This Is How You Lose the Time War: Great blend of style, structure, and imagination

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsThis Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviews

 

To: Reviewer

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are coming out with a new book — This Is How You Lose the Time War — and I was wondering when you would finally get around to reviewing it.

Reader


To: Reader

Contrary to what you apparently think, we reviewers don’t get the pages as the writers compose them. Plus, we do have lives. That said, I’d already requested an early copy because Gladstone’s CRAFT sequence is so damn good, and I’ve read nothing but praise about El-Mohtar’s work. So it’s in my TBR pile. Review to come.

Busily,
Reviewer


 

Reviewer:

“Review to come”? Gee, can you vague that up for me? It’s a novella; how long can it take to read?

Impatiently,
Reader

Amal El-Mohtar

Amal El-Mohtar


Reader:

Turns out not that long at all. In fact, I read it twice it was so good. Writing the review now.

Reviewer

P.S. Nice Buffy reference


Reviewer:

Here’s hoping it’s not one of those self-indulgent “in the style of the book” reviews. I hate those.

Fearfully,
Reader


Reader:

Sucks to be you then.

Self-indulgently,

Max Gladstone

Max Gladstone

Reviewer


Reviewer:

If only your reviews aimed for the brevity of your last reply.

Resignedly,
Reader


Dear Reader:

OK, I confess, your last response made me laugh so loudly I scared my cat. You’re not the first to comment on my tendency to wordiness, but few have done it so smartly. By the way, did you know This is How You Lose the Time War was an epistolary novella? Kind of funny if you think about it. Anyway, here’s a, ahem, “brief” summary to tide you over.

The war is between the Garden (ecological, organic, bio-engineered group mind society) and the Agency (technologically based, cybernetic enhanced, disembodied, networked society), or as one character puts it: “My viney-hivey elfworld versus your techy-mechy dystopia.” Each sends agents through alternate time “threads” to manipulate events so as to dominate the future across all threads. The best Agency agent is “Red,” the best Garden one “Blue.” The two begin as adversaries, but through a series of viney-hivey, techy-mechy, and timey-wimey communiques (via wildly creative media such as tree rings, lava flows, tea leaves, and even more ingenious ones), they at first taunt each other, then learn more about each other, then eventually fall in love.

Concisely,
Reviewer


Dear Reviewer,

Thanks for the summary. So it’s basically Romeo and Juliet if Romeo were a cyborg and Juliet a grown-in-a-vat eco-clone? Huh. So is it poetically tragic? Or tragically poetic?

Even more intrigued,
Reviewer

P.S. I saw what you did with the Dr. Who allusion


Dear Reader,

There’s actually a winking reference to Romeo and Juliet in the book, so not a bad comparison. And it is in fact quite poetic. These are clearly two authors in love with words, with language and all it can do. For such a short text, it’s dense with allusion, puns, imagery, metaphor and simile. Here is Blue, for instance, writing to Red: “I wick the longing into thread, pass it through your needle eye, and sew it into hiding somewhere beneath my skin, embroider my next letter to you one stitch at a time.” And here is Red writing back: “Do you laugh, sea foam? Do you smile, ice, and observe your triumph with an angel’s remove? Sapphire-flamed phoenix, risen, do you command me once again to look upon your works and despair?” Nice, huh?

As for whether or not it’s tragic, well, no spoilers here. I will say it’s sharply poignant and moving in places, particularly in its latter sections.

P.S. Nice catch on the timey-wimey reference. Dr. Who. Buffy. We appear to be working from the same fan backlog.

Best,
Reviewer


Dear Reviewer,

Now you’ve got me nervous about the whole “tragic” thing, though of course I appreciate the no spoilers. Sigh. “I am to wait, though waiting so be hell.” I’m jealous of your early access to books! I did like those examples (“wick the longing” is especially good), but I confess I’m also a little anxious. Is the entire novella like that? I like an elevated style as much as the next person, but I need a story too. Or characters to care about.

Hoping for two out of three,
Reader


Dear Reader,

Let me immediately assuage your fears. This is not one of those gorgeously written works that you can admire but maybe not enjoy. First, the entire novella isn’t written in that same poetic style I quoted; instead, the language starts out “prose-y” and becomes more lyrical as the story progresses in a nice mirror of the emotional progression. Secondly, there is absolutely a story arc here; meticulously, cleverly plotted and marked by several twists, though one I thought was telegraphed surprisingly early and directly (honestly, so much so I’m not sure it was meant to be a big twist). That said, those looking for a war story (not unreasonable given the title) or space opera should look elsewhere. The war is always present, but it’s more impressionistic backdrop than narrative focus (though the attacks and counter-attacks, brief as the descriptions are of them, are wonderfully evocative). As for the characters, they both change and open up throughout the story — to each other and to the reader — such that you’ll care about them singly and with regard to their relationship to each other. So no fears, you get all three — style, story, and character.

Patience, tame to sufferance.

Your vassal,
Reviewer

P.S. The review should be up in a few days. But since you prefer brevity, the least I can do for a fellow BuffyDoctor Who-Shakespeare fan is offer up a short version: This is How You Lose the Time War is a precisely plotted, densely lyrical and wonderfully imaginative science fiction romance whose riches are both stylistic and emotional. You should read it.


Dear Reviewer,

Thanks for the minimalist review (I know how hard that must have been for you), but I admit — though I will deny ever saying this — comparing that to what you wrote in your emails, I think I’ll actually prefer the wordy version. So write away my friend. Write away…

Eagerly awaiting,
Reader

P.S. Nice volley back on the Shakespeare.


Dear Reader,

The review is up. I’m curious as to what you think. Also, I’ve realized that the “minimalist review” is not in fact the “least I could do.” Do you know anyone, cough cough, who might be interested in a slightly-used, read-only-once advance copy of This is How You Lose the Time War two weeks before it’s released to the public? Because I know someone who has a copy they’re willing to send out …

Your friend,
Reviewer


Dear Reviewer,

I think I love you!

Published in July 2019. Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future. Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right? Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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2 comments

  1. Sandy Ferber /

    Dear Reviewer: I’m LOLing!

  2. Marion /

    … and now I really want to read the novella too.

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