Ever since H. G. Wells published The Chronic Argonauts and The Time Machine—the first published records of technological temporal manipulation—writers and scientists have speculated the inevitable paradoxes of time travel.
One of the most controversial antinomies came from “the dean of science fiction writers,” Robert A. Heinlein, who on July 11, 1958, in just one twenty-four hour period, wrote the short story that inspired the film, Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor. Predestination opened in U. S. theaters January 9, 2015.
“—All You Zombies—” was initially refused by Playboy, but was later published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, where it reached a more relevant audience.
In modern literature and film, time travel is so thoroughly exploited that the idea of a future self encountering a past version is banal. But Heinlein tosses into the mix a temporal causality loop: I am my own Grandfather.
Heinlein’s Zombies is about a man named “the Unmarried Mother.” The character coined the phrase himself after a complication with his own pregnancy—the man having been a female earlier in life.
The Unmarried Mother sits down in a bar and strikes up a conversation with the bartender, John, who bets him a bottle of Old Underwear that the Unmarried Mother’s story is no more astonishing than the tales he hears everyday.
“Okay,” said the Unmarried Mother, “to start with, I’m a bastard…My parents weren’t married.”
“Still no distinction,” said John. “Neither were mine.”
The Unmarried Mother explains that when he was a little girl, he lived in an orphanage. And that when he grew up into a young woman, he met a man who got him pregnant, but left him before the birth of the baby.
When the Unmarried Mother went into labor, the doctors put her to sleep for a cesarian delivery. The surgery went as expected for the most part, with just one tiny hiccup: the doctors discovered the Unmarried Mother had a glandular condition known as intersex, complete with both sets of organs—the male portion needing a bit of medical help to develop.
The sex change wasn’t the bad news.
The Unmarried Mother’s baby had been snatched form the hospital by an unknown kidnapper. We later discover that the baby was dropped off at an orphanage and named Jane.
John, the bartender, now convinced this is an astonishing story after all, reveals he is a Temporal Agent and can provide the Unmarried Mother with the opportunity to go back in time to confront the man who impregnated her.
The Unmarried Mother agrees, travels back through time and finds the man, yet is distracted from confrontation by a woman, who he has a relationship with, resulting in a baby. The Unmarried Mother steals the baby from the hospital and takes her to an orphanage, where she is named Jane and grows up to meet a man name John, who…
You get the idea.
Predestination, the film adaptation of Heinlein’s Zombies, written and directed by Australian identical twins, Michael and Peter Spierig, is not a movie tossed together from a popular book for quick profits—though it has been a huge success thus far. Instead, the Spierig brothers took a cryptic, little-known story and expanded it into a finished chronicle worthy of the Heinlein provenance.
In the film, a temporal agent travels through time in an attempt to catch a terrorist known as “The Fizzle Bomber,” so named from the Fizzle Wars. This new, action adventure derivative of Zombies is an exciting evolution of Heinlein’s original plot, from which it follows respectably right down to the Unmarried Mother.
Predestination has received a Rotten Tomatoes “certified fresh” rating of 82%, and won the Special Award for Best Sci-Fi Film from the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
Chief Film Critic of Variety, Justin Chang, wrote, “An entrancingly strange time-travel saga that suggests a Philip K. Dick yarn…’Predestination’ succeeds in teasing the brain and touching the heart even when its twists and turns keep multiplying well past the point of narrative sustainability.”
Heinlein’s novels and short stories were previously adapted into film most notably in Destination Moon (1950), Project Moon Base (1953), The Puppet Masters (1994), and Starship Troopers (1997), and the television series Tom Corbett, Space Cadet (1950), Out There (1951), Red Planet (1994), and Roughnecks (2000), and the video game Starship Troopers: Terran Ascendancy (2000).
Heinlein’s title, “—All You Zombies—” is from a line in the story, “I know where I came from—but where did all you zombies come from?” This explains the quotes and the dashes, used to indicate the title is from the middle of a complete sentence.
Read the Book “—All You Zombies—” by Robert A. Heinlein
For some science: Can Hermaphrodites Teach Us What It Means To Be Male? by Carl Zimmer