Book #120: All You Zombies (1959)

ayzauthor: Robert Heinlein
language: English
length: 19 pages
read on: 31 October 2016

I’m not sure where I got this book, but it was on a PDF on my computer, and it’s very short, so I rushed through it the same day as the last book on the Kindle. It’s a sci-fi story by Robert Heinlein, whose works I’ve never read before, so I don’t know how it sizes up to those.

It was my dad that told me the story a long time ago. It’s fairly simple to tell: it’s about a time travel paradox, where one person turns out to be every character in a story, including the mother, father, baby, and also the bartender who’s listening to the story, who turns out to be a time travelling agent. It turns out the character is what we’d now call intersex (but was called a hermaphrodite in the story), given a sex reassignment operation against her will after her pregnancy leaves her organs in a bad state. I don’t even know if such an operation would be possible in real life – I’ve never heard of someone having both sets of fertile gonads, but let’s say for argument’s sake that it’s possible. It’s an interesting question, then, whether someone could end up their own mother and father given time travel, and it totally violates causality, if there is such a thing.

The title refers to a line near the end of the story, something like “I know where I come from, but do all you zombies know where you come from?” – honestly I wasn’t all that impressed by the line, but whatever.

It’s very easy to read the story, and for such a short story, the world and rules under which the characters are living are fleshed out surprisingly well, such as the way in which the main character always keeps track of what date it is.

The treatment of gender is not so nice, though. Heinlein’s “spacers”, space travellers, are all men, and the only way for women to get in is to join a band of comfort women. Basically, women aren’t allowed into space unless they’re whores. After the main character’s sex reassignment, he’s treated completely as a male, indicating that there is some kind of underlying superiority to having a penis. He’s unhappy in his new gender, though, so it’s not all ridiculous, but it sounds like his personality changed upon becoming male.

My main feeling by the end of it was apathy. I’m curious about Heinlein, though. I’m wondering if his full novels would be fleshed out more.


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