This is How You Lose the Time War: A ReviewNov 23, 2020 Buy me a coffee
Cover Image from the book’s cover, by publisher Gallery / Saga Press.
I don’t know what I was expecting when I put in a hold request for this book at the library, but it was certainly nothing like what I actually read. Let me see if I can find a way of describing it.
This is not a story. Or, at least, it is not a story if you take “story” to mean “the book equivalent of someone sitting you down and telling you what happened.” If you try to read this book like that, you very quickly become bogged down in details that seem fleeting, incongruous, and nonsensical.
“Wait,” you say. “Hang on, now. No, go back. What was that you were saying about a battle in space above a planet? You moved on so quickly to describing other things, but you didn’t really tell me what’s going on with the space battle! Who is fighting? Which side are we on? Are they humanoid? Cyborgs? You’re not using humanoid-y words! Gah!”
What you need to accept, and rather quickly, is that it doesn’t really matter. This book is not really about the Time War.
“But,” you counter, “it’s a book about time travel, yes? How does the time travel work? What are the mechanics? How do they keep from wrecking the space-time-continuum and killing their past selves? And, also, I feel like some of these ‘locations in history’ aren’t real.”
You need to just stop, breathe for a moment, and let go. It’s not that kind of story.
This kind of story is more of an immersive experience. Read the words, refer to your dictionary as needed (yes, I needed it double-digits numbers of times), and just allow the words to flow past you. Let their meanings, their connotations, and the emotions in them brush over you, experience them, and build that stream of experiences into a kind of story in your mind as it unfolds.
Are there some incredible, awe-inspiring locations in the book? Heck yes there are. Will you get full detailed descriptions of them? No you will not. You’ll get a description of what the main characters are doing within these time-place-possibilities with a discussion of what’s happening around them as if you’re already quite familiar with that world. And you have to be willing to just suck it up and let that be enough for you.
The story is not about places, times, or settings. It’s about the people. It’s not really even about the people in the sense that you never really have a good idea of what very many of the characters look like, or what their general physiology is like. Every so often, you find out that one of them has wings or something, but only for the moment.
But, if you’re willing to gloss past the details and accept what the authors give you, you’ll also receive glimpses of beautiful, awe-inspiring universes of wonder.
This book has such an incredible density of jaw-droppingly gorgeous and clever word choice. It’s actually infuriating. At the beginning, I highlighted things that I thought were particularly neat. And then, like every page started to become a flood of highlighter ink, so I had to stop.
There’s a scene where one of the operatives clacks together typewriter keys “A,” “C,” “G,” and “T” (letters commonly used to describe nucleotides in DNA) to form an auditory sequence that hacks the neural network of an advanced technological civilization when they hear it as a group, causing an entire crowd to collapse. I just set the book down and sat there for a solid minute and a half. There’s just something so poetic about that particular series of connected ideas. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it too hard, but, darn if it doesn’t seem “right.”
And that’s the best way I can describe this book.
That example makes up maybe 1% of the different scenes in this combination of 3rd person story and letters written back and forth, but the feel is consistent throughout the book. Just trust me on this. Shut up and read. Don’t wreck it by thinking about it. Experience it, marvel at it, enjoy it, and keep reading onward. I promise, by the end, you’ll feel like you got a good solid story out of it, complete with build up, climax, and resolution. You just won’t realize that that’s what’s happening until almost the end.
And it’s well worth it.