A short story found in some anthology in the 1970-80s. Very short, I think, and with no named characters that I remember.

Earth is attacked by an alien force who consider humanity an easy target. They are right and we soon find our technology no match for theirs.

We aren't yet ready to defend ourselves against such a powerful enemy from space.

Then, just as the aliens start a final attack, an ancient termite nest on some tropical island comes 'on-line', arms itself and blasts the invaders out of our skies.

Something on our planet was always ready.

  • 3
    ...Just to continue the "planet wakes up and defends itself" theme, I guess? :)
    – DavidW
    May 26 at 19:35
  • Yep, I read that and this one came straight into my head. May 26 at 19:40
  • This is sort of like the Gaia Hypothesis, long before scientists came up with the idea. We really don't know if the Earth has some way of defending itself, perhaps from us.
    – releseabe
    May 26 at 19:57
  • Sounds like Arthur C. Clarke. He had a thing for termites May 27 at 22:02

1 Answer 1


This one is likely "Retreat from Earth" (1938!) by Arthur C. Clarke. The point about termites defending the Earth from alien (in this case Martian) invasion is very close.

A Martian infiltrator is on Earth to gather intelligence for an invasion. He discovers that termites seem to be demonstrating intelligence and investigates. He detects an unknown sphere beneath a termite mound but is attacked first by gas and then by some kind of beam.

The Martian high command then sends a warship, but it is blown out of the sky and the Martians decide that maybe they'll invade Venus instead.

An alien force who consider Earth an easy target:

"Gentlemen," said the President of the Council gravely, "I am sorry to say that we have received a severe setback in our plans to colonize the third planet. As you all know, we have for many years been working on that planet unknown to its inhabitants, preparing for the day when we should take over complete control. We anticipated no resistance, for the people of Three are at a very primitive level of development, and possess no weapons which could harm us.

The Martian attack is blown out of the sky:

Hours later the tremendous mass of the flagship of the Martian fleet dropped thunderously through the outer reaches of Earth's atmosphere towards the far-off waters of the Pacific. She fell in the heart of a tornado, for her captain was taking no chances and the winds of the stratosphere were being annihilated by her flaming ray screens.

But on a tiny island far over the eastern horizon, the termites had been preparing for the attack they knew must come, and strange, fragile mechanisms had been erected by myriad blind and toiling insects. The great Martian warship was two hundred miles away when her captain located the island in his televisor. His finger reached towards the button which would start the enormous ray generators, but swift as he was the almost instant acting relays of the termite mind were far swifter. Though, in any case, the outcome would have been the same.

The great spherical screens did not flare even once as the enemy struck home. Their slim rapier of pure heat was driven by only a score of horsepower, while behind the shields of the warship were a thousand million. But the feeble heat beam of the termites never passed through those screens – it reached out through hyperspace to gnaw at the very vitals of the ship. The Martians could not check an enemy who struck from within their defences, an enemy to whom a sphere was no more a barrier than a hollow ring.

The termite rulers, those alien beings from outer space, had kept their agreement with the old lords of Earth, and had saved man from the danger his ancestors had long ago foreseen.

It appears the only anthology the story appears in in the time frame you give is The Best of Arthur C. Clarke: 1937-1971 or the first half of its 2-volume republishing The Best of Arthur C. Clarke: 1937-1955.

  • 2
    Yes, I think that's it. I sort of thought there may not have been a human MC but the idea of single alien investigator/victim rings a bell. Thanks May 26 at 19:51
  • One of the most creative and fun alien-invasion stories ever. It would be a trope-maker...except that Clarke did such a great job that there's simply not much more to say. Thanks for not spoiling the fabulous and memorable final lines of the story.
    – user535733
    May 27 at 21:33
  • @user535733. He really did a good job. Termites received loving treatment from him at least one or two more times. May 27 at 22:04

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