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This is a book or story I read almost 50 years ago, and I've always remembered it as having some connection with H. G. Wells. From the few details I remember, it might as well have been a kind of detective story. Maybe Poe, but with a definite late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century feeling.

The main plot concerns a local farm where the hogs start gaining size, and then also the farmer and his family. The culmination occurs during a conversation / confrontation between the viewpoint character and the farmer's wife, where she is suddenly and fatally drained by one of the invisible antagonists, then humanity figures out how to defeat them, of course.

I don't think it was anything that would hold up to the passage of time, I'd just like to know where I read it, or if I just dreamed it.

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  • So the farmer and his family were getting larger as well, maybe with an implication that the spiders were farming them?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 22 at 18:48
  • Invisible spiders in goodreads.com/book/show/25178150-caught-in-the-web, but no Wells connection.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented May 22 at 18:50
  • @FuzzyBoots, exactly. Also that story by Jason Davis is from 2015, this is something I read in the 1970s.
    – LHMathies
    Commented May 22 at 18:58
  • I call the antagonists spiders because they inject their victims with a digestive fluid. I don't remember how many legs they turned out to have.
    – LHMathies
    Commented May 22 at 19:09
  • 4
    Yikes. Visible spiders are bad enough. If they're invisible that adds a whole new layer of horror :-(((
    – Valorum
    Commented May 22 at 19:12

1 Answer 1

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The Saliva Tree by Brian Aldiss. I read it as a young teen and it scared the pants off me.

It starts when a meteor arrives from the direction of the star Auriga. Malign aliens arrived along with the meteor and are described in the story as the Aurigans. They are invisible, but one of the characters sees one by throwing flour at it:

So horrified was I by the sight of the Aurigan, (he wrote) that I stood where I was, unable to move, while the flour blew about us. And how can I now convey to you – who are perhaps the most interested person in this vital subject in all the British Isles – what the monster looked like, outlined in white? My impressions were, of course, both brief and indefinite, but the main handicap is that there is nothing on Earth to liken this weird being to!

It appeared, I suppose, most like some horrendous goose, but the neck must be imagined as almost as thick as the body – indeed, it was almost all body, or all neck, whichever way you look at it. And on top of this neck was no head but a terrible array of various sorts of arms, a nest of writhing cilia, antennae, and whips, for all the world as if an octopus were entangled with a Portugese Man-’o-war as big as itself, with a few shrimp and starfish legs thrown in.

The scene that sticks in my memory is when an (invisible) Aurigan is eating piglets by sucking them dry in the same way a spider eats a fly:

In the muck between the stables and the cart, footprints appeared, two parallel tracks. They seemed to imprint themselves with no agency but their own. A cold flow of acute supernatural terror overcame Gregory, so that he could not move. The scene seemed to go grey and palsied as he watched the tracks come towards him.

The carthorse neighed uneasily, the prints reached the cart, the cart creaked, as if something had climbed aboard. The piglets squealed with terror. One dived clear over the wooden sides. Then a terrible silence fell.

Gregory still could not move. He heard an unaccountable sucking noise in the cart, but his eyes remained rooted on the muddy tracks. Those impressions were of something other than a man: something with dragging feet that were in outline something like a seal’s flippers. Suddenly he found his voice; ‘Mr Grendon!’ he cried.

Only as the farmer and Bert came running from the barn with the net did Gregory dare look into the cart.

One last piglet, even as he looked, seemed to be deflating rapidly, like a rubber balloon collapsing. It went limp and lay silent among the other little empty bags of pig skin. The cart creaked. Something splashed heavily off across the farm yard in the direction of the pond.

Aldiss was clearly channelling Lovecraft when he wrote this. Even as a boy I could see its similarities to Lovecraft's The Color Out of Space. Nevertheless I still think it's a great story, and it still raises the hairs on the back of my neck even after fifty years.

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  • This is in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame which I've owned since teenage years. I always skipped over this story though. Thanks for the answer, I'll have to go back and give the story a try. Commented May 23 at 13:59
  • 2
    Thanks a lot! The plot summary says that the protagonist is a friend of H.G.Wells, and it's set in his period, so that all fits. Let me just read it and I'll accept the answer. (There was a lot of translated works by Aldiss in the public library of my teen years [Cryptozoic!] and from 1965 to when I was scouring the shelves is enough time for a translation to come out).
    – LHMathies
    Commented May 23 at 15:53
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    There was in fact a Danish translation, Salivatræet in a collection of the same name, which isn't mentioned on ISFDB. Probably it was that one I read. The only data I have is the year, from a yellow pages listing, so I'm not going to add it to ISFDB unless I buy the physical book.
    – LHMathies
    Commented May 23 at 18:11
  • I skimmed it on archive.org, and it does indeed have the scene with the farmer's wife that I remember, though at this distance I'm not sure if I read it in English or in Danish.
    – LHMathies
    Commented May 23 at 18:26

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