Reading rec: Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies”

To take a break from writing Part II of my analysis of Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, I thought I’d toss out another recommendation for those looking for a quick read. Today’s reading rec is ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ “ by Robert A. Heinlein.

Published in 1959, ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” is the classic science-fiction time travel paradox. Initially, the story seems mundane enough at first: it is set primarily in a bar as one character tells another his life story. But, as time travel stories tend to do, things are not quite what they seem and what begins as a simple, straightforward tale ends up bending through time and space (and the reader’s brain as they try to follow along).

A flaw in many time travel stories is they suffer from a lack of internal logic, leaving the stories with gaping plot holes a mile wide. However, this is not the case with Heinlein’s tale. There is no changing of history’s course, no butterfly effect as in Ray Bradbury‘s “A Sound of Thunder.” Rather ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” follows an unfolding of events that, as the reader comes to understand, were always meant to happen and could occur no other way.

But this does not mean that the story is simple. You’ll finish it thinking hard about the timeline of events. And, in the end, even the protagonist of the story acknowledges the inherent paradox of his situation as he feels a headache coming on and wonders to himself, “I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?” In the words of Star Trek‘s Captain Janeway, “Time travel . . . The future is the past, the past is the future. It all gives me a headache.”
The full text of ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” can be found online if you look for it, or get a copy for your Kindle here. If you want to read more of Heinlein’s short fiction, try this collection, which includes ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” as well as four other short stories.

Spierig Brothers' Predestination (2014)Also, check out 2014’s Predestination, directed by the Spierig Brothers. It’s a film adaptation of Heinlein’s story which was well-received by critics and general moviegoers alike. While the plot is somewhat different than the original story, it fortunately remains true to the time travel logic of ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” and does not fall apart under the weight of its story (as the awful “A Sound of Thunder” film adaptation did).

How do you feel about ” ‘— All You Zombies —’ ” or other time travel stories? Love ’em? Find them unbelievable? Let me know in the comments.

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