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This Is How You Lose the Time War

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This was an interesting book but not quite my cup of tea. The characters were well-developed and showed growth and added depth from the beginning of the story until the end. The stakes of the story were described but I was never really drawn into them. This affected my ability to identify with the characters' conflict and sacrifice.

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The best kind of sci-fi: short, sweet, romantic, and weird as hell. Loved it, loved every moment of it and can't wait to read more by Amal El-Mohtar.

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I have recommended this book to so many people! The science fiction elements were on point, the romance was powerful without being overwhelming, and the emotions were raw. I love the way the characters were never fully described and the authors gave the love between them so much vitality that it became the protagonist. Beautifully written and loved the inclusiveness of a same sex connection that we just don't see much of in science fiction.

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Much as I enjoy Max Gladstone's writing -- and I really do -- he can be a little dour and a lot wordy. Not that there is anything wrong with that, and I do not intend this as a disparagement. But my assumptions about what I would find in This is How You Lose the Time War, which he co-wrote with Amal El-Mohtar, were entirely incorrect. (I admit I've only read El-Mohtar's book reviews, so I didn't have expectations about her fictional style.) Despite taking place in a temporal war and focusing on combatants, This is How You Lose the Time War was light and fun and, dare I say, playful? I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised, given the title is pretty wiseass.

This is How You Lose the Time War follows soldiers on either side of the titular time war. They begin a taunting correspondence that turns flirty and then, maybe more than flirty. Which is to say, this is an epistolary novel, which made this English major's eyes turn into little hearts. The best flirting is epistolary flirting. I also really enjoyed the scifi setting and ornaments, which has been the aspect of Gladstone's writing I like best: he's very good at making really far out stuff seemed lived in.

Very enjoyable. I hope they collaborate again soon.

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It's just another mission, just another world laid to waste during war. But one thing is different--Agent Red finds a letter among the ashes that tells her to burn it before reading. Blue and Red, on opposite sides of the battlefield, find themselves embarking on an unlikely correspondence. Each is committed to victory for their own side. But as they write to each other, it's unclear which is more dangerous--that their correspondence will be discovered and they will be executed as traitors, or that their relationship will grow beyond the confines of a letter.

This Is How You Lose The Time War was one of the most heralded sci-fi stories of 2019, winning both the Hugo and Nebula awards. Each author writes from the vantage of one character: Blue, whose world is one of forests and bacteria, and Red, who fights for a world of clockwork devices and bombs. Their relationship begins as a gleeful taunt, a way to proclaim victory over a worthy opponent. But the two agents begin to care for each other, knowing they cannot win the war and save the one they love. My complaint is that we get so little time with these characters before we jump to the other side, another perspective, another country, another strand in time. There is no question that this book is an impressive feat but the problem is always time--I wanted more time to spend with Red and Blue and see how their relationship grew and where they went next.

This Is How You Lose The Time War
By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Saga Press July 2019
209 pages
Read via Netgalley

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I found this hard to get into..... honestly, and I don't say this often, I think it might make a better movie! I think if I had visual anchors I would have understood it better. The writing was excellent and the story was good but it did not tickle me they way I was hoping.

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They fight across centuries and across time. They are each the best warriors of their type. Blue and Red are sworn enemies of their organizations and only one can finally win and continue its existence. Blue is the growing entity; full of spring and summer and flowers and birds and lush vegetation Red is cerebral, made of logic and circuits, unemotional and unrelenting.
But as time goes by, things start to change. Red and Blue start to appreciate things about each other in their unending battle to defeat each other once and for all. As they slip up and down the time continuum, carrying out missions for their sides as they plan the next step in their personal battles, they start to communicate. Each leaves notes for the other and as they read these missives, they start to know each other and to feel what the other feels. Finally, over millennium, they start to fall in love. But how can enemies love? If their masters ever discover their feelings for each other, they will be utterly destroyed. How to love, an impossibility in the first place, and keep it so hidden that it can never even be guessed at?

Amal El-Motar and Max Gladstone are both award-winning novelists in the science fiction genre. El-Motar has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards with her short stories while Gladstone has been a finalist for the Hugo awards for best novel. Together they have written an intriguing work that awakens emotions in the reader; a hope that there is a place somewhere for these two enemies to find love. The writing is luminous and lush and the reader wonders how the work was divided. Did one author write Blue and the other Red or did they collaborate on each section? However it was done, this is a masterful work that will be remembered long after the last page is read and is recommended for readers of science fiction.

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Before time travel agent Red finds the first letter from rival Blue on the battlefield, she thinks there is only one way to win the time war: her side’s way, barreling through time and ruthlessly cutting strands as needed. Similarly, before This Is How You Lose the Time War, Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar’s new epistolary science fiction novella, the time travel love story had become stuck in an outdated formula that too often left one lover at a disadvantage. But, as Red and Blue leave one another love notes on infinite battlefields, they remix a time-crossed love story into a wholly new take that elevates the subgenre.

What had become the archetypal time travel love story came to a head in 2013. Following the release of time travel rom-com About Time, a spate of articles highlighted how actress Rachel McAdams had completed the odd hat-trick of playing the time traveler’s girlfriend/wife without ever getting the chance to travel herself. Taken separately, each of the three examples is amusing, but together it’s a worrisome pattern.

In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Eric Bana gets yanked into the past or future at inopportune moments, and McAdams waits for him to return to her present. Owen Wilson hops into a vintage car to the past every Midnight in Paris, and McAdams ditches him for their modern hotel room. About Time sees Domhnall Gleeson pressing the redo button on his past interactions with McAdams, perfecting the bad moments and reliving the good ones, as she proceeds through each interaction without the same benefit of hindsight.

While the latter two examples are original films, they were no doubt influenced by the first, a 2009 adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel about chronologically-impaired librarian Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire, his artist wife. With its twisty timelines, in which each of the lovers knows more than the other about their relationship depending on the time of their interaction, and its bittersweet ending, Niffenegger’s book remains one of the best time travel love stories. Unfortunately, it’s also part of a larger trend, in which this type of romance plays out along very gendered and heteronormative lines: the man travels, and the woman waits for him.

Interestingly, neither Red nor Blue’s gender is mentioned in the marketing materials, yet ever since this book was announced, I was somehow convinced they were male and female—a glaring assumption that I can’t really justify beyond the fact that the co-authors are male and female. Most likely, it was just the way I’d been trained to read the dynamics of a time travel romance on the gender binary (see most epistolary time travel stories).

Red and Blue both use she/her pronouns, but neither fits the heteronormative mold of femininity. Broad-shouldered and brutal, Red is a marvel of machinery, with the ability to adjust bodily components to match the mission parameters. Sometimes that means passing as male in Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire, other times it’s determining whatever shield will provide the greatest brute strength in battle.

Red’s constant self-modifications bring to mind Paladin, the robot protagonist in Annalee Newitz’s Autonomous, who changes their pronouns from he to she over the course of the novel. Like Red, Paladin’s hulking size leads others to assign masculine qualities to her, despite the fact that in her world bots have no designated gender. But when her human lover Eliasz seeks to call her by female pronouns, in order to combat his own internalized homophobia, Paladin recognizes this request as “the first time he’d been given a choice about something that might change his life”—the first step toward autonomy.

As creatures who are part biology and mechanics, Paladin and Red are able to value their gender identity as an expression of their freedom to move through their respective worlds unconstrained by binary gender norms.

By contrast, Blue favors disguises; a consummate spy, she dons silks to lay down a honeypot or slaps on a chrome mask and typewriter keys to infiltrate a cyberpunk future in which, ironically, Red would fit in much better. She is a femme fatale and a wife, depending on which persona the mission requires. Each time agent performs gender in a dozen different ways throughout the story, depending on where in the time braid they find themselves.

The more that Blue and Red appear in different forms, the less their gender actually matters to the story. As “she” applies to dozens of different time agents, its usage begins to feel universal, like in Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. In the Imperial Radch, the author explained on her blog, there are neither gendered pronouns nor much of an emphasis on gender; so, something translated out of Radchaai defaults to she/her.

Posing herself the hypothetical question of what a particular character’s gender is, Leckie writes: “I probably don’t know. Because it didn’t matter to the story and because of the pronoun choice I’d made, I didn’t have to figure it out.” For Red and Blue, gender is just another layer, another tool in her respective arsenal rather than something wholly identifying.

What has made the time travel romance formulaic, it turns out, is not entirely rooted in gender. Since 1991, Diana Gabaldon has been subverting time travel tropes in her Outlander books, which includes reversing the traditional gender dynamics of the series’ core romance. Her traveler, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, is a woman who passes back and forth between the 1900s and 1700s, while her highlander lover, Jamie Fraser, patiently moves through his own linear lifetime until she reappears—in one case, a full twenty years after the last time he lays eyes on her.

Jamie experiences what feels like a whole other lifetime in those two decades: full of war, a stint in jail, fathering a child and taking on more than one new identity. Yet when the Claire who left Jamie as a pregnant nurse two decades prior returns as a doctor and mother of their now twenty-year-old child, Jamie the soldier-turned-printer is ready to carve out room for her in his new life. In this case, Jamie is the one who waits for his time traveling love to return.

However, Jamie and Claire’s romance is still a heterosexual love story anchored in—and here’s the kicker—one party being active and the other passive. In most cases, that dynamic is gendered to the woman’s disadvantage: Time Travelers’ Wife’s Clare makes art and raises a child and hopes that she’ll get as much time as possible with Henry. When he gets pulled out of time on their wedding day, she instead marries his older self who steps in; she has no choice but to go with the flow.

In most cases, later in life, she doesn’t even know when she’ll encounter him again; she can only count on the notion that he has dropped in and out of her future as he did her past, his visits like little surprises (or love notes). Not possessing the Chrono-Impairment gene, the closest Clare comes to taking the reins of time travel is to, after Henry gets a vasectomy following several miscarriages of time-traveling fetuses, convince a younger version of her husband to try to conceive one more time.

Henry and Clare’s dynamic inspired former Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat to write the episode “The Girl in the Fireplace,” in which Madame de Pompadour herself waits on the Doctor for her entire lifetime. Yes, “waiting,” in this case, means that Reinette still becomes the king’s mistress and enjoys all manner of parties and acclaim in the meantime, but she is always glancing toward the mantel, hoping for another cameo from her “Fireplace Man.”

While mere minutes pass for the Doctor, flitting from room to room on a ship in the 51st century, months and years pass for Reinette, her heartstrings tied up in girlish hopes. Despite being intelligent enough to understand companion Rose’s explanation of time travel and sensitive enough to read the Doctor’s mind, when granted the opportunity to become a time traveler herself, a young Reinette falters: crossing over onto the ship and hearing her own anguished screams at age 37, attacked by clockwork androids, she elects to take the “slower path” and live in linear time.

By the time she reaches 37, survives the android attack, and is finally ready to join the Doctor, he makes the mistake of stepping back onto the ship for a moment… and when he returns, Reinette is dead, having succumbed to tuberculosis. In a letter she leaves for her “lonely angel,” she begs him to hurry back, despite the fact that she must have known he would never reach her in time.

Neither Blue nor Red ever has to choose the slower path, instead darting upbraid and downbraid, following one another’s tracks, each time greeted by a taunting (later, tender) letter in lieu of the other’s physical presence. The closest either comes to a linear life are the missions in which Blue, in accordance to the Garden that grew her, embeds herself into missions that require her to live out an entire lifetime—sometimes even married—in order to plait the strands of time just so through her interactions with a partner and/or child. Red’s Agency treats its officers less as individual sprouts and more as points in a massive cloud, aware of their quasi-siblings as if they were supporting characters in one another’s dreams. In this way, as well as on her missions, Red too goes through countless lives in the scope of her career.

In response to those 2013 thinkpieces, author Charles Stross put forth his own consideration for why women were less likely to be travelers: if one treats time travel like any other form of tourism, historically, the fairer sex is more vulnerable when traveling alone in unfamiliar locales. Especially when it’s the far past, as Claire Fraser can grimly attest to after multiple instances of being labeled a witch—not to mention narrowly escaping countless attempted sexual assaults. Even poor Kivrin, the historian traveler in Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book, who prepares as well as she can to travel to the Middle Ages, is immediately labeled as an escaped nun; that’s the only period-accurate explanation for her knowledge and skill set.

Red and Blue are not tourists. They are professionals. Neither waits on the other for guidance or answers. They seek each other out, yes, lay playful traps, and spend generations cultivating missives in pieces of nature. But they do so as equals. Despite radically different upbringings and ingrained outlooks on what is the correct timeline, neither is subordinate or dependant in the relationship. They perform gender, and time travel, in as many different ways as the infinite iterations of blue that Red glimpses in the world, and the countless shades of red that Blue documents and treasures.

Henry and Clare, and Claire and Jamie, are part of the kinds of time travel love stories that establish the canon upon which all others are built. Red and Blue’s correspondence, preserved in this charming and incisive novella, explode those binaries into a color spectrum so vast that the eye is constantly discovering new shades the closer it gazes and the longer it looks.

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This book was a lot to take in. It was clearly written by two talented writers with a flair for dramatic and enthusiastic metaphors. The love story ended up somewhat satisfyingly, but the "why" of how their love came to be wasn't clear to me. I didn't know why they fell in love. I simply didn't get it. Also, with all of the technology at the snap of the protagonists' fingers - when they talk about being a wolf, you never know if they mean literally or figuratively. Ultimately, I was glad the way they tied up the ending, but it took way too much of my time and confusion to get there. Unfortunately not my cup of tea.

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The hype is real. This book is serious, clever fun. I suppose there can be a worry when two authors, so good in their own right, come together; the matchup seems too good to be true so one wonders if the thing will "work." And this one DID! Excellent stuff.

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I loved this novella. It's gorgeous and strange and fascinating all rolled into one. It's something you want to sit down and read all in one sitting, while at the same time pausing to linger over certain moments. It's hard to put this story into the words it really needs, so I'll just say if you're curious check it out.

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I just didn't enjoy the format of this book. or maybe it was the jumpy storyline. I liked the concept of it so maybe it would be better on audio with multiple narrators.

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'This Is How You Lose the Time War' by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is a novella about time travel, a war, and a forbidden relationship.

Two agents, known only as Blue and Red, are opposing agents in a war. They spend their time travelling through time and trying to rewrite history to the detriment of the other side. A strange correspondence starts between the two agents, taunting at first, then flattering, then more. The danger of talking to the other side is ever present, so the notes are left in unusual methods.

The story is a character study about the evolving relationship between two people. As such, I loved the sly bantering between these two characters. There are inside references and lots of wry wit for those who look carefully.

I received a review copy of this ebook from Saga Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for allowing me to review this ebook.

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This book really is just exquisitely written; it's the sort of book that let's you uncover new layers with every reread.

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I originally DNF'd this book about a third of the way in, but came back to finish it because I hate DNFing. El-Mohtar and Gladstone are, undoubtedly, exceptional writers. The language in these letters is nothing short of poetry. But I really struggled to follow the writing for the first half, the beautiful writing was at times in disservice to the story. Clearly this book has been well-received by many, so I'm chalking most of it up to personal taste that this one just wasn't for me. I really, really loved the last third, and I'm very glad I came back to finish it!

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this book was beautiful. and complicated. and simple. it was poetry in novel form. it was art and destruction. it was nothing i expected and everything i needed. if i hadn’t been so busy with work i would have read it a lot faster but i enjoyed the slow burn.

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I had something of a mixed response to the first half of This is How You Lose the Time War. The plot of this epistolary novella concerns two agents (Red and Blue) belonging to rival organizations, fighting the titular time war while leaving messages behind for each other to find. Over the course of their correspondence, they fall in love. My initial problem was that I wasn’t entirely convinced by the transition from snarking enemies to starstruck lovers, which I felt was a little too abrupt. Additionally, there are scant details given about the background conflict that drives the story, or what the two protagonists’ overall goals might be if not for their budding romance. This makes sense from a structural standpoint: the story is only told from Red’s and Blue’s perspectives, and they have little reason to explain to one another what’s going on. But however intriguing a story’s world-building is, vague hints and cryptic asides can get a frustrating if that’s all you’re getting 20,000 words in. Thankfully, Time War is authored by two of the more accomplished wordsmiths in genre fiction, and that was enough to carry this reader through to the sterling second half, a thrilling, suspenseful and gloriously self-aware remix of Romeo and Juliet, with a climax as thrilling and surprising as any you will find in science fiction. It is also an ending that promises more to come, hopefully with a deeper dive into what makes this Time War tick.

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This is a delightfully weird and wild, very creative book that often left me confused but in a very good way. I love books that me leaping through time, and the characters were so wonderful. The form was brilliant. I love this book.

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This one is short, lyrical, and packs a huge punch. It took me a minute to get immersed in the timeline shenanigans between warring factions The Agency and The Garden, but once I was in I was ALL IN. The story is told mostly in letters between two killer agents/assassins, Red and Blue, with some plot framework surrounding each exchange. I loved the rich language and fast pace. This would be a fun book club selection.

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I have a lot of feelings about this book. I loved it, but that doesn't seem like an adequate descriptor. And I can see how people either LOVED it or not at all. It's not an easy book despite being relatively short, because it is DENSE. It's packed with description and detail. The writing is gorgeous, as one would expect from El-Mohtar & Gladstone but more than that it's *alive.*

Basically it's the story of two rival time-travelers, Red & Blue, who work for opposing factions of mysterious entities that control timestreams of a multitude of universes. They communicate through letters left at the sites of their "jobs." But that doesn't really summarize the plot anymore than it's perhaps possible to describe it, because it's really not about that.

It's clever and beautiful and romantic. The authors play with words brilliantly and sprinkle breadcrumbs throughout, but every time you think you know what's going on you're probably wrong. I find that invigorating; some readers might find it frustrating. It's hard science fiction, it's romance, it's post-human, it's very very human. I don't recommend this book to everyone but the people I do recommend it to are people who will love it.

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