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All You Zombies- by Robert Heinlein

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“All You Zombies-“ is a 1959 science fiction short story by Robert Heinlein. It is about an agent of the Temporal Bureau who travels back in time to recruit a young writer.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A typist“All You Zombies-“ follows the wild and convoluting exploits of a temporal agent sent to recruit a young man known as “The Unmarried Mother” – a writer for confession magazines. Posing as a bartender the agent coaxes the unsuspecting writer into revealing his own turbulent history. Being a little bit tipsy, The Unmarried Mother is tricked by the agent and taken into the past to set in motion a complicated and time-line-polluting series of events that eventually lead to his own birth. Wow! If it all sounds a little bit confusing that’s because it is! Nevertheless, this is one story that very clearly (and quite humorously) demonstrates why time travel will never be possible!

I was polishing a brandy snifter when the Unmarried Mother came in. I noted the time—10:17 P.M. zone five, or eastern time, November 7th, 1970. Temporal agents always notice time and date; we must.

The Unmarried Mother was a man twenty–five years old, no taller than I am, childish features and a touchy temper. I didn’t like his looks—I never had—but he was a lad I was here to recruit, he was my boy. I gave him my best barkeep’s smile.

Maybe I’m too critical. He wasn’t swish; his nickname came from what he always said when some nosy type asked him his line: “I’m an unmarried mother.” If he felt less than murderous he would add: “at four cents a word. I write confession stories.”

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • Wow – this is the mother of all paradoxical time traveling stories! If you enjoy those kinds of stories then you will get a major kick out of this one.
  • There is some great subtle humor in “All You Zombies-“. From the acronyms to the shocking realization of who The Unmarried Mother really is – you can’t help but laugh out loud at the hilarity of it all!

• The bad:

  • Given the very nature and subject matter of this story (which I can’t reveal without giving away the surprise) there are consequently some mature / adult themes. This is probably not something you want your young kids reading.

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 9
• Word Count: 4,652
“All You Zombies-“ garnered the following awards:

  • This story placed 30th in the 1971 Astounding / Analog All-Time Poll for best short fiction.
  • It was nominated for the 1980 Balrog award.
  • It placed 5th in the 1999 Locus All-Time Poll for best short story.

Where you can find “All You Zombies-“:

  • This short story first appeared in the March 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • “All You Zombies-“ is included in the fantastic collection of Heinlein stories entitled The Fantasies of Robert A. Heinlein .
  • You can read an HTML version of this story here.

Some Interesting Links:

  • If all the time jumping in “All You Zombies-“ leaves you scratching your head a bit, then maybe this visual time line of events will help you out.
  • The inclusion of the famous novelty song “I’m My Own Grandpa” was great! If you haven’t heard of this very funny song you can learn more about it on Wikipedia.

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Scherzo with Tyrannosaur, about the director of a dinosaur research center who holds a time-line-polluting fund raiser, by Michael Swanwick.

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