Books·Canadian

This Is How You Lose the Time War

In this romantic novel by award winning sci-fi authors Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, two time-traveling agents from warring futures begin to exchange letters —and fall in love.

Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. 

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There's still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That's how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space. (From Gallery/Saga Press)

Amal El-Mohtar is an award-winning author, editor and critic. Her short story Seasons of Glass and Iron won Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards.

Max Gladstone is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence. 

From the book

Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.

That was fun, she thinks, but the thought sours in the framing. It was clean, at least. Climb up time's threads into the past and make sure no one survives this battle to muddle the futures her Agency's arranged—the futures in which her Agency rules, in which Red herself is possible. She's come to knot this strand of history and sear it until it melts.

She holds a corpse that was once a man, her hands gloved in its guts, her fingers clutching its alloy spine. She lets go, and the exoskeleton clatters against rock. Crude technology. Ancient. Bronze to depleted uranium. He never had a chance. That is the point of Red.

After a mission comes a grand and final silence. Her weapons and armor fold into her like roses at dusk. Once flaps of pseudoskin settle and heal and the programmable matter of her clothing knits back together, Red looks, again, something like a woman.

She paces the battlefield, seeking, making sure.

She has won, yes, she has won. She is certain she has won. Hasn't she?


From This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone. ©2019. Published by  Gallery/Saga Press.

How Amal El-Mohtar wrote This is How You Lose the Time War

"We observed that there was a kind of time travel inherent in letters. When you write someone a physical letter, you're inventing a future self for the person you're addressing it to. By the time that letter has been delivered, that person is going to receive something from your past self. We wanted to play with that in terms of having time travel from people on opposite sides of a time war.

It felt like we were building between us something that was more than the sum of either of our parts.- Amal El-Mohtar

"The book is divided into letters, but also the situations in which letters are received. Max wrote all of one character and I wrote all of the other character. One of us would be writing the letter and, at the same time, the other person was writing the situation in which the letter was received. We would discuss the situation [beforehand], but the letter was a total surprise both to us.

"It was like no other writing experience I've had before or sinceIt felt like we were building between us something that was more than the sum of either of our parts."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

From the book

Blood slicks her hair. She breathes out steam in the last night of this dying world.

That was fun, she thinks, but the thought sours in the framing. It was clean, at least. Climb up time's threads into the past and make sure no one survives this battle to muddle the futures her Agency's arranged—the futures in which her Agency rules, in which Red herself is possible. She's come to knot this strand of history and sear it until it melts.

She holds a corpse that was once a man, her hands gloved in its guts, her fingers clutching its alloy spine. She lets go, and the exoskeleton clatters against rock. Crude technology. Ancient. Bronze to depleted uranium. He never had a chance. That is the point of Red.

After a mission comes a grand and final silence. Her weapons and armor fold into her like roses at dusk. Once flaps of pseudoskin settle and heal and the programmable matter of her clothing knits back together, Red looks, again, something like a woman.

She paces the battlefield, seeking, making sure.

She has won, yes, she has won. She is certain she has won. Hasn't she?


From This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone ©2019. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Interviews with Amal El-Mohtar

Just some of my conversation with writer Amal El-Mohtar, last night at the National Arts Centre. 14:23
El-Mohtar reads from her poem 'Song for an Ancient City'. 1:44

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