New Books Network

Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

This is How You Lose the Time War

Saga Press 2019

New Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in LiteratureNew Books in Science FictionNew Books Network August 1, 2019 Rob Wolf

For Blue and Red—arch enemies at the center of Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s epistolary novella, This is How You Lose the Time War...

For Blue and Red—arch enemies at the center of Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s epistolary novella, This is How You Lose the Time War (Saga Press, 2019)—the only thing that endures after millennia of espionage and intrigue is love.

El-Mohtar and Gladstone are themselves avid letter writers who favor fountain pens and G. Lalo stationery over pixels and Gmail. So it was only natural that when they decided to collaborate on a novella about enemies-turned-inamoratas, their tale takes the form of a correspondence.

Since Blue and Red can travel across timelines and live for eons, they compose their letters from materials that take a long time to manipulate, such as the rings of a tree, an owl pellet, lava flows, and sumac seeds.

El-Mohtar and Gladstone, on the other hand, were constrained by ordinary time and space. “He writes about four times as fast as I do. So it was it was tricky at first,” El-Mohtar says. “But then as we rounded off the first act, we started changing the pace of our respective writing. Max slowed down and I sped up. And then we were finishing at exactly the same time.”

Like the co-authors, the book’s characters also found a rhythm. Blue and Red start our as sworn enemies sent across timelines to fight on behalf of very different futures. But they find that they have more in common with each other than they do with the universes that they’ve promised to defend.

Red is “hungry for something more than what’s known,” Gladstone says. “In Blue, she finds not just someone who takes the world as seriously as she does, but someone who has the same depth of desire and focus and devotion to her chosen art, which is time war … who throws her beyond her own limits.”

“From both of their perspectives, there is a sense of alienation and insufficiency in the worlds that they come from,” El-Mohtar says. “Blue is someone who feels this constant gnawing, insatiable hunger that nothing in her world seems able to sate… until she starts being surprised by Red, this agent on the other side, who makes things hard for her.”


Rob Wolf is the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape. He worked for a decade as a journalist, and now serves as director of communications at a non-profit dedicated to justice reform. Follow him on Twitter @RobWolfBooks.