This Is How You Lose the Time War

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This Is How You Lose the Time War
This Is How You Lose the Time War.jpg
AuthorAmal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Audio read byCynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller
PublisherSimon & Schuster

This Is How You Lose the Time War is a 2019 science fiction epistolary novel by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. It was first published by Simon and Schuster. It won the BSFA Award for Best Shorter Fiction, the Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2019[1][2] and the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella.[3]


As agents Red and Blue travel back and forth through time, altering the history of multiple universes on behalf of their warring empires, they leave each other secret messages—at first taunting, but gradually developing into flirtation and then love. When Red's commanding officer detects the interaction between Red and Blue, she forces Red to send Blue a message that will kill Blue when it is read. After Blue is killed, Red time-travels to Blue's childhood to give her immunity to the poisoned message, allowing her to survive.


Publishers Weekly called This Is How You Lose the Time War "exquisitely crafted" and "dazzling", with "increasingly intricate wordplay", and stated that it "warrants multiple readings".[4] National Public Radio's Jason Sheehan compared it to The Lake House (if one "strapped [The Lake House] 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"), and said that the book makes a virtue of what he felt to be the characteristic weaknesses of both the time travel genre and the epistolary format.[5]

Cheryl Morgan argued that its central message — "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" — is one "that the world needs to hear".[6]'s Lee Mandelo considered the book to have "a poetic internal structure", with prose that is "sharp, almost crisp" rather than "lush", and a "focus (...) on the personal as opposed to the global"; Mandelo also observed that it "has an argument to make—several, actually—about conflict, love, and resistance", and treats the time war as "an object lesson, a conceit, the unending and reason-less conflict that consumes generations, centuries, now and forever."[7] Den of Geek's Natalie Zutter praised the novel's approach to gender identity: Red and Blue "both use she/her pronouns, but neither fits the heteronormative mold of femininity", with each "perform(ing) gender in a dozen different ways", such that "(t)he more that (they) appear in different forms, the less their gender actually matters."[8]

At Strange Horizons, Adri Joy noted that "the Time War itself (...) is largely incomprehensible beyond its most basic points", faulting the novel for its paucity of "direct tension" and lack of "coherent picture", and for its "poetic obfuscation" which was "hard to understand" and not "relevant to the story being told here"; however, Joy nonetheless lauded the novel as "an absolute emotional masterpiece, sending readers on a gut-wrenching feelings rollercoaster of the highest calibre."[9] Black Gate found it to be neither "a riddle to parse" nor "a tangled, hard sci-fi puzzle-box of time travel to unravel", with its final revelation being "fairly obvious from the first chapter", but emphasized that the revelation in question was nonetheless "quite emotionally fulfilling", ultimately concluding that "it's fun to watch goddesses fall in love (...) and Blue and Red feel very much human."[10]


This Is How You Lose the Time War won the BSFA Award for Best Shorter Fiction, the Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2019,[1] the 2020 Locus Award for Best Novella,[11] the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella,[3] the 2020 Prix Aurora Award for short fiction,[12] and was a finalist for the 2019 Shirley Jackson Award in the Novella category.[13] Additionally, it was a finalist for the inaugural Ray Bradbury Award for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Speculative Fiction at the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes;[14] and for the 2019 Kitschies in the Novel category.[15]


Red's letters were written entirely by Gladstone, and Blue's by El-Mohtar; although they wrote a general outline beforehand, "the reactions of each character were developed with a genuine element of surprise on receiving each letter, and the scenes accompanying [the letters] were written using that emotional response".[9]


El-Mohtar announced in 2019 that the book has been optioned for television, with scripts to be written by herself and Gladstone; she also specified that the genders of the characters "are not up for negotiation".[6]


  1. ^ a b 2019 Nebula Award Finalists Announced, at Science Fiction Writers of America, published February 20, 2020; retrieved February 20, 2020
  2. ^ Liptak, Andrew (2020-05-30). "Announcing the 2019 Nebula Awards Winners!". Retrieved 2020-05-31.
  3. ^ a b 2020 Hugo Awards Announced, at The Hugo Awards; retrieved August 1, 2020
  4. ^ This Is How You Lose the Time War, reviewed at Publishers Weekly; published March 14, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  5. ^ Letters Serve To Bond Time-Traveling Rivals In 'This Is How You Lose The Time War', by Jason Sheehan, at National Public Radio; published July 18, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  6. ^ a b This is How You Lose the Time War, by Cheryl Morgan, at; retrieved October 27, 2019
  7. ^ To Encourage Reach Exceeding Grasp: This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, by Lee Mandelo, at; published July 16, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  8. ^ This Is How You Lose the Time War Solves the Time Traveler’s Wife Problem, by Natalie Zutter, at Den of Geek; published July 15, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  9. ^ a b THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR BY MAX GLADSTONE AND AMAL EL-MOHTAR, reviewed by Adri Joy, at Strange Horizons; published September 9, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  10. ^ This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone, reviewed by Steve Case, at Black Gate; published July 14, 2019; retrieved October 27, 2019
  11. ^ "2020 Locus Award Winners". Retrieved 2020-07-02.
  12. ^ 2020 Aurora Awards, at File 770; by Mike Glyer; published August 15, 2020; retrieved August 15, 2020
  13. ^ "Nominees Announced for the 2019 Shirley Jackson Awards". Retrieved April 28, 2022.
  14. ^ "2019 Book Prize Winners & Finalists". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-06-09.
  15. ^ "2019 Kitschies Shortlists". Locus. Retrieved 2020-06-09.

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