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Literature / —All You Zombies—

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"I know where I came from, but where did all you zombies come from?"

"—All You Zombies—" (1959) is a short story by Robert A. Heinlein that presents to the reader an interesting time paradox. "The Unwed Mother", as a bar patron calls himself, unloads his life story onto a willing barman. The barman, however, knows more about The Unwed Mother than he could ever guess.

At roughly a dozen pages, "—All You Zombies—" provides a provocative story and incorporates many of Heinlein's favorite themes.

A film adaptation called Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, was released in 2014.

As the story contains a twist ending, it is recommended you read it for yourself before reading the associated tropes.


This short story provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: As with all Heinlein's works. The latest date given in the story is 1993.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Reveal that everyone in the story is the same time-displaced person calls into question just how human certain characters are. While they look completely ordinary, they have no genetic connection to the rest of humanity, and no intersex condition that occurs in humans reaches the level of true hermaphroditism that would allow procreating with one's time-displaced self.
  • Artistic License – Biology: An intersex condition that would allow for someone to impregnate themselves is not a thing in real life.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The narrator is only referred to as "the barman" until the end of the story when he reveals his real name: Jane.
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  • Foreshadowing: The barman becomes very annoyed at the song "My Own Grandpa."
  • Fun with Acronyms: The same "elite military service corps" is referred to at various points in history as the Women's Emergency National Corps, Hospitality & Entertainment Section, the "Space Angels" or Auxiliary Nursing Group, Extraterrestrial Legions, and the Women's Hospitality Order Refortifying & Encouraging Spacemen. No doubt inspired by the Real Life Women Airforce Service Pilots and their naval counterparts, Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service.
  • Future Self Reveal: The Unmarried Mother, her child, and the child's father are the same person at different stages of life due to time travel (and a forced sex reassignment). The final twist is that the Bartender who the Unmarried Mother has been speaking with is the future version of the same person, having begun a career as a temporal agent.
  • Ghostwriter: The "Unmarried Mother" has that nickname because he churns out stories for confession magazines, presumably by pseudonymous unmarried women.
  • Time-Travel Tense Trouble: "The By-Laws Of Time" read as such:
    Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow.
    If at Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again.
    A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion.
    A Paradox May be Paradoctored.
    It is Earlier When You Think.
    Ancestors Are Just People.
    Even Jove Nods.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Don't think too hard on the paradox of the story. You will start bleeding from the nose.
  • Wrong Genetic Sex: The protagonist starts out as an intersex female gets complicated. Her actual degree of intersexualization approaches true hermaphrodism and isn't biologically possible, at least for normal humans. But of course the protagonist isn't related to any other humans.
  • You Already Changed the Past: The barman remembers all the parts of the story from when they happened to him in his original timeline. He's just acting out his part now to complete the loop.