This is How You Lose the Time War

Once upon a time…

Or maybe twice, thrice. Timelines buckle and bend back on themselves twisted in the multiple dimensions of Calabi-Yau space; some of them curved so tightly that they can fit in the nucleus of a hydrogen atom, others stretching to infinity through the whole breadth of the visible universe. Running through them all, like bright shafts of laser light, are two beams: one red, and the other blue.

This is Red. She is a cyborg, a constructed creature of The Agency. At the Commandant’s command she slices through timelines, cutting and re-sewing them as required. She is the stiletto and the needle, the finest tool that the Agency has to wield.

This is Blue. She is a grown thing, like all agents of Garden. She has roots everywhere, or perhaps we should say she is a vast mycelium connecting all time and space, patiently constraining and guiding its growth towards the outcomes that Garden desires. Of all of the things that Garden has grown, she is the finest, the most subtle and accomplished.

This is the War to End all Wars, because if one side wins it will control not just the present, but the past and the future as well. The winning side will be able to recreate the past so that the loser never even existed, and never will. The stakes could not be higher.

This, then, is a song of red and blue; of left and right; of good and evil (each side good in their own eyes). It is a song of ice and fire; an irresistible force against an immovable object.

Opposites attract, and all binaries are false. But these statements can only be true if they are allowed to be. Particles might collapse into waves, but how can they when they are controlled by agencies that seek to command time itself?

This is, perhaps, a dangerous message, especially in times like these when the news media are constantly telling us that we must be either with them or against them. But it is an important message nonetheless, and one that Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone should be congratulated for writing. It is an undeniable truth that soldiers on either side of a war often have far more in common with each other than they do with the people who sit safely at home and issue orders. This is a message that the world needs to hear.

In every strand of the timeline there is a play called Romeo & Juliet. In some it is written by Shakespeare, in others by Kit Marlowe or Francis Bacon, and in one memorable one by Francis Crawford of Lymond. In some it is a comedy, and in others a tragedy. Perhaps in one it is a love story with a happy ending.

That timeline might be a novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone called This is How You Lose the Time War. Or it might not. Time is flexible, and can be re-written. The book that I read might no longer even exist. Buy it now, while you still can.

P.S. There has to be a p.s.. The book is written largely as a series of letters between Red and Blue as they foil each other’s schemes and get to know one another. They have postscripts, and therefore so must we.

P.P.S. The book has already been optioned for TV. That would normally mean little, save that Amal and Max are already writing scripts. I was a little worried about what might happen to the protagonists in the hands of a Hollywood studio, but Amal assures me that the genders of the protagonists are not up for negotiation. In a post-Killing Eve world, lesbian relationships are apparently something that studio executives are less terrified of. Someone, somewhere, has executed a neat intervention in our timeline, changing it for the better.

book cover
Title: This is How You Lose the Time War
By: Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
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