“The Saliva Tree”, Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax.

Since James Harris over at Classics of Science Fiction reviewed this story recently and since I’m not close to putting up any new posts, I thought I’d throw in my two cents about Aldiss’ work.

Raw Feed (1989, 2001): “The Saliva Tree”, Brian W. Aldiss, 1965.

TORDOB03A This is a fun pastiche of H. G. Wells and H. P. Lovecraft. Aldiss isn’t as terrifying as Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space“, his obvious model — though he does produce some scary moments in making his malevolent aliens tourists and giving us an image of space travel being the product of vicious, ruthless races, but he gives us gentle humor in his references to Wells (including all sorts of references to H. G. Wells titles and his inspiration for The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Food of the Gods, and The Shape of Things to Come. Aldiss clearly reveres Wells. Aldiss gives a pleasantly Victorian love story with a rivalry between men. (He also gives us rather muted emotion, but I suspect that is part of the air he wishes to achieve.). Aldiss shows his skill in using literary symbols. The misshapen stuffed animals of Mr. Grendon are a reflection of the aliens altering Earth’s flaura and fauna. The Grendon farm uses lower animals the way the Aurigans use us. The destruction of the electrical systems — and the Grendon farm itself (symbol of socialism’s hope in the value and betterment of the common man) — symbolizes the destruction of the naïve belief in inevitable progress and the linkage of higher morality with higher technology.

Upon reading this story the second time around, I noticed a lot more allusions to the work of H.G. Wells than just (as I did the first time) some references to the titles The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds or the presence of H.G. Wells at story’s end. The first time I read it, I characterized it as a cross between H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”.MNNHSTMBST1989

To be sure the basic plot follows the Lovecraft story: an alien lands on a farm, produces changes in humans and plants and animals that causes them to grow large, feeds on the altered organisms, literally maddens some people, kills even more, and returns to space. Aldiss compresses his story timeline relative to Lovecraft’s, has his protagonist intimately involved with the events rather than hearing about them second-hand as the narrator does in the Lovecraft story, has the aliens’ presence explained as a holiday outing, and has his protagonist drive the aliens off. (Of course, in the Lovecraft tale, as typical with a Lovecraft story, humanity is powerless in front of the cosmic menace and not all of it leaves at story’s end.)

This time I noticed the phrases that alluded to (at least, I don’t remember noticing them the first time around) H.G. Wells’ titles: “men like gods”, “food of the gods” (particularly apt for the enlarging effects suffered by the people, animals, and plants on the farm), and “the shape of things to come”. Of course, we’re to assume that Wells’ (this story seems to take place shortly after the publication of The War of the Worlds) gets some future titles from protagonist Gregory Rolles. The socialism — and lack of good socialist comradery on the part of the invisible aliens — of Rolles I caught the first time around.

This time I detected a bit of Charles Fort, when farmer Grendon decides that his farm has become the aliens’ farm, a variation on Fort’s famous phrase “We are property.” Earlier in the story, Grendon says he, as the years go by, has less of a life of his own, feels he exists only for the farm’s benefit. While this foreshadows his being “owned” by the aliens, Aldiss, given a story that mentions Wells’ socialism, is making some sort of comment about people’s lives becoming consumed by the economic tasks they undertake to make a living.


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6 thoughts on ““The Saliva Tree”, Or, Adventures in Reviewer Parallax.

    • marzaat August 20, 2019 / 2:30 pm

      I see you mentioned Michael Shea’s The Color Out of Time, another good follow up to Lovecraft.

  1. jameswharris August 20, 2019 / 9:57 am

    So you thought about H. P. Lovecraft too? I felt that Aldiss was aiming at Wells, but also hit Lovecraft. Good catch about Charles Fort too. I didn’t spot that one.

    But did you find the story as fun as I did? I’m surprised that “The Saliva Tree” hasn’t been anthologized more and remembered more. It really was a fun read. Reading this story made me want to read short works by Wells and Lovecraft to compare their styles with Aldiss.

    • marzaat August 20, 2019 / 2:31 pm

      I thought the story was a great deal of fun. Knowing Wells’ and Lovecraft’s work adds to the fun, but I don’t think that’s necessary to enjoying it.

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