All You Zombies

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This article is about the short story by Robert A. Heinlein. For the song by The Hooters, see All You Zombies (song).
"'—All You Zombies—'"
Author Robert A. Heinlein
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Publication date 1959

"'—All You Zombies—'" is a science fiction short story by Robert A. Heinlein. It was written in one day, July 11, 1958, and first published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine after being rejected by Playboy.

The story involves a number of paradoxes caused by time travel. In 1980, it was nominated for the coveted Balrog Award for short fiction.[1]

"'—All You Zombies—'" further develops themes explored by the author in a previous work: "By His Bootstraps", published some 18 years earlier. Some of the same elements also appear later in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985), including the Circle of Ouroboros and the Temporal Corps.


"'—All You Zombies—'" chronicles a young man (later revealed to be intersex) taken back in time and tricked into impregnating his younger, female self (before he underwent a sex change); he thus turns out to be the offspring of that union, with the paradoxical result that he is his own mother and father. As the story unfolds, all the major characters are revealed to be the same person, at different stages of her/his life.

Narrative order of events[edit]

The story involves an intricate series of time-travel journeys. It begins with a young man speaking to the narrator, the Bartender, in 1970. The young man is called the Unmarried Mother, because he writes stories for confession magazines, many of them presumably from the point of view of an unmarried mother.

Cajoled by the Bartender, the Unmarried Mother explains why he understands the female viewpoint so well: he was born a girl, in 1945, and raised in an orphanage. While a fairly ugly teenager in 1963, he was seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by an older man. During the delivery of her child, doctors discovered he had an intersex condition: internally, he had both male and female sex organs. Complications during delivery forced them to give him a sex change. The baby was later kidnapped and not seen again. The now-former girl had to adjust to being a man and surviving as such, despite being unprepared for any attainable job. While he still identified as a girl he had taken etiquette lessons, hoping to get into space as a comfort worker for workers and colonists. Disqualified for such work by the physical aftereffects of childbirth, he used his secretarial skills to type manuscripts, and eventually began writing.

Professing sympathy, the Bartender offers to top his story. He guides him into a back room, and casts a net over the two of them. This is part of a time machine. The young man is set loose in 1963 where he dates, falls for, seduces, impregnates, and leaves a young girl; at the same time the Bartender goes forward eleven months, kidnaps a baby and takes it to an orphanage in 1945. He then returns to 1963, and picks up the Unmarried Mother, who is just beginning to realize what has happened. As the Bartender tells him, "Now you know who he is—and after you think it over you'll know who you are . . . and if you think hard enough, you'll figure out who the baby is . . . and who I am."

The Bartender then drops the Unmarried Mother—his younger self—at an outpost of the Temporal Bureau, a time-traveling secret police force that causes events in history to protect the human race. He has just recruited himself.

Finally the Bartender returns to 1970, arriving a short time after he left the bar. He allows a customer to play "I'm My Own Grandpa" on the jukebox, having yelled at the customer for playing the song before he left. Closing the bar he time travels again to his home base. As he beds down for a much deserved rest, he contemplates the scar left over from the Caesarean section performed when he gave birth to his daughter, father, mother and entire history. He thinks "I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?".


The title of the story, which includes both the quotation marks and dashes,[2] is actually a quotation from a sentence near the end of the story itself (taken from the middle of the sentence, hence the dashes indicating edited text before and after the title). In this way it mirrors the life of the protagonist, whose life is a "quotation" from itself.

Chronological order of events[edit]

As the story is told as a disjointed point of view reference by several other points thereafter, this is the actual chronological history of "Jane" according to the story, although the story itself is still a classic example of a time paradox.

  • On September 20, 1945, the Bartender drops off baby Jane at an orphanage. She grows up there. She dreams of joining one of the "comfort organizations" dedicated to providing R&R for spacemen.
  • Nearly 18 years later, the man who refers to himself as "an unmarried mother" is dropped off at April 3, 1963, by the Bartender. He meets and after some weeks of dating seduces the 17-year-old Jane, who has an intersex condition. From Jane's point of view, he then disappears; actually, he has been retrieved by the Bartender, and taken to 1985.
  • Jane becomes pregnant. After giving birth by C-section, she is found to be a "true hermaphrodite" who has been severely damaged by the pregnancy and birth; on waking she learns that she has been subjected (without her consent) to a "sex change" which reassigns her sex to male.
  • On March 10, 1964, the Bartender steals the baby and takes it back in time to the orphanage. Jane, now male, becomes a stenographer, and then a writer. Whenever he is asked his occupation, he replies, somewhat truculently, "I'm an unmarried mother—at four cents a word. I write confession stories." He becomes a regular at the bar where the narrator, the Bartender, works.
  • On November 7, 1970, the Bartender meets the Unmarried Mother, conducts him into the back office, and takes him back to 1963 to "find" the man who got him pregnant. He returns to the bar, seconds after going into the back room, and yells at the customer playing "I'm My Own Grandpa". From his own point of view he has carried out his mission of ensuring his existence.
  • On August 12, 1985, the Bartender brings the Unmarried Mother to the Rockies base and enlists him in the Temporal Bureau.
  • On January 12, 1993, the Bartender, who is also Jane/mother/father, arrives back at his base from 1970 to think about his life.
I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?
I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once—and you all went away.
So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light.
You aren’t really there at all. There isn’t anybody but me—Jane—here alone in the dark.
I miss you dreadfully!

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Predestination (film)

The Spierig brothers directed a science fiction film titled Predestination based on the story. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook in the lead.[3]

See also[edit]

Other stories about being descended from oneself
In Television



External links[edit]