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All You Zombies

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First published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction - March, 1959 - the story involves a number of paradoxes caused by time travel. It further develops themes explored by the author in a previous work, "By His Bootstraps", published some 18 years earlier.

13 pages, ebook

First published March 1, 1959

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About the author

Robert A. Heinlein

767 books9,090 followers
Works of American science-fiction writer Robert Anson Heinlein include Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966).

People often call this novelist "the dean of science fiction writers", one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of "hard science fiction."

He set a high standard for science and engineering plausibility and helped to raise the standards of literary quality of the genre. He was the first science-fiction writer to break into mainstream, general magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, in the late 1940s. He was also among the first authors of bestselling, novel-length science fiction in the modern, mass-market era.

Also wrote under Pen names: Anson McDonald, Lyle Monroe, Caleb Saunders, John Riverside and Simon York.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 671 reviews
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,867 reviews16.5k followers
February 1, 2018
Just as the limerick, “There once was a man from Nantucket –“ is the foulest yet most recognized of all, and just as the classic “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is the best joke, so is Robert A. Heinlein’s “All You Zombies-“ it is hands down the best time travel short story.

Published in 1960, a reader and fan can see the early ideas for Time Enough for Love and I Will Fear No Evil. Was Heinlein a dirty old man? Yes, and in 1960, at the still young age of 53, he was just learning to fill out his garter and stockings.

I love the time travel section of the science fiction / fantasy genre. I love the weird ones, the quizzical ones and the ones you just can’t figure out. I love the good (H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine), the bad (Piers Anthony’s Bearing An Hourglass) and the ugly (Heinlein’s own Time Enough for Love). Poul Anderson’s many adventures in time needs special mention.

But for a short story to pack a lot into a small package, “All You Zombies-“ wins the prize.

Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.6k followers
July 5, 2015
Why does the English language still not contain a word meaning "to have sex with an earlier or later version of yourself, using a time machine"? I'm baffled.

Inspired by Ivonne's new word, I present a couple of extracts from All You Heinleiners, which I am reliably informed will be the big indie hit of 2021:

- Why, you heinleining little bitch! I should put you over my knee and spank you!

- You do that, big boy. And remember, you're going to enjoy it twice.

- Twice?

- Three times if the guy watching us is who I think he is.


- Son, we need to have a serious talk. There's things I gotta tell you.

- Yes Dad.

- Look son, you think you're a big hit with the ladies. But they're all like that. They've been heinleinin' you, each and every one of them.

- Well Dad, I was starting to wonder about it too. And I thought... okay, so what if they are?

- Son, you're saying it doesn't matter if they're all you?

- Yeah, why should it?

- You know, they're all Mom as well. That doesn't bother you?

- Nope.

- And they're all Grandma.

- So?

- Jeez, it's like I'm talking to myself here.

- You are talking to yourself.

- Don't get smart with me, kid.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
October 21, 2019
Never an Episode of Star Trek...

... And why not? Consciousness creates itself according to Heinlein. Forget about the mythical divine genesis stuff or that Darwinian evolution bunk. This is the real thing, the theory with oomph: time travel comes with the Homo sapiens territory, at least for the ones who can hack it (it’s the rest who are zombies). The perks are pretty spectacular - picking when and where you’re born for a start. And none of the neurotic consequences of family life. Literally no one to blame but yourself. Puts an entirely new perspective on the idea of solitary sex. Must have knocked their socks off in 1959. It’s still a bit of a whiz-bang. That’s probably why not.
Profile Image for Mª Carmen.
582 reviews
March 11, 2023
¡Madre del amor hermoso! ¡Y me lo quería yo perder! Siempre digo que los relatos cortos no son para mí, pero este es sencillamente perfecto. Imposible hacerlo mejor. Qué 50 páginas más bien logradas. No lo concibo como una historia más larga. Es verdad que, dentro de la CF, los viajes en el tiempo son mi debilidad, pero este es de lectura obligada. Me ha dejado con más ganas de Heinlein.
Recomendable 100%.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
July 5, 2015
A man walks into a bar. (Hah.) He gets into a conversation with the bartender, who wears a ring shaped like the worm Ouroboros. The barkeep is actually a "temporal agent." (What that means is revealed over the course of the story.)


The two men talk of many things: writing "true confession" stories, love lives, cads who love em' and leave em'... It turns out the guy at the bar is intersex (born with both sex organs, raised as a woman but now a man). Introduce time travel and a paradox or three and you've got a short story guaranteed to make your brain whirl.

Heinlein was imaginative and brilliant but some of his viewpoints about free love, incest, etc., were pretty screwy. 1960, when this short story was written, is about the time Heinlein started really exploring these ideas in his fiction. Combine that with his outdated views about sexual stereotypes--in particular, in this story, astronauts are men, and any women who are interested in space can aspire to join the "Space Angels" group and become glorified hookers--and you've got a really weird backdrop to an otherwise intriguing exploration of time travel paradoxes.

You can read a copy of this story online here.
Profile Image for Iloveplacebo.
384 reviews175 followers
January 23, 2021
Me acaba de explotar la cabeza 🤯. ¡Qué locura tan maravillosa!

El tema de los viajes en el tiempo siempre será algo que me fascine, y en este relato es simplemente... INCREIBLE. El autor juega con las paradojas de forma brillante.
Hasta el final no se sabe exactamente que narices pasa, pero todo tiene sentido al final... O no. La verdad es que hay que pensar un poco (bastante) en lo que se revela al final.

Una genialidad.
Profile Image for Justo Martiañez.
373 reviews118 followers
March 7, 2023
Sin valorar por incapacidad.

Mi no entender casi nada

Cómo buen microbiólogo, el proceso paradójico de creación de la vida no me ha llegado. ¿Cómo empieza el bucle? ¿Quién va antes el huevo o la gallina?

Renuncio a las paradojas, he dicho.
Profile Image for Sue.
2,690 reviews170 followers
January 22, 2019
I’m not really into too many short stories or Zombie sci fi ones at that!
However I did see a comedy British film with Zombies in it, does that count?

Anyways, this is a bartender travelling thingy as well.

It only took me half an hour to read.

Why did I read it?
Because my two grown adult children said the film came out in 2014 and I should watch it. They think I’ll enjoy it.

Not sure!
But I’ll give it a go
Profile Image for M.  Malmierca.
323 reviews279 followers
January 17, 2022
Todos ustedes, zombies (1958) es un relato bastante recomendado del prolífico autor de Ciencia Ficción, Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988). Una historia original y compleja a pesar de su brevedad. Aborda el tema de los viajes en el tiempo y las paradojas que pueden provocar.

Aparte de la propia paradoja, el resto de los elementos son ya por sí mismos surrealistas. También me ha parecido atrevido el tema de género que plantea (aunque sea necesario para la historia) teniendo en cuenta el año en que fue escrito: 1958.

No es una relato fácil de entender. Al principio parece una historia normal, que da la sensación que introduce una trama demasiado compleja para la extensión que tiene el cuento, pero al final, Heinlein la resuelve de un modo totalmente inesperado.

Realmente el final consigue desconcertarte y no tuve más remedio que volver a leerlo (lo digo sin vergüenza, no me enteré de nada). Aunque no es grave, solo son 22 páginas. No debo ser un caso raro, porque al final del texto aparecen dos diagramas explicativos.

Todos ustedes, zombies (el título no ayuda mucho) me ha resultado audaz y sorprendente, pero lo recomiendo solamente para aquellos a quienes no les importe “comerse el coco” durante un buen rato. Además, creo que hay una película basada en él.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,962 followers
June 2, 2018
Re-read 6/2/18:

Nostalgia hits again. :) Thinking about doing a lot more Heinlein reads fairly soon. :)

Original Review:

I had to reread this after just watching Predestination on which it was based. I was impressed with the movie but even more so with the story. I guess I picked up more nuances this time. It was all the more impressive because of how the character study really played out and what wasn't said but could be deduced. I think I can thank the movie more for that aspect, although one storyline hadn't existed in the short story.

Even so, very impressive ideas and a minimalist style that was so understated that I'm not too surprised I missed it the first time. Preferred some of his other short stories more, but maybe I need to revisit them all and see how my grown-up-self takes them.

What can I say? It was tight and impactive and so very easy to see how it informed the later third of his novels in both strangeness and, dare I say it, incestuousness? Absolutely, but I'm of a mind that Heinlein is still the Grandmaster and should retain the title forever, regardless of the kinds of stunts he has been known to play. After all, he's not merely informative and didactic. He's one hell of a storyteller.
Profile Image for Ian.
722 reviews65 followers
May 27, 2022
Ow! My brain hurts! This is a short story of 13 pages, featuring a time traveller, which I read because it was recommended in another book I just finished, Time: 10 Things You Should Know. Once you've read it, you'll spend longer trying to work out the lead character's timeline than you did actually reading the story. It's an illustration of why it's a good thing that we can't really travel in time. If we could then the psychological ramifications would leave us all as a bunch of gibbering idiots.

One thing is that the story is pretty dated in the way it envisages gender roles. Then again it was written in 1958, or maybe it was written in 2058.
Profile Image for Ken.
2,163 reviews1,321 followers
January 18, 2019
Next up on my Book then Movie list was this 1950’s short story that was later adapted into Predestination in 2014.

This Sci-Fi time travelling paradox was so bizarre that even at its modest page count really makes an impact.
It’s the type of story that I really enjoy!

The story starts with a young man walking into a bar and strikes up a conversation with the time-traveling bartender.
The reader soon learns how the two are connected and the significance of snake-swallowing-his-tail ring on the barkeep's finger.

I’m sure this story is going to leave a lasting impression on me, I find the best movie adaptations are based on short stories as there’s room to expand the narrative.
It’s a really quick half hour read, excited to watch the movie now!
Profile Image for Sophie.
661 reviews
December 1, 2014
simply mind blowing, one of the most unusual and thought-provoking stories I've read this year!
Profile Image for Aletheia.
274 reviews109 followers
January 10, 2022
Cualquier historia que comienza en un bar ya empieza con buen pie. Heinlein nos presenta en pocas páginas un puzzle extraordinario, un relato muy bien hilado. Es difícil hablar sobre él sin destriparlo, así que se queda tal cual.
Profile Image for Marcos GM.
276 reviews92 followers
February 11, 2023
Relato corto pero muy bien escrito. Es una maravilla como en tan pocas páginas consigue hacer algo tan completo y tan enrevesado.
Para coger todos los detalles es recomendable leerlo un par de veces al menos, puesto que aunque en una primera lectura se entienda bien con la segunda pillarás todos los detalles que se entienden así mejor.

La trama en spoiler, que es gordo además

Muy recomendable ver también la peli que lo adapta, aunque hay un añadido de trama es realmente buena también.
Profile Image for Althea Ann.
2,232 reviews1,016 followers
July 31, 2014
This is a time paradox story. It's not specifically *about* gender, but Heinlein's deeply sexist assumptions about how gender affects personality and his assumptions about how even a future society's sexism will not change in any way, are fully on display here. (In the future, women don't become 'spacemen,' they are sent to be 'comfort women' for lonely spacemen who can't control their 'urges.' The possibility of a woman being a competent astronaut isn't even considered.) Ugh.
I didn't find the ramifications of the time-travel dilemma, as presented here, as interesting or 'mind-blowing' as other readers have.

PS, there are no zombies in this story. (not that the fact makes it a better or worse story, but if you're a zombie fiction completist, it's just something to be aware of...)

[Just a note: I read this story directly after reading an editor's note complaining that Heinlein's writing is often dismissed due to its supposed misogyny (a charge, he implied, which is untrue and unfair) - so that probably caused me to be more alert to the topic that I might've been otherwise.]
Profile Image for Shoa Khan.
164 reviews163 followers
January 3, 2016
I stumbled upon this short story by legendary Sci-Fi writer Robert A. Heinlein thanks to its movie adaptation (that came out recently and which I happened to watch just last week): Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke as the time-travelling Temporal Agent.

I have always been fascinated by the Time-travel genre, but this was simply mind-fuck of the highest order! O.O
Profile Image for Bernardo.
71 reviews60 followers
December 19, 2022
“‘Oh, that.’ I showed it to him.’ It just looks like a wedding ring; I wear it to keep women off.’ It is an antique I bought in 1985 from a fellow operative — he had fetched it from pre–Christian Crete. ‘The Worm Ouroboros... the World Snake that eats its own tail, forever without end. A symbol of the Great Paradox.’”

All You Zombies is a very interesting short story involving time travel. It starts with a bartender working in a bar and a man, let’s call him The Unmarried Mother, walking inside. A drink is poured for The Unmarried Mother and all we know is that for some unknown reason the bartender wants to recruit him for some other unknown business.

This is both a clever and weird story, with its implications of causality and the order of events involved during time travel. There isn’t much more that can be said without spoiling the story itself.
Profile Image for Azumi.
236 reviews167 followers
July 19, 2018
Me lo leí ayer noche dos veces y es que no sé qué decir, es alucinante!!!! Realmente me ha volado la cabeza.
Si tenéis la oportunidad leedlo por favor.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,915 reviews3,402 followers
June 2, 2018
Wow. Just ... wow.

A man walks into a bar ... in this case that is NOT a joke. *lol*
The man is a writer and was born female. He has frequented the bar for the past few years but only now is talking to the bartender, telling his/her story of getting pregnant and ending up then and there.
The rest is a very surprising, mind-boggling time travel story full of paradoxes that makes perfect sense.

According to my research, Heinlein wrote this story in one afternoon. It's amazing if one considers all the subjects he's touching upon and how intricate the plot is.

I must say that due to his view on women, I'm not much of a fan. This view is portrayed in this story as well by the "Space Angels" (basically hookers for astronauts). And no, the time he lived in cannot always simply explain or excuse it away.
However, he seems to have been a gifted author with intelligent stories to tell (sometimes at least) and this one was truly brilliantly executed. Though I did know where he would take the story thanks to the bartender mentioning his ring, it was awesome to be taken on that journey.

But only read this if your mind is primed for timey-wimey stuff. ;)
Profile Image for César Bustíos.
273 reviews100 followers
May 19, 2023
2023 update:

Masterpiece of time travel stories.


Estuve a punto de ver Predestination en Netflix hasta que me enteré que está basada en una historia corta de Heinlein (buscando algunas críticas en Internet). Apreté el botón de pausa.

¡Ah! Es ese tipo de historias en las que te preguntas si lo que estás pensando que ha pasado es lo que realmente pasó. Tuve que regresar algunas páginas en algunos momentos solo para estar seguro. Me gustan las historias de viajes en el tiempo y esta está particularmente condimentada con paradojas temporales. ¡Excelente!

Ya puedo continuar con la película.
Profile Image for Ana Llop.
46 reviews17 followers
January 30, 2021
No sé muy bien qué reseña hacer de este relato...

Porque me encantan los viajes en el tiempo y, al mismo tiempo, me dejan la cabeza rota; pensando hacia atrás y hacia delante, queriendo encontrar la "conexión lineal" que me empeño en que haya... precisamente cuando el tiempo ha perdido su carácter lineal.

Merece mucho la pena, pero me quedo con la necesidad de seguir escrutando el esquema temporal dibujado al final del relato...
Profile Image for Antonio TL.
206 reviews23 followers
February 13, 2023
Una pequeña y divertida historia de viajes en el tiempo de Heinlein, "All you Zombies..." presenta los temas de la dualidad de género y la identidad personal que prevalecen en muchas de sus obras.
Un joven que parece sentir mucha lástima por sí mismo le cuenta la historia de su vida a un barman. Comenzó su vida como una niña (sí, dije niña), creció en un orfanato y juró nunca tener hijos fuera del matrimonio y abandonarlos como aparentemente había sido. A pesar de sus buenas intenciones, cuando crece, sucumbe a la seducción de un joven que agita billetes de 100 dólares y que rápidamente la deja atrás. Desafortunadamente, ha quedado embarazada y, a su debido tiempo, da a luz a una niña. El bebé es secuestrado y desaparece para siempre o eso cree ella. Esa es la sencilla y aparentemente normal premisa de partida. A partir de ahi tenemos todo un juego de paradojas y linajes.
Como en varias obras de Heinlein, juega con la idea del solipsismo y termina la historia con los pensamientos del barman en lo que creo que es uno de los pasajes más conmovedores que jamás haya escrito.
Esta historia junto con "Puerta al verano" son ejemplos de lo que se denomina historias "deterministas" o "línea de tiempo inmutable". En otras palabras, todos los eventos tienen lugar en bucles de tiempo, pero no hay cambios en lo que sucede cada vez que pasa por el bucle. Los eventos son "fijos". Un problema filosófico asociado con este tipo de historia es obvio. ¿Qué sucede con el “libre albedrío”? Heinlein no intenta responder a esa pregunta en esta historia. Espero que lo evite porque es incontestable, y en esta historia tampoco trata de dar ninguna base "científica" para su viaje en el tiempo. Una verdadera maravilla del gran maestro.
Profile Image for Ana Cristina Lee.
648 reviews245 followers
December 30, 2022
Vaya locurón de viaje en el tiempo! No lo he acabado de entender, pero para eso hay dos diagramas al final. Original es poco. Un clásico que hay que conocer y que no deja indiferente (aaunque sí con el coco torcido). 'Predestinación' es una peli basada en esta historia del maestro Heinlein.
Profile Image for Annie.
49 reviews308 followers
November 2, 2015

Heinlein presents one of the most mind boggling paradoxes presented by, or rather resulted from, time travel. All time travel stories are complicated, they survive on a merry go round of events and a dramatic sequence of effect and consequence. But in “All You Zombies”, Heinlein goes a step farther and designs a story line of an infinite loop, where the interchange of cause and effect lands the reader into a ‘chicken and egg’ situation.

You ask who came first. Thematically the story says what does it matter? Yes, it is a time travel story. And the sheer imaginative droppings of that part are brilliant in itself. But the story also illustrates a pretty heavy picture of the alienation that surrounds individuals who not conform. The protagonist is introduced in the story with the name ‘Unmarried Mother’ and he is a man who writes confession columns. That idea evokes hilarity towards a lonely and evidently bitter man who makes a living by pretending to be women, but at the same time the name ‘Unmarried Mother’ throws a shade on the darkness of the individual. As the story delves deeper, and we as readers are acquainted more and more closely with the character, this segregation, this alienation and prejudice becomes more and more apparent.

Heinlein closes the story with an open ending, although there was really no way around it, what with the story resembling the snake that eats its own tail. And the closing is a cry, a wail for the things lost, for the time that is lost.

The paradox contained in this short marvel isn’t just limited to temporal shift, but is also contained in the name of the story. In the end, too. Heinlein declares the world in the story and broadly us, the readers to be Zombies i.e., mindless creatures. Therein lies the question that be true, what was the purpose of the protagonist who attempts to save lives via time travel? Is saving souls that are doomed, glorifying the saver or is just, for once, conforming him to crowd and acting the saviour?

This is a dark story and I am told it is in the same vein as “By His Bootstraps’, although I am yet to read that, but it is one of the best of what I have read. I have been reading a lot of short stories lately, and I am amazed at the punch a few pages can pack. And as far as “All You Zombies” is concerned, don’t be daunted by its size! ;)

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