I have read it before, but today I came across Robert Heinlein’s All You Zombies, and the amazingly twisty time machine paradox he crafted in that story.
It’s a twist on the generic Grandfather Paradox, in which someone goes back in time and kills their grandfather before he can have any kids, meaning the first person could never be born to go back in time to kill their grandfather, meaning they could…
Anyway, Heinlein is a master:
A baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She falls in love with him. But just when things are finally looking up for Jane, a series of disasters strike. First, she becomes pregnant by the drifter, who then disappears. Second, during the complicated delivery, doctors find that Jane has both sets of sex organs, and to save her life, they are forced to surgically convert “her” to a “him.” Finally, a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby from the delivery room.
Reeling from these disasters, rejected by society, scorned by fate, “he” becomes a drunkard and drifter. Not only has Jane lost her parents and her lover, but he has lost his only child as well. Years later, in 1970, he stumbles into a lonely bar, called Pop’s Place, and spills out his pathetic story to an elderly bartender. The sympathetic bartender offers the drifter the chance to avenge the stranger who left her pregnant and abandoned, on the condition that he join the “time travelers corps.” Both of them enter a time machine, and the bartender drops off the drifter in 1963. The drifter is strangely attracted to a young orphan woman, who subsequently becomes pregnant.
The bartender then goes forward 9 months, kidnaps the baby girl from the hospital, and drops off the baby in an orphanage back in 1945. Then the bartender drops off the thoroughly confused drifter in 1985, to enlist in the time travelers corps. The drifter eventually gets his life together, becomes a respected and elderly member of the time travelers corps, and then disguises himself as a bartender and has his most difficult mission: a date with destiny, meeting a certain drifter at Pop’s Place in 1970.
What staggering genius is capable of twisting their mind into the contortions required to write that?
I am in awe.