Friday, September 29, 2017

All You Zombies- by Robert A. Heinlein

Robert A. Heinlein's All You Zombies- is practically an exercise in time travel paradoxes.  Here's a line that I feel is sort of indicative of how weird this narrative is going to get;
"The Unmarried Mother was a man twenty-five years old, no taller than I am, immature features and a touchy temper."
That's just the tip of this wild iceberg.
Here's the breakdown; the story begins with two men in a bar.  The first, is a "temporal agent" posing as a bartender.  The second is the author of confession stories from the point of view of unwed, "ruined" women.   The bartender challenges the writer to shock him with his life story, which begins "When I was a little girl--"
The writer began his life as a plain, orphaned little girl who wanted to go into space as part of the Women's Emergency National Corps, Hospitality and Entertainment Section (WENCHES), but these dreams are dashed when she falls in love with a mysterious stranger and falls pregnant.

Things kind of ramp up on the strangeness scale from there.

If this sounds at all familiar, you've probably seen Predestination, which is based on this short story.

The Facts

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Genre: Sci-fi
Length: 13 pages
Publisher: Fantasy and Science Fiction
Date of Publication: 1959

My Opinion

Heinlein is one of my favorite Golden Age sci-fi writers.  My first and best experience with him was reading Stranger in a Strange Land in high school and I loved it.  In this case, I saw Predestination and (as is often the case) was curious to see if it was based on a book, which led me to All You Zombies-.This quite literally is a story all about time travel paradoxes, though, that being said, it's not horribly complicated.  It's a little flawed, but not overly complex.

I can't say that I really appreciate Heinlein's attitude toward women, which comes up here and in his other works, but if you look at it in the context of when he was alive and when his work was published, it's pretty typical.  In this case, our main character (when he identified as female) wanted to join WENCHES, not because this is the only option for her to go to space (which is her motivation in the movie) but because it's a way to overcome her plain looks and snag a successful astronaut husband.

To complicate things further, you've got Heinlein writing (a bit clumsily) about a trans person in the late 1950's.  In this case, it's a rather shallow plot device that serves as one of a few massive twists in the narrative, one of the others being incest.
Then, there's this gem:
"He looked grim.  'If I could find him, I'd kill him!'
'Well,' I sympathized, 'I know how you feel.  But killing him--just for doing what comes naturally--hmm... Did you struggle?'
'Huh?  What's that got to do with it?'
'Quite a bit.  Maybe he deserves a couple of broken arms for running out on you, but--'"
 That not withstanding, I still like this story, mainly because it's weird, interesting and imaginative.

Should You Read This Book?

Yes.

If you can get past some of the less than stellar, dated aspects of this story, many of which are often present in sci-fi, this is a pretty fun ride.  A little sad, but also intriguing and thought-provoking.

Other Useful Information:

Bechdel Test: Does Not Pass
Helpful Tropes: 20 Minutes into the Future, My Own Grandpa, Ouroboros, Parental Incest, Stable Time Loop, Temporal Paradox, Time Machine, Time Travel

Links: Wikipedia, Goodreads, Other Heinlein Books on Amazon

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