Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone are joining us today to talk about their novella This Is How You Lose the Time War. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal El-Mohtar and 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.
What are Amal and Max’s favorite part?
AMAL EL-MOHTAR AND MAX GLADSTONE
My favourite bit of this novella—besides remembering its creation, the moments where our eyes met in mingled shock and grief at what we were doing to these characters, and how well we were doing it—is the point of no return.
This actually happens multiple times. One would think a time travel story to be built of infinite points of return, the ability to cross strands of time like lines of Regency letters—but in such a story, the points of divergence, of commitment, of irreversible impact are the ones that stay with me the most, and that I most enjoyed writing.
I’ll single out three from my own writing, because to attempt to single out favourites of yours is literally just to unspool the story from start to finish. I shall describe them as cards in a tarot spread, in order not to spoil anything for readers still discovering the book, confident that you’ll recognize them instantly.
Here they are: the wolf; the bee; the berried thorn.
Those are my favourite bits.
What are yours?
PS: if divinatory obfuscation isn’t to your taste, please, do not feel limited by my choices! “Apophenic as a haruspex” is, after all, one of my many favourite bits of yours!
I love that you single out points of no return. Before I received your letter I’d planned my sole contribution to be your line, in Blue’s voice: “Tell me something true, or tell me nothing at all.” For me, our early draft up until that point had been an exuberance of play—dancing from strand to strand, enjoying the taunts and the grand concepts and above all else the speed our format permitted. But that letter of Blue’s, and that line in specific, shook me. And I think they shook Red, too. Somewhere a submarine commander shouted out: Dive, dive!
And we dove.
It came at just the right moment. We’d described a world, and I think that left to my own normal gears I would have settled myself down to particulars and complications. But we had to go deeper, out of safe and sunlit waters.
Did you know there’s a depth in the ocean beyond which the pressure will squeeze a human body until it becomes denser than the surrounding water? Past that point, you won’t float back toward the surface. You’ll fall, endlessly, to the ocean floor.
A terrifying, exhilarating thought—the moment when the pressure of character becomes destiny. But who knows what you find at the bottom?
As for favorite bits of my own writing, to match yours, I’ll stay just as e/allusive: Atlantis, surely. Do you smile, ice? And, perhaps: a simple wax seal.
Amal El-Mohtar is an award-winning author, academic, and critic. Her short story “Seasons of Glass and Iron” won a Hugo, Nebula, and Locus award and was a finalist for the World Fantasy, Sturgeon, Aurora, and Eugie Awards in the same year. She is the author of The Honey Month, a collection of poetry and prose written to the taste of twenty-eight different kinds of honey, and is the science fiction and fantasy columnist for the New York Times Book Review. Her fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in magazines such as Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Fireside Magazine, and the Rubin Museum of Art’s Spiral, as well as in anthologies such as The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories and The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. She is pursuing a PhD at Carleton University and teaches creative writing at the University of Ottawa. Visit her at amalelmohtar.com
Max Gladstone has been thrown from a horse in Mongolia and nominated for the Hugo, John W Campbell, and Lambda Awards. A narrative designer, writer, and consultant, Max is the author of the Hugo-nominated Craft Sequence (starting with THREE PARTS DEAD and most recently continuing with RUIN OF ANGELS). His short fiction has appeared on Tor.com and in Uncanny Magazine. He has written games, comics, and interactive television, and is the lead writer of the fantasy procedural series BOOKBURNERS. Max’s most recent projects are the intergalactic adventure EMPRESS OF FOREVER, and, with Amal El-Mohtar, the time travel epistolary spy-vs-spy novella THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR.