This is How You Lose the Time War

A bundle of love letters – an extended prose poem – an amazing maze of silly alliteration and elusive allusions – a prize-winning SF novella ...

"This Is How You Lose the Time War" by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone is beautiful and fascinating and all of those. From a review by Jason Sheehan:

But what if someone wrote a time-travel story that made the uncoupling and haywire craziness the entire point? And what if you could ground all that crazy in the simple, pure yearning of two lovers separated by the streams of space and time, passing letters to each other across the chaos?

Well, you'd have The Lake House, of course. But if you took that sappy story of unrequited love, Keanu Reeves and a time-traveling mailbox, strapped it up in body armor, covered it with razors, dipped it in poison and set it loose to murder and burn its way across worlds and centuries, what you'd end up with is This Is How You Lose The Time War, the experimental, collaborative, time-travelling love-and-genocide novel by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

And more succinctly, "... it's fun to watch goddesses fall in love ..." as Stephen Case says. Likewise it's fun to hear echoes of classic science-fiction* harmonize with modern spacetime physics speculation. A sample snippet from the center of the story, a fragment of a note from Red to Blue:

... You have me watching birds, and though I don't know their names like you know them, I have seen small bright singers puff before the trill. That's how I feel. I sing myself out to you, and my talons clutch the branch and I am wrung out until your next letter gives me breath, fills me to bursting.

I miss you in the field. I miss defeat. I miss the chase, the fury. I miss victories well earned. Your fellows have their intrigues and their passions, and now and again a clever play, but there's none so intricate, so careful, so assured. You've whetted me like a stone. I feel almost invincible in our battles' wake, a kind of Achilles, fleet footed and light of touch. Only in this nonexistent place our letters weave do I feel weak.

How I love to have no armor here. ...

... and so much more – paradoxical wordplay-foreplay, simple similies and subtle suggestions, human humor and cosmic caring – that grows into a long short story worth rereading and savoring.

(*e.g., "The Seesaw" from A. E. van Vogt's The Weapon Shops of Isher) - ^z - 2022-01-04