If I remember right, this was a short story or novella. It was published either in the mid-50s, around Asimov's time, or sometime in the early '00. I read a lot of Asimov around then, as well as Analog SFF, so it's possible it was in the magazine.

What I can remember:

There are an increasing number of malnourished, emaciated people being found in parks and alleys, seemingly just showing up. A detective is given the cases. Through the typical police work, he find the identity of the latest victim, an older man, which records indicate should only be in his 20s.

I think now that he has an identity, the detective traces through the man's life, eventually tracking him back to some scientific facility. Here my memory of the story is kind of blank.

By the end of the story, we find out that time travel exists, and they have been sending people back in time. But it turns out that nothing from the past can come back (not even information), so anything the person ate or drank in the past wouldn't come back. Depending on the length of their stay, any nourishment that was incorporated into their bodies didn't come back, and so the trip back basically kills them.

There might have been a scene where one of the scientists, while on a trip to the past, has figured out what is going on, and is trying to get a book/notes/something relevant back to the future to warn them. Or this could be a memory of something else entirely, thus it's not with the description above.

  • Welcome to SFF.SE! You've provided a fair amount of detail, but may still want to look at How to ask a good story-ID question?, to see if the ideas there prompt any additional details you could edit into your post.
    – RDFozz
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 21:30
  • I've seen that link around, but couldn't find it when I was asking. Thank you
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 3, 2018 at 21:42

1 Answer 1


"The Old Die Rich", a novella by H. L. Gold, originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1953; text at Project Gutenberg; X Minus One radio play at the Internet Archive.

I felt my forehead wrinkle up as my theory fell apart. "Then they could buy food. Why should they have died of malnutrition?"

"Because, as May Roberts herself told you, nothing can exist before it exists. Neither can anything exist after it is out of existence. If you returned with a Dynapack, for example, it would revert to a lump of various metals, because that was what it was in your period. But let me give you a more personal instance. Do you remember coming back from your first trip with dust on your hand?"

"Yes. I must have fallen."

"On one hand? No, Mr. Weldon. May Roberts was greatly upset by the incident; she was afraid you would realize why the hamburger had turned to dust—and why the old people died of starvation. All of them, not just a few."

He paused, giving me a chance to understand what he had just said. I did, with a sick shock.

"If I ate your food," I said shakily, "I'd feel satisfied until I was returned to my own time. But the food wouldn't go along with me!"

  • That looks very familiar. Perhaps I heard the X Minus One version. I'll double check later tonight. How did you find it?
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:26
  • I had found that site, I searched "detective", "information", "emaciated", hadn't thought to try such a simple search
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 0:33
  • FYI your archve.org link for X Minus One doesn't have the audio. I found a link for it here
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 6:49
  • Listening to the X Minus One show (see previous comment), it must have been what I remember of the story, I had got a group of cassettes of old radio shows. This was it. the radio show isn't real written story, but the audio is still an amazing story!
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 7:18
  • Yep, I listened to the X Minus One recording, and this is the story I was looking for. This Stack is truly amazing. Thank you
    – CDspace
    Commented Aug 4, 2018 at 7:27

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