I picked up This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone when I saw it on Goodreads Choice Awards – Best Science Fiction of 2019 list and after reading it, I’m not surprised it was there.
The book follows two rival agents, each representing a future world. Red represents The Agency, a tech savvy world of cybernetics and cloud based consciousness. Blue hails from Garden, a world where biological engineering is at the forefront and people are grown from pods. These rivals have been warring with each other through time, creating butterfly effects that ripple through “strands” of time in an attempt to make their future the only future.
The two start out as vicious, if playful enemies, each seeking to undermine the other’s work and constantly looking for an opportunity to kill each other, but things start to change when Blue leaves a letter for Red to find.
The two become what may be the most creative and antagonistic pen-pals of all time (pun intended.) They compete with each other, brag to each other and in time, they come to develop an understanding of one another.
I don’t have any criticisms of this book. The characters are interesting and the descriptions are written with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever seen in the genre.
I’m going to warn some of you though that it isn’t for everyone.
It isn’t structured like a conventional novel. It alternates between vividly descriptive vignettes recounting how each of the agents finds each other’s letters and then the letters themselves. This is a brilliant way to showcase all of the worlds and times that Red and Blue visit, painting a new setting and mission with each chapter, allowing us to watch their relationship slowly build through their words to each other.
There is very little dialogue and the story moves slowly.
If that turns you off than nothing I can say will make you like this book.
If not then you should definitely give it a try. A story like this sticks with you.
With each chapter, the authors paint a new setting. Intergalactic wars, natural disasters, bourgeoisie tea shops and arctic excavations. Each place and time feels like a glimpse between different worlds, while the growing relationship between the two characters is the only constant that holds it all together.
It’s a story about learning to love and understand people who were raised with different backgrounds and different philosophies. It’s about questioning the status quo and challenging moral absolutism.
I think that’s a message we can always use more of.
You can buy This is How You Lose the Time War here:
Thanks for reading,