I read a story (early 1990s but book looked old even then) that I think was part of an anthology.

In it our protagonist uses a time machine (I think it can only go forward in time, although I might be mistaken).

definitely in the story

  • travels to the far distant future.
  • insects are controlling large black bipedal machines
  • protagonist finds other wrecked time ships of different designs to his, including ones where the occupants had died of old age due to the time they took to travel (protagonist speculates the machines was stuck and they couldn't stop it)

possibly contains

  • the insects may not actually be intelligent and could be remnants of old human training and ended up wiping out humanity.
  • the protagonist may have found the time machine rather than invented it
  • the only other humans are other time travelling survivors
  • the insects have built huge pillared structures like skyscraper sized ant hills/termite mounds
    • the entire area seems to be desert like, as if all water has gone.
    • the protagonist fixed his time machine by scavenging parts from other machines
    • when one of the insect machines was broken the insects scattered and acted like normal insects


  1. Were the ants robots? Did the robots travel through time? How did they do that?

No, the robots were controlled by the insects/ants like a hive mind that controlled the machine.

If memory serves the machine looked like an all black ed-209 from Robocop

The ants were not time travellers themselves but has supplanted humans. It was definitely earth. It may be the ants were trained rather than intelligent but had gone too far and destroyed mankind.

  • 3
    Did this involve him discussing how the square-cube law, and the lack of lungs, meant that ants were stuck at the size they were, but he found some ants with actual lungs before doing the time travel?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 2, 2017 at 13:38
  • @FuzzyBoots I don't recall that
    – Doctor Two
    Mar 2, 2017 at 13:38
  • 3
    Ah. I was thinking it might be "Let the Ants Try" by Fredrick Pohl. You can find a summary at goodreads.com/topic/show/…
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 2, 2017 at 13:40
  • @FuzzyBoots yes it doesn't sound like that. Thanks though
    – Doctor Two
    Mar 2, 2017 at 13:44
  • 1
    Take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit any more details. It's normally quite helpful.
    – Edlothiad
    Mar 2, 2017 at 14:05

1 Answer 1


I wonder if this is the novella Wanderers of Time by John Wyndham (writing as John Beynon). I read it in the anthology also called Wanderers of Time by John Wyndham.

It is a partial match to your description. The protagonist Roy Saber ends up in the far future when his time machine is damaged by a gunshot. He arrives in a sort of (vaguely described) dead end of time where malfunctioning time machines tend to end up.

‘… therefore, this must be a kind of “dead” spot in time. It is as though our machines had been thrown into the flow of time and swept along until, for some unguessable reason, they met an obstruction at this point. Every one of us has arrived here because his machine was faulty in some way or other. To take an illustration—a bad one, I admit, but enough for our purpose—one may consider time as a river. You may turn boats adrift on it at many points, and they will all collect together at the same serious obstacle, whether they have travelled a hundred miles or two miles. We are now at some period where the straight flow of time has been checked—perhaps it is even turning back upon itself. We know no details at present, but it is certain that the same curious phenomenon has thrown us all together.’

The world is dominated by ant-like creatures that operate giant machines. For example this scene when one of the machines is cut in two by a heat ray.

An inarticulate cry, something between a moan and a scream, brought them facing to the centre of the room. One of the Numen was clawing wildly at his body and emitting animal-like howls. Behind him lay the remains of the machine, split by Hale’s ray-stroke into two parts. From it a glistening, black tide of life was flowing in their direction. The unfortunate Numan had stood nearest, and already the black flow covered him thickly. Even as they watched in unmoving amazement, he fell writhing to the ground and his body became a mere mound in the blackness.

‘Ants! ’ cried Roy, as the black horde advanced. ‘Millions of ants! ’

There are lots of wrecked time machines, including one whose occupant starved during the journey:

Then he became interested in the other machines. Among those unclaimed by anyone present stood two dented metal cubes. Del came over to join him as he pulled on the door of one. It came grudgingly ajar, hanging askew on the twisted frame, and a breath of corruption sent the two men staggering back a pace. Holding his breath, Roy reapproached and peered inside. The shrivelled body of a man, in a far state of decomposition, lay huddled into one of the farther corners. ‘Poor devil,’ he muttered. ‘At least, we’ve been luckier than he was.’

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