After watching Predestination, I knew I wanted to read “All You Zombies.” That I am not a fan of Robert A. Heinlein is well-documented. However, the film’s plot — which was knit together in classic science fiction style — drew me to the author for another go.
Unfortunately, where the film is a thrill-ride through the final confrontation, “All You Zombies” is more of a bunny slope. The villain who features so prominently in the film is a background character in Heinlein’s short story, barely warranting a passing mention. Aside from the tale’s gimmick, there’s no indication that the bomber in the story is the same person as the protagonists. Although it’s fun to untangle “All You Zombies,” it’s not as fun as I had hoped.
I’m sure many will take issue with my calling the twist of Heinlein’s tale a “gimmick.” Having practically every character in a story be the same character at different points on his timeline is, in fact, a gimmick, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad one. Quite the opposite. Heinlein might be shitty in a lot of respects, but he can certainly put a tale together.
The most problematic thing about “All You Zombies” is also the most interesting. In its treatment of sexual orientation and identity, the story links maleness with sexual attraction to women, and femaleness with sexual attraction to men. Before the protagonist transitions to manhood, he never mentions any latent lesbian tendencies, and carries on a sexual relationship with a man. But as soon he gets his penis, boom: instant attraction to women. Treating sexual identity and orientation as two sides of the same coin is detrimental to those who aren’t heterosexual or cisgender, to the extent that Heinlein’s treatment of his intersex protagonist feels like a violation.
The story’s sexual politics are, admittedly, why I was so keen to read it. “All You Zombies” is, in part, a love story. Coming from Heinlein, who wrote the emotionless Starship Troopers, that alone made it compelling. But more than that, I wanted to know: was Predestination muddling up the protagonist’s gender and sexuality, or was it in the original text?
Now I know, and that’s all.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
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