It’s Thursday, so you know it’s time to throwback to the great science fiction of the past. As such, I thought we should turn back the clock to 1958, and explore a Heinlein short story, ‘—All You Zombies—’.
Do not be tricked. ‘—All You Zombies— is not a lost Heinlein story that explored the world of zombies long before it was trendy. It is, in fact, a time travel story, but not just any time travel story that relies on paradoxes to solve whatever problems arise when changing the past, but a time travel story that absolutely relies on a paradox to continue the main character’s existence.
In fact, one of the mantras of the Temporal Bureau that the main character belongs to is “A Paradox May Be Paradoctored.”
So, as you may have guessed, the main character is a time agent who is going through time to fix an outcome that is his own life. It details how he helps his past self become his own mother (even though it’s a short story, that in itself is a long story), and his father, and then how he helps himself be dropped off at an orphanage as well as helping himself join the Temporal Bureau.
Essentially, this short story is not for the faint of heart. It drops you right in the middle and relies on you to figure everything out with very little description or explanation. However, that is what is beautiful about it. The story itself has no beginning or end, so there is no place to start but straight in the middle.
Frankly, it’s fantastic. But that’s sort of what you expect from Heinlein, right? You never know what you’re going to get from politically, philosophically, or narratively, and he still astounds readers to this day. Whereas writers like Bradbury have been mimicked to the point where their stuff can sometimes feel like a pale shadow of what it became in younger generations, Heinlein’s works (in particular, his short stories) can still surprise the reader.
The good news is for those of you with short attention spans, this is a very short story so it is a quick read. The bad news is that it is very dense, and it will take several read-throughs to truly understand the consequences of each scene.