• The Good: Poetic love-letters between two star-crossed post-human lovers
  • The Bad: Artsy and vague, and can be confusing at times
  • The Literary: In addition to the nice prose, there are lots of literary easter eggs sprinkled throughout

The two agencies Commandant and Garden are locked in the final war across all known timelines. Their best cyborg spy agents, Red and Blue, travel through time in multiple universes, killing someone, changing the course of a battle, or simply planting ideas, all to change the the future and give an advantage to their faction. Red finds a letter from Blue in the ashes of a dying world, a taunt, declaring the superiority of the other team. Their ensuing exchange is suspicious, turns empathetic, then intimate.

Where has epistolary hard scifi romance been all my life? This Is How You Lose the Time War is a time travel adventure in a future of altered human war machines, two of whom write lush love letters to one another, but most of all, it’s a literary genre fiction gem with lyrical and poetic prose. It feels like an experimental project novella that really paid off, as it doesn’t follow traditional narrative storytelling with linearity, or, say, a plot.

You’ll recognize the book’s scifi time travel elements, but it doesn’t get caught up in familiar timeline manipulation tropes. The timey-wimey rules of multi-verses are just too complex. The warring factions also feel familiar. Garden, the organic-based empire grows people, cultivates and prunes the past slowly and subtly. Commandant, the mechanical technology-based establishment, is curt and callous in its views of time alteration. Both sides are violent and cruel.

But what really blows my mind is the form of the letters themselves. If their secret correspondence is discovered, each agent risks being destroyed as a traitor. They write to each other by way of the flying pattern of a bee, the decaying corpse of a fish, the ingested poison in a cup of tea, or the slight alteration of a painting, at any point in time in any number of universes. It’s a very sensory experience.

Highly recommended for fans of flowery intricate prose in their scifi romances!

“Hunger, Red—to sate a hunger or to stoke it, to feel hunger as a furnace, to trace its edges like teeth—is this a thing you, singly, know? Have you ever had a hunger that whetted itself on what you fed it, sharpened so keen and bright that it might split you open, break a new thing out? Sometimes I think that’s what I have instead of friends.”