Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein


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.

Tree of lives

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.

Categories: #Writing, Arts, Book Review, Books, Fiction, Literature, Reviews, Sci Fi - Fantasy - Time Travel, Supernatural, Zombie Apocalypse

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15 replies

  1. Sounds like a real mind-bender!
    There’s a book I read once decades ago – I can’t remember the author or the title unfortunately – in which it turns out that time actually runs in the opposite direction. We start off old and get younger and younger, it’s our perception which has us believe otherwise. We see/”remember” our future (our childhood) but immediately forget our past (the older us).
    I wish I could remember who wrote it so I could read it again!


    • It took me a very long time to find this one — fifty years. I suspect it was less my persistence and more the improvement in search engines technology. That you don’t remember the author makes it harder, but NOT impossible.

      Since you remember the plot, google that. The theme is time travel, so type “time travel, time wrong direction, getting younger, science fiction.” Not all at once, obviously, but in various combinations. Sooner or later you’ll get a promising hit. If you remember the decade in which you read it and/or it was written, that would help. Search engines have gotten much more sophisticated, so if you have even a little information, you can probably find it if you really want to badly enough. Happy hunting!! (There’s one book I found that has that premise, but it was written in 1992, so maybe it’s too recent — Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis. And of course Merlin was supposed to have lived backwards in The Once and Future King.


      • I’ll give that a try later – fingers crossed!


        • If you can remember a single “hard” fact … the name, first or last of the author … or the publisher … or whether it was part of an anthology (short story) or a whole novel. You’ll find it, eventually. But one more piece of information would really help in the search.


  2. Fraud! Scandal! Unfair! I’m gonna SUE! That’s MY autobiography, which I wrote on a secret, prototype iPad and lost to some thieving itinerant bum at a carnival in rural Vermont in 1978. Damn pickpockets!



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