I'm trying to find an old sci-fi story I remember reading, but cannot recall the name or the author. I thought it was Soviet sci-fi but now I'm not sure, as one of my friends vaguely recalls this from an American author.

The premise: in future, time travel into past is developed and is used to "yank" talented people from the past just before their deaths, to let them finish what they had the potential for, but never got chance to create.

However, to preserve the timeline, after they finish their work they are re-inserted into their original timeline to die.

The protagonist is a writer that had an incurable disease, got taken into the future, cured of the disease, wrote his magnum opus, got to terms with the necessity of his return, and then was re-infected with the disease and re-inserted into past.

Edit: seems like I was misremembering, and the writer above was the only person so transported, it was not a mass program.

1 Answer 1


The story is "Forever and the Earth" by Ray Bradbury, first published in Planet Stories, Spring 1950, available at the Internet Archive. However, it's not about "creative people [plural] brought to future". It's about the writer Thomas Wolfe, the first person ever yanked from his deathbed in the past, with no indication in the story that the experiment is to be repeated. The premise is described in this passage from near the beginning of the story:

"Here you see a book," he said at last, holding it out, "written by a giant, a man born in Asheville, North Carolina, in the year 1900. Long gone to dust, he published four huge novels. He was a whirlwind. He lifted up mountains and collected winds. He left a trunk of pencilled manuscripts behind when he lay in bed at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the year 1938, on September 15th, and died of pneumonia, an ancient and awful disease."

They looked at the book.

Look Homeward, Angel.

He drew forth three more. Of Time and the River. The Web and the Rock. You Can't Go Home Again.

"By Thomas Wolfe," said the old man. "Three centuries cold in the North Carolina earth."

"You mean you've called us simply to see four books by a dead man?" his friends protested.

"More than that! I've called you because I feel Tom Wolfe's the man, the necessary man, to write of space, of time, huge things like nebulae and galactic war, meteors and planets, all the dark things he loved and put on paper were like this. He was born out of his time. He needed really big things to play with and never found them on Earth. He should have been born this afternoon instead of one hundred thousand mornings ago."

"I'm afraid you're a bit late," said Professor Bolton.

"I don't intend to be late!" snapped the old man. "I will not be frustrated by reality. You, professor, have experimented with time-travel. I expect you to finish your time machine this month. Here's a check, a blank check, fill it in. If you need more money, ask for it. You've done some traveling already, haven't you?"

"A few years, yes, but nothing like centuries—

"We'll make it centuries! You others—" he swept them with a fierce and shining glance "—will work with Bolton. I must have Thomas Wolfe."

In the end, Wolfe is sent back to die:

The door opened. Bolton let himself in and stood behind Tom Wolfe's chair, a small phial in his hand.

"What's that?" asked the old man.

"An extinct virus. Pneumonia. Very ancient and very evil," said Bolton. "When Mr. Wolfe came through, I had to cure him of his illness, of course, which was immensely easy with the techniques we have today, in order to put him in working condition for his job, Mr. Field. I kept this pneumonia culture. Now that he's going back, he'll have to be inoculated with the disease."

  • 1
    Dammit, I had a feeling it would be Bradbury. Thanks!
    – Xan
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 14:16
  • 2
    For completeness' sake, I most probably read it in Russian translation, and the title is "О скитаньях вечных и о Земле".
    – Xan
    Commented Apr 28, 2014 at 15:15

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