Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.
One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”
In this strange endless and infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.
The stranger disappears. During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man.
And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!
Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place.
The logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.
You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.
I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.