"—All You Zombies—" is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. It was written in a single day, July 11, 1958, and first published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, after having been rejected by Playboy.
The story involves a number of paradoxes caused by time travel. Since its publication, the work has become one of the most famous science fiction short stories about time travel. In 1980, it was nominated for the Balrog Award for short fiction.
"—All You Zombies—" further develops themes explored by the author in a previous work: "By His Bootstraps", published some 18 years earlier. Some of the same elements also appear later in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1988), including the Circle of Ouroboros and the Temporal Corps.
"'—All You Zombies—'" chronicles a young man (later revealed to be intersex) taken back in time and tricked into impregnating his younger, female self (before he underwent a sex change); he thus turns out to be the offspring of that union, with the paradoxical result that he is his own mother and father. As the story unfolds, all the major characters are revealed to be the same person, at different stages of her/his life.
Narrative order of events
The story involves an intricate series of time-travel journeys. It begins with a young man speaking to the narrator, the Bartender, in 1970. The young man is called the Unmarried Mother, because he writes stories for confession magazines, many of them presumably from the point of view of an unmarried mother.
Cajoled by the Bartender, the Unmarried Mother explains why he understands the female viewpoint so well: he was born a girl, in 1945, and raised in an orphanage. While a fairly ugly teenager in 1963, he (that is, she) was seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by an older man. During the delivery of her child, doctors discovered she had an intersex condition: internally, she had both male and female sex organs. Complications during delivery forced them to give her a sex change. The baby was later kidnapped and not seen again. The now-former girl had to adjust to being a man and surviving as such, despite being unprepared for any job. As a girl he/she had preferred etiquette lessons, hoping to join an organization dedicated to providing "comfort and companionship" to astronauts, known at various times by the elaborate acronyms "W.E.N.C.H.E.S" (Women's Emergency National Corps, Hospitality & Entertainment Section), "A.N.G.E.L.S." (Auxiliary Nursing Group, Extraterrestrial Legions), and the Women's Hospitality Order Refortifying & Encouraging Spacemen (the only name without its acronym spelled out in the story, "W.H.O.R.E.S"). Handicapped by the physical aftereffects of childbirth, he used his secretarial skills to type manuscripts, and eventually began writing.
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