I'm trying to identify a sci fi short story or novella set in a post-apocalyptic earth where humans are long gone. What remains on earth are just robots. I remember that the earth is divided in two territories. The leader of one territory develops a desire to become a human being. He visits remnants of museums and tries to do human activities like painting. Later, he realizes that he can only be human if he has a human body. He collects a number of mummified human bodies in the mountain and creates clones. The leader of the other territory orders him to stop because this is against the rules.

When the robot 'soldiers' sent to stop him arrives, he has already transferred his consciousness in a man's body. The robot soldiers recognize him at once as a man and it was revealed that robots are designed to obey humans. The story ends with him asking the other leader if it wants to be a woman.

I believe this was written by a popular author but I couldn't find it on the web. Thanks.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you happen to recall where or when you read this?
    – DavidW
    Commented Mar 31, 2023 at 17:00

1 Answer 1


This is Roger Zelazny's classic story "For A Breath I Tarry".

From Wikipedia:

Taking place long after the self-extinction of Man, it recounts the tale of Frost, a sentient machine. While humans have long ago caused their own extinction the sentient machines they created continue the work of rebuilding a shattered Earth. [...]

Driving the plot and setting its tone are Frost's intention to become a Man [...]

The other major character is the Beta Machine, Frost's equal in the southern hemisphere (Frost has control over the northern hemisphere). It is hinted that, while being a machine, Beta has a feminine personality. After finally succeeding in his thousand-year quest to become a human (via recovered DNA), Beta accepts Frost's offer to join him in becoming human - implying the possibility of a rebirth of the human race.

There are various places you can read this online.


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