52 Stories #12: “–All You Zombies–” by Robert Heinlein

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This week’s selection was recommended by Webster Hunt. (I’m still not sure if Web was trolling me…) I found this story in a collection of 20th century science fiction short stories from the library. I can’t find any legit sources online, so you’re on your own.

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The Pitch

A “temporal agent” (a.k.a. time-travelling…cop or something?) goes to ridiculous lengths to recruit a new agent for his organization.

The Payoff

Folks, when I asked my social feeds for recommendations, I hoped I would get some stories that would stretch me, take me outside of my wheelhouse. …Be careful what you wish for.

Heinlein’s story is a bonkers time-travel tale that just couldn’t be bothered with resolving paradoxes or explaining much of anything. The weirdly-forced sexual references left me feeling a bit grimy. As such, I didn’t like it much at all. But hey, here’s to new experiences, right?

The Takeaways

I have to admit, there’s just not much to this story. It’s not much more than a plot-gimmick (aren’t they all?), but I’m struggling to find any resonant themes or ideas. Maybe it’s just meant to be a bit of fluff to amuse and entertain. If you enjoy Heinlein’s writing, and you just want a silly yarn to pass the time, this might suit you.

The story seems like one giant time-travel paradox (though I guess that point is arguable), with some painfully-on-the-nose imagery and allusions and a dose of unnecessary sexual references. It seems like Heinlein got the hook for the story and didn’t really bother creating a world around it or even justifying it. I almost wonder if he was relying too much on the shocking and lurid elements of some of the reveals. (Ironically, what may have shocked or surprised 50 years ago now seems almost ordinary or boring.)

Who knows? Maybe I’m a big doofus and missed the gold that’s here. If you’ve read the story and liked it, let me know why in the comments. I’m willing to keep an open mind.

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Agree? Disagree? Any observations of your own? Let me know in the comments!

One thought on “52 Stories #12: “–All You Zombies–” by Robert Heinlein

  1. Okay, I felt like I gave this story short-shrift, so I figured I would provide some additional commentary and description.

    –To be fair, the story gimmick, while bizarre, was fairly original and a bold choice. Revealing finally that “Jane” was his own mother, father, daughter, spouse, recruiter, AND protege was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Give Heinlein full marks for just going for it. (Just don’t think too hard about the moral or even genetic implications of such.)
    –I’m still grossed out by the allusions to what is essentially interstellar prostitution (the W.E.N.C.H.E.S and A.N.G.E.L.S. programs). I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t misunderstanding him. Frankly, I hope I still am misunderstanding him, because eww.
    –I was intrigued by the “Mistake of ’72” that was alluded to but never fully explained. I guess there is some benefit to leaving unresolved threads in a story, but that was an unfilled blank that particularly intrigued me.
    –The title comes from the dialogue at the end of the story, as the main character contemplates his C-section scar and says something along the lines of “I know where I came from, but where did all you zombies come from?” This is interesting when you think about how many people in the story are the same character at different points of the timeline. If this time-jumping practice is common place, it makes you wonder how many people are actually left, and how many are just a type of “time zombie” (if that’s even a sensible phrase)? Am I over-thinking this? I think I am.
    –This may be the only time in pop culture when the song ” I’m My Own Grandpa” is referenced sincerely. So, there’s that.

    I’ve got nothing else to say about it. I did my best here, folks.

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