(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“’All You Zombies—’” takes full advantage of the cause-and-effect paradox inherent in the concept of time travel. The tale assumes not only the existence of time travel but also its necessity. To forestall the atomic destruction of the earth, for example, agents of the Temporal Bureau must selectively manipulate what becomes the past, taking care not to leave too many anachronisms. Temporal agents do not change the past, for that is impossible; rather, it is their hidden presence in past events that ensures that history turns out as it really does. For example, the intervention of a temporal agent turned what could have been the nuclear disintegration of New York into what became known as the Fizzle War of 1963. The Mistake of 1972 (which apparently led to forced labor and a shortage of food in 1974), however, did take place. It is history, and no temporal agent can undo it.

More temporal agents are needed to prevent another Mistake. Thus, the narrator is sent from 1993 back to 1970 to recruit a likely candidate: himself. Central to the fun of the story is the revelation of how significant a part the agent played in the very existence of the raw recruit. The recruit actually comes into the world as a baby girl, Jane. She is stolen from the hospital in 1945 by a mysterious man, the temporal agent, who places her as a foundling on the steps of an orphanage in Cleveland. Though she is determined to keep her virginity until she is married, Jane realizes after lonely years in the orphanage that her rather severe, mannish appearance will do little to attract a potential husband. The alternative is to enlist in W.E.N.C.H.E.S., the Women’s Emergency National Corps, Hospitality & Entertainment Section, to provide on-board relief of sexual tensions for pilots who must spend years in space. The Corps takes good care of its own, and many end up getting married to pilots.

Jane’s dream, though, is shattered in 1963. She is seduced by a...

(The entire section is 804 words.)