The Man Who Folded Himself Essay - Critical Essays

Jerrold David Friedman


Although attacked by some critics for its short, choppy sentences, this is a lively, inventive, and entertaining time travel story. Its basic premise, that of a time traveler encountering other versions of himself, is certainly derivative of two short stories by Robert A. Heinlein. In Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” (first published under the name Anson MacDonald in the October, 1941, Astounding Science-Fiction), the protagonist interacts with various past and future versions of himself, ultimately becoming the person who first recruited him to visit the future, and in “All You Zombies—” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March, 1959), the protagonist is recruited into a corps of time travelers and through a convoluted plot device also becomes his/her own mother and father.

Aside from a couple of “stick figure” characters such as the protagonist’s landlady and the (nameless) lawyer who informs Daniel that his Uncle Jim is dead, all the characters in the novel are ultimately the same person, albeit alternate versions of him. The weakness of the book is the lack of true character development. Because all the protagonist’s interactions are with other versions of himself, his motivations and actions are necessarily self-serving and require no justification other than his own pleasure. A revised version of the book published in 1991 eliminates some positive references in the original to marijuana use and drug culture but also seems to make some of the text, which is written as first-person internal reflection, seem less spontaneous and more contrived.

David Gerrold’s career began with writing the Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967). He is also the author of When Harlie Was One (1972; revised as When H.A.R.L.I.E. Was One (Release 2.0), 1988), concerning an intelligent computer. The promise of Gerrold’s early works, including The Man Who Folded Himself, is realized in the author’s ongoing War Against the Chtorr series of novels, including A Matter for Men (1983), A Day for Damnation (1984), A Rage for Revenge (1989), and A Season for Slaughter (1992). In these more mature works, the inventiveness of the author’s ideas is combined with depth of character development.