EP 200: All You Zombies

By Robert A. Heinlein
Read by Steve Eley

I was polishing a brandy snifter when the Unmarried Mother came in. I noted the time—10:17 P. M. zone five, or eastern time, November 7th, 1970. Temporal agents always notice time and date; we must.

The Unmarried Mother was a man twenty–five years old, no taller than I am, childish features and a touchy temper. I didn’t like his looks—I never had—but he was a lad I was here to recruit, he was my boy. I gave him my best barkeep’s smile.

Maybe I’m too critical. He wasn’t swish; his nickname came from what he always said when some nosy type asked him his line: “I’m an unmarried mother.” If he felt less than murderous he would add: “at four cents a word. I write confession stories.”

If he felt nasty, he would wait for somebody to make something of it. He had a lethal style of infighting, like a female cop—reason I wanted him. Not the only one.

He had a load on, and his face showed that he despised people more than usual. Silently I poured a double shot of Old Underwear and left the bottle. He drank it, poured another.

Comments (32)

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  1. Dick Gizinya says:

    Well it’s about time. Moderately impressed considering the unfailingly liberal mindset of this website.

  2. Governor Sanford's soulmate says:

    Like they say, Dick, reality has a well-known liberal bias. I guess they can say the same about fantastic literature.

  3. Derrek says:

    Theoretically, this story could only have one character. Also, I wanted zombies.

  4. Holiday says:

    Considering when this story was originally written, this would have pushed some boundries.

  5. Spook says:

    Damn, no wonder this took so long. I’m impressed anyway, this is a classic!


  6. pmdhazy says:

    Thanks for that – it is one story I have never forgotten since I read it and great to hear it again.

  7. L33tminion says:

    I love this story. Read it before, and was really glad to hear it on Escape Pod. I love time travel stories… plus solipsism isn’t a philosophy you see played with that often in fiction.

  8. Lexicat says:

    The gender change stuff was retarded. Which I say as a transsexual, and as a genderfuck. The gender roles of women, while somewhat normed to white women the US 1958, is not remotely forward looking with respect to the transformations in gender which were moving towards the social upheavals in gender of the 60s and 70s.

    The reduction of failed aspirations on the part of the young woman to physical appearance was just dumb.

    Bad choice for 200.

  9. Jeff Weimer says:

    I was right! Heinlein! And I haven’t read this one before!

    And guys, keep the political stuff out. This isn’t the place. Try HuffPo, or Redstate, depending on your inclination.

  10. Ken_K says:

    A good blast from the past. How about moving on from all the time travel stuff for a while though? Just a thought.

  11. Gia says:

    I called most of the plot before hand. If Steve hadn’t started off with “This has a time loop!” then it might not have been so predictable. It would have been a good regular episode, but it didn’t meet the hype.

  12. Lexicat says:

    Oh yeah, and I totally agree with Derrek: this story needed actual zombies!

  13. Julio says:

    Steve, episode 200 was awesome! I had read about this story, but had never actually read/heard it. Everything from the computer lady mix up, the story and outro was great!

  14. Anony says:

    At last it’s here!
    I got sucked into it reading the description. Cant wait to listen to this at work.

  15. Duellist Origins says:

    I think some stories are too well-known for this podcast. I’ve listened to this so many times that I just skipped this episode.

    And I bet you didn’t pay your usual rates for this. Something for other authors to consider.

  16. Motti says:

    I’ve always considered this to be the best time travel paradox story of all time, however hearing it now brings to light how much it’s dated (not that I have ever read it before it had dated). This puts in in an interesting category of “anachronistic time travel stories”.

  17. scatterbrain says:

    Strangely I was just about to read this one in the F&SF 30th Anniversary Special, but I’m glad I heard it in Steve Eley’s talented and familiar narration first; good work!

  18. BingoRage says:

    The ultimate time travel paradox storyline.
    A little weak on the character not recognising himselves/herselves; but necessary for the story to work, I suppose.

  19. Amy says:

    I read this story recently, I have no clue where. I love it.

    However, the part at the end when zombies were finally mentioned didn’t really make sense to me… can someone explain that?

  20. MasterThief says:

    I had heard about this story but never read/heard it myself.

    Critics say this is one of Heinlein’s best, and I’d believe it. Sure, some of the plot is thin on the science, but it’s so well-written, punchy, and laugh out loud funny (“Women’s Hospitality Order Refortifying & Encouraging Spacemen”?) that I can’t not like it.

    @Amy – the main character, like the Ouroboros, is basically infinite – he begins and ends with himself. So when he asked where all us zombies come from, it’s probably because we have such a limited span of existence. Well, maybe not Heinlein. Anymore. ;)

  21. […] to action from this week’s Escape Pod, I must encourage you to check out the show’s 200th episode, which features a story by Robert Heinlein. Heinlein is far and away my most beloved of science […]

  22. As instructed, I blogged about it, Steve. I hope it helps bring new listeners. http://jonbrazer.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/listen-to-escapepod-org/
    Dale McCoy, Jr.
    Jon Brazer Enterprises, President

  23. besucher says:

    This story was a bit confusing, I could hardly get who’s with who. But the speech at the end of the story was great and moving. Keep it up, Mr. Eley!

  24. BooHoo says:

    As much as it pleased me to be able to hear an oldie from the grokster, I could not get past the first two pronunciations of ‘temporal’ in order to finish listening. sigh It’s so easy to look up a work you don’t know, why not take some time? Find a really old dictionary. Should be easy w/ all that time travel equipment at hand.

  25. […] EP 200: All You Zombies […]

  26. Dave K. says:


    I have always loved these kind of time travel stories… but i have to admit it is a little bit of a letdown when the loop finally closes completely up… then the only mystery remaining is… where did it start?

  27. Jacob says:

    Thanks Steve,
    Now we can all say we’ve read Heinlein…though recently at the insistence of a work collauge I’ve broken down and finished reading Have Space Suite Will Travel, and I can now for curtain say I’m an instant fan…

    I chose this story All You Zombies as my story to share…I’ll report back if he’s brain leaks out he’s ear as I feel mine had at the completion of this story.

    Sincerely, The last fan of The Geek Dad Intro.
    Jacob From Texas

  28. Paul says:

    Typical Heinlein isn’t it, while based upon a specific time and worldview, it also knocks the socks off convention and gets us to consider the characters and makes you scratch your head.

    a great choice. only thing I can add is: more Heinlein!

  29. JimO says:

    Feel silly for not reading this story before and now I know where the Red Dwarf episode “Ouroboros” comes from. I thought the end passage was well written.
    Sometime I forget that Heinlein was a very good writer before his id/libido raged later in life.

  30. rubber_wonder_boy says:

    I’m interested in knowing, what’s “Old Underwear”? Would be like absinthe? Or, Jagermiester?

    Or something completely different? Raunchy, sweet, & salty? Onion rings dipped in ketchup comes to mind. But, in liquid-form mixed with alcohol.

    None the less, it would be the most suitable beverage to toast with.

    As shots.


  31. ryan says:

    We did a story like this in Philosophy to illustrate the paradox of time travel.

  32. […] with 21st century stories sprinkled with classics. For instance, you’ll find Heinlein’s All You Zombies and Asimov’s Nightfall, as well as Katherine Sparrow’s Pirate […]