This Is How You Lose the Time War

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

A queer epistolary time-travel adventure-romance between two rival time agents who start leaving messages for one another and falling in love. This book's rich, lush descriptions and snapshots of worlds, moments, and time strands are breathtaking. Sharp, lyrical, unpredictable, unforgettable.
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This is probably one of the most creative pieces of fiction I've read in years. This Is How You Lose the Time War is astonishingly unique, unabashedly romantic, and a stellar work of literary sci-fi that manages to tell an epic story in a very small frame. 

For a novella that makes you feel so much, there is a lot that is left unsaid. Red and Blue are on the opposite sides of a war. Red is part of The Agency, a technologically advanced world, and Blue comes from Garden, an environmentally absorbed society. Even to say they belong to these societies, or worlds, is making an assumption. All we really know about these two factions is that they have been fighting a long war with many battles that take place through the strands of time. Each faction is able to influence and change things in time by sending in agents like Red and Blue to change the course of "history." They're both superb agents, incredible at what they do, and so, naturally, they have great admiration for each other. That admiration turns into more as Red and Blue begin to make contact through letters hidden in the various strands where they are working. Obviously, it's dangerous for them to even be talking. But as we get drawn further into their correspondence, it's also apparent that this is a love worth the risk. 

I feel stupid even typing that last sentence, because honestly, this novella deserves more than bald cliches. The writing is absolutely stunning, superbly hewn and beautifully minimal. Every word packs a punch. The concept is downright weird, and written in a way that forces you to read slowly and mine every sentence for clues about the setting. And the characters - oh, the characters! The letters reveal so much, yet so little. It's sort of clear that Red and Blue are both female entities, but to say what they really look like or how they exist is impossible. Red is made up of some kind of humanoid form with many technological adjustments. Blue is...somehow part nature, woven into the tapestry of Garden. The point is, they're totally different, they clearly have been taught to believe in different things, and yet...at the heart of their correspondence is an understanding of how fierce and delicate and wondrous life is, and how much you can get from words and letters and history. It's this that kept me reading. 

This Is How You Lose the Time War deserves to be savoured and enjoyed by people who love unique, lyrical, literary words. It made me think a little bit of Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life in that it's deeply cerebral and uses sci-fi as the backdrop for a love story. It packs a similar punch. For a reader like me, who only delves into hard sci-fi rarely, it was a joy to read. I hope a lot of people who aren't as interested in sci-fi will take a chance on this, because it's a real genre-bender.
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4.7 stars

What happens when two stalwart writers of the SFF world collaborate? This Is How You Lose The Time war happens. I have been waiting for this book to come out ever since I read that Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone were going to jointly write.  I came to reading Amal El-Mohtar from her multiple award-winning short story 'Seasons of Glass and Iron' and Max Gladstone from his superlative Hugo award Craft Sequence which I consider the best fantasy series out there.

This is one of those complex layered books that you can read over and over, finding new hidden meanings and clues.  Red and Blue on opposite sites write to each other across time and space in utterly creative ways; for instance, in the worls of tree rings, on an indigested cod within a seal, seeds.  They both climb up and down the braid of time, picking strands of humanity's history past present and future to effect change.  Philosophical poetic treatment of time and space dimensions hurtle us around from alternate Beijing to 6th century Al-Andulus to the time of the dinosaurs to Atlantis and 33rd century Ghana.  The scope is breath-taking.  There may be passing reference to drumming a pattern with our building block nucleotides ACTG, to playing a game of six dimensional chess of Go, to literary allusions of Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison (I love that this book stays the same in all the possible strands) to answering Siri physics riddles with poems.  For myself, it was fun to identify which possible parts/influences came from which author e.g. guessing the Li Bai/Qu Yuan/summer palace burnings references came from Gladstone while the Naomi Mitchison reference came from El-Mohtar.  It is also fun to imagine they are cross-pollinating each other with new ideas with this collaboration just like Blue and Red are doing with each other.   

I have recommended to two libraries to buy this book which they have and now there's a long waiting list, yay!

Thanks to Saga Press and Netgalley for an ARC of this book in return for an honest unbiased review.
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I loved this novella so much. The only reason why I didn't give it 5/5 stars is because I just wanted more! I wanted to learn more about this world and these characters. It all felt just way too short.

This is a carefully crafted science fiction story that does time travel extremely well. And it still manages to innovate on the old "enemies to lovers" trope.
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This is it.

After years of searching, this is the time travel book I've been waiting for.

This is How You Lose the Time War is a stunning achievement of prose and storytelling. It's a love story dressed as a chess game played out on the shoulders of poetry. It's got moments, especially near the end, that gave me full-body shivers and touched me to my core. It had me muttering "This makes me want to make out with someone" over and over to myself and to my roommate (who's gotten used to my weird out-of-context comments about books). And I just can't stop thinking about it.

Before I get into it, just a small note regarding the worldbuilding: this book doesn't explain much to you--not about the nature of the war or its factions (though you do get some sense of the differences between Red and Blue's homeland by the end, and let me tell you, they are fascinating)--and you either have to accept that ambiguity or have a very frustrating time with it.

Okay, so here's the part that I absolutely love and something I think is genius: there are two different kinds of time travel that exist in this book.

The first is your typical "temporal and spatial movement from Point A to B."

My issue with a lot of time travel books is that I don't often get a good sense of the time period and setting that the characters travel to. And aside from the superficial descriptions, Point B doesn't feel all that different from Point A. It's like when you're watching a school play and the castle scenery changes to a forest one, but some of the props are reused and you can still see all the scuff marks on the stage, so the illusion is kind of lost.

But here? Things feel very organic. You can see the texture of the places that Red and Blue visit--ancient pilgrims moving through a labyrinth, a Mongolian forest camp, Atlantis burning and sinking. Descriptions that snag on the most important aspects of a culture and time period and drag them forward. It's economical and at the same time not, because of how purple the prose is, and just all around beautiful and atmospheric. El-Mohtar and Gladstone manage to convey a sense of time and space in the span of five pages better than some books do in a hundred, and I bow down to their collective talent.

The second type of time travel is done through letters.

This is the part that gets me jittery and giggling with joy--that in this future of advanced technology, Red and Blue are sending physical letters to each other, using anything they can get their hands on and being creative with it (paper, tea leaves, seeds, and lava, just to name a few). And they have such fun with it. I can't even begin to tell you how romantic I find all that.

...And that was a lie. I will tell you.

I love exchanging letters. I love saving letters. I love letters, period. My closet contains boxes of all the letters and postcards and notes I saved from since I was a kid. I've made amazing, long-lasting connections through years of penpal exchanges. If you're friends with me I'll probably send you a letter at some point whether you like it or not. And occasionally, on rainy days, I take some of those letters out and read them, re-living memories and re-reading passages I want to commit to memory because I found them particularly beautiful or vulnerable or funny. They're like books, in that sense. Except they're stories about you, and me, and the path that our relationship ended up taking.

"There's a kind of time travel in letters, isn't there?" Red writes at one point, and there's such truth to those words. Letters are snapshots of a person at a particular time, and when you send a letter, you're essentially carving off slices of yourself, preserving them, and gifting them to the recipient (that sounds dramatic, but hell, this whole book is dramatic). And there is romance to that act which defies explanation. This book gets that. My god, does it get it.

"I want to chase you, find you, I want to be eluded and teased and adored; I want to be defeated and victorious--I want you to cut me, sharpen me. I want to drink tea beside you in ten years or a thousand."

I also adore the way the authors portray the characters' love as a kind of a mutual surrender to one another: blades to each other's throat, exchanging vulnerabilities with vulnerabilities, and feeling content in the knowledge that one can destroy the other at any moment. Not all love is that intense and all-consuming, but for two people who have dedicated their lives to being the best and always winning and holding themselves to stratospheric standards, it fits perfectly. They need this. Surrender is freedom. And that's so, so sexy, I can't even.

So please, please, please give this a try.

It'll make you believe in love all over again.
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This novella took me by surprise. I did not expect it to be written the way that it is. The entire story is made up of short prose detailing events in one character's life, followed by a letter from the other character. It took a little bit to get used to this, but eventually I realized that I really liked that part of the book. 

The romance of the book, which takes up the majority of the book was interesting to read about and ultimately was one of the best aspects of the story, literally holding the rest of the story together. I don't really enjoy romances in books, unless it is used in tandem with the rest of the plot, but I think that this book is one instance where I enjoyed the romance solely on its own merits. 

The premise of the book really brought me into the story, but as each chapter passed I wished that the story was more grounded into one particular setting or even a few of them. Each chapter takes place in a different time and place as the characters travel through time and space. The story was very mysterious and relied upon the reader not knowing what was going on half the time and barely revealed anything by the end of the story. 

For what this story is, that being a sci-fi romance epic bringing together two women from opposite sides of a war, it was a pretty good read. I enjoyed reading it, as it was never boring as some pure romances tend to be in my experience. I would probably consider reading another book by either author, especially if it is a sci-fi. 

4 stars
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How do I describe this book?  It is a science fiction love story, but told in very poetic manner.  If you only like plots that are very logical and well laid out, this may not be the book for you, but if you love beautiful writing and a plot that grows with each rereading, this is a good choice.  I found it to be entertaining and very weird.  I liked it...did I love it...I don't know yet.
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I found this so beautifully written, it was like poetry. I finished it within two days and afterwards found myself thinking ‘what just happened’. 
It drew me in and refused to let go. 
I enjoyed it for what it was. Do not go in with expectations though as it isn’t what it seems. 
Told in the form of letters between two time agents on either sides of a war.
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At the start, it was very hard to get into. The writing is very poetic, but considering this is a science fiction book and you need to describe time and place, I found the writing style very offputting in the beginning because I was extremely confused about what was going on. Plus, I wasn't able to visualize what was happening and what things looked like very easily. This didn't really improve throughout the story, but I much preferred the last half anyway. I think the poetic writing elements made the relationship between Red and Blue very intense and beautiful which was good considering how short the novel was. The thing I liked most about the story was the letters written by Red and Blue, it was such a good way to show their relationship and to further the plot. The world this book was set in was also very intriguing, but due to the writing, I wasn't able to fully grasp it, unfortunately. 

Overall, while this story was hard to get into, I still enjoyed the last half a lot and I really enjoyed the characters of Red and Blue and their relationship dynamic.
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So. This book has been one that I was on the fence about requesting. Y’all know I’m not a big romance fan, and this one is unabashedly a love story. BUT. I decided that the premise sounded so good, even with it being a love story, that I had to read it. 

BEST DECISION I EVER MADE.

So. This book is absolutely outstanding. If I could give it six stars. I would. Not only is the prose absolutely gorgeous and poetic, but the story! I loved it. So well done. I won’t say more than that, because spoilers. But OMG.

Also, what I didn’t know is that this is a sapphic romance! I absolutely loved the relationship between Red and Blue, and the way they would write to each other, ugh, be still my heart. I dunno when I became a sap, it might have just  been since this book, but I am one. 

So. I could rant about how amazing this book is for days (don’t test me, I will). But I’m gonna cut to the chase. 

This is a book that I would recommend to readers who love a wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey love story, don’t mind a little bit of an unusual structure to the book (it’s written in both third person and as letters between Red and Blue), love the bizarre, and most of all, who are feeling like they really need to watch two women fall in love with each other through unbelievably poetic letters. 

This is a book that I will definitely be buying and rereading, cause OMG.
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Pros: interesting characters, quick paced, touching romance

Cons: limited worldbuilding

Red and Blue work for opposing sides of a war trying to make sure their particular futures come true. Their battles happen across the varieties of time and parallel universes. Their rivalry intensifies when Blue leaves Red a letter, beginning a correspondence that changes them both.

This is a longer novella, easily read in an afternoon. Which is good as it gets pretty intense towards the end and I’m not sure I could have put it down those last 50 pages.

The two protagonists were written by different authors, giving them distinct voices. The book follows the pattern of showing a scene from Red’s point of view, followed by a letter and the actions of a mysterious stranger, then shifts to Blue’s point of view and a letter she received. I was impressed by how much the characters changed over the course of the story given the brevity of the text. 

With novellas I often feel the story could be fleshed out more, but this felt like the perfect length. The shortness even added to the tension.

The science is very hand-wavy so don’t expect the usual time travel rules to apply. The addition of multiple universes made me wonder how they could track the changes meant to bring about their futures, but none of that is explored or explained at all. The story is focused entirely on the two characters.

It’s a great, unique story.
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It took a little to get in to but this was a fast read that packed quite a lot in. Time travel is always a must and these authors write so well.
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This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Damn excellent SF novella. I won't have any problems nominating this for next year's Hugo. It's poetical, yo. Not only poetical, but delighfully unforced in its romance... even as the time war rages between heavy tech and heavy biopunk up and down multiple timelines in a game of Go! that stretches to near-infinity.

Wait. Did I say romance? Yep. Hard SF romance, so light and deft in its hardcore science it becomes a whirlwind of ambiance designed only to paint glorious pictures and denude us in playful taste, hunger, and excitement.

The novella is mostly written in epistolary format, which I love, and it evokes so much crazy longing between these two enemies that it is pretty obvious that they have completely fallen for each other by the third exchange. :) Even if they're plotting their opposite's death by strange and subtle threads and means up and down the timelines. :)

Gloriously so, the tastes of history are obscure and rich. The format of the letters, even more so. Written in plants, seeds, only readable through taste or stings. Scorched space battlements and desolate beaches, dinosaurs and playful birds. Did I say this was poetry? Poetry as prose? The hunger is palpable, the romance, desperate. 

Sure, they're post-human women, but the shape doesn't matter when they take whatever shapes they like. The feeling is everything. 

So how does it turn out? Is it a tragedy? I will not say. But I feel lighter than air after reading this. It deserves a careful read. An engrossing read. A consuming read. :)
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ARC Copy...it was interesting to see to the interplay and latter between the two characters across different time periods plus the faction they represent. Both characters and their factions are different yet similar in function/motives which causes the narrative to blend in mood.
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I’ll tell you right upfront, this book is not for everyone.  Hard sci-fi readers may be disappointed because even though this book is dependant on time travel, it is more about love and told very poetically.  

The story begins at the end of a battle.  Our two main characters are the top agents for each side:  Red from the technology enhanced future versus Blue from the environmental future (these descriptions are subject to my own interpretation as the truth was slightly vague in the story).
A message is left by one for the other.  It seems to start as a taunt but the messages continue and as they do, things change between Red and Blue.  

From a sci-fi standpoint, I was fascinated by the strange futures Red and Blue were from although both were described very sparingly.  

From a romance standpoint, I thought it was very well done.  I don’t usually like romance as they are rushed, sloppy and all about the sex.  None of those things apply here.

From a time travel standpoint, it reminded me of Asimov’s End of Eternity with the ability to go to specific points in time to tweak things in a certain direction but the war gave this a duelling banjo feel - one side would tweak to their advantage then the other side would tweak to their advantage.  When people were from and how they time travelled was never discussed.

I can’t say that I’m not a little disappointed with learning so little about the very strange futures Red and Blue come from and also how the war started.  Truth be told, now that I’m thinking about it, I really wasn’t told all that much about anything.  Wow.  The author did a great job sucking me into a story while giving me precious little of what I love (SF and time travel details) and lots of what I don’t love (poetic romance).  That’s good writing
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