All You Zombies: Five Classic Stories by Robert A. Heinlein is a short (3 hours) audio collection of five speculative fiction stories written by Robert A. Heinlein and read by Spider Robinson. I like it a lot. This is a diverse set of tales (fantasy, science fiction, magic realism) that display some of Heinlein’s favorite themes as well as some aspects of Heinlein’s imagination that you may miss if you’ve read only his more popular novels. Here are the stories in All You Zombies:
- “All You Zombies” — (first published in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1958) A man in a bar is telling his strange story to the bartender. It involves a lonely orphan girl, a hermaphrodite, a sex change, and a kidnapped baby. And then it gets stranger. And since it’s Heinlein, there’s even some incest, but of the weirdest type he’s ever written. I’ve read a lot of time travel paradox stories, but this may be the most bizarre one yet.
- “They” — (Unknown, 1941) A paranoid man living in an asylum thinks life is a conspiracy. Modern readers will see where this is going, but it’s still a great story. Heinlein has some compelling arguments about the futility of life and the irrationality of rational thinking. He makes psychosis sound really sane.
- “And He Built a Crooked House” — (Astounding Science Fiction, 1941) In Southern California, an architect builds a house shaped like a tesseract. (Um… bad idea…. really bad idea.) This is one of those stories I wish I could actually walk into, despite the danger. (And if I did, I hope I’d act a lot less silly than the stupid housewife that Heinlein wrote.)
- “Our Fair City” — (Weird Tales, 1949) When a city parking attendant and a reporter find ancient garbage on the streets of their city, they decide to support a sentient whirlwind for mayor. Heinlein’s distrust of government and politicians, a common theme in his work, is evident here.
- “The Man Who Traveled in Elephants” — (aka “The Elephant Circuit” Saturn, 1957) This is a sad sweet story about a retired widower who is adjusting to his new life after his wife’s death. They used to travel all over the country together with a menagerie of pretend animals, but now he’s traveling alone. The supernatural elements gently arrive only at the end of the story.
I enjoyed all of these stories, especially as they were read by Spider Robinson (produced by Blackstone Audio). If you’re not familiar with Heinlein, this is a good way to get a quick taste, and fans who haven’t read these five stories recently should not miss All You Zombies. There’s an audio and a Kindle version (make sure you get the complete collection, not just the title story… unless, of course, you only want the title story).