many humans have an aversion to spiders - because they really are aliens.

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    I don't think it's the answer, but it seems similar to some of the plot to the Doctor Who story Full Circle (which is from the 1970s.)
    – Jon B
    Aug 3, 2023 at 23:26
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    This reminds me strongly of The Possessed by Arthur C. Clarke, except it's lemmings, not spiders. Aug 3, 2023 at 23:39
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    If "The Possessed" is the right answer, it's a duplicate of this old question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/65011/… The story is available at the Internet Archive: archive.org/details/…
    – user14111
    Aug 4, 2023 at 0:20
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    Thanks, Dosco Jones, you're right, it does sound a lot like The Possessed, which I also remember reading. But I do remember the abhorrence part at the end of story I'm trying to remember of humans for the "alien" spiders. Aug 4, 2023 at 0:36
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    It is interesting how many creatures right on Earth seem about as alien as we might imagine, spiders, octopus, etc. I would bet that even stranger beings, perhaps more intelligent than humans, might lurk in the depths. Perhaps when we learn to communicate with whales they will have all sorts of stories of "alien" life.
    – releseabe
    Aug 4, 2023 at 1:27

2 Answers 2

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I'm wondering if this is a slightly garbled memory of The Possessed by Arthur C. Clarke. The description is exact save for the animal species not being spiders.

Millions of years ago the Swarm had begun its journey, swept starward by the fires of its own exploding sun. Yet even now the memory of its lost birthplace was still sharp and clear, an ache that would never die.

After aeons in space it finds a living world.

Everywhere it found life, but nowhere intelligence. There were things that crawled and flew and leaped, but there were no things that talked or built. Ten million years hence there might be creatures here with minds that the Swarm could possess and guide for its own purposes; there was no sign of them now. It could not guess which of the countless life-forms on this planet would be the heir to the future, and without such a host it was helpless...

The swarm splits, with most of it continuing to explore space. The part that stays on the planet agrees to return regularly to a specific mountain valley to wait for the greater swarm to return.

They have only one chance to choose a species.

The search was long and the choice difficult, but at last the Swarm selected its host. Like rain sinking into thirsty soil, it entered the bodies of certain small lizards and began to direct their destiny.

Ages pass, and the swarm remnant fades.

The mind of the Swarm was dispersing, scattering among a million tiny bodies, no longer able to unite and assert its will. It had lost all cohesion; its memories were fading. In a million years, at most, they would all be gone. Only one thing remained—the blind urge which still, at intervals which by some strange aberration were becoming ever shorter, drove it to seek its consummation in a valley that long ago had ceased to exist.

They chose poorly. Sentience fades completely.

Only one thing remained--the blind urge which still, at intervals which by some strange aberration were becoming ever shorter, drove it to seek its consummation in a valley that long ago had ceased to exist.

And the horror from human observers:

‘What is it, darling?’ he asked anxiously. ‘Look!’ she replied, in a whisper Nils could scarcely hear. ‘There—under the pines!’ Nils stared, and as he did so the beauty of the night ebbed slowly away and ancestral terrors came crawling back from exile. For beneath the trees the land was alive: a dappled brown tide was moving down the slopes of the hill and merging into the dark waters. Here was an open patch on which the moonlight fell unbroken by shadow. It was changing even as he watched: the surface of the land seemed to be rippling downward like a slow waterfall seeking union with the sea.

...

Obeying an urge whose meaning they had never known, the doomed legions of the lemmings were finding oblivion beneath the waves.

The full text is at the Internet Archive.

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  • The monkeys originally planned for the project died, and after noticing that the guided evolutionary process seemed to somehow apply to the spiders, she decided it was the next best thing and kept going.
    – dargaud
    Aug 4, 2023 at 16:47
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Aside from the Clarke story, it may have merged with "The Green Drift" by John Lymington. I read it as "The Green Spiders Came Tomorrow", and it has spiders, time paradox, and if I'm not mistaken the spiders were actually aliens (hence our natural disgust with them). It's been 35 years since I read it, so my memory may be off...

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