Love in the Times of the Time War
Is there a more convoluted love story than time-agents Red and Blue? If these two females fight each other the way they write letters, beware.
Spies, soldiers, rivals, opponents that are complete opposites in different and incompatible sides of a war raged across space and time, in secrecy, like their love story.
This is How You Lose the Time War (2019) by Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar was the Hugo winner for best novella. In effect, it was a winner with fans.
Gladstone wrote all of Red’s letters and El-Mohtar wrote all of Blue’s.
Love letters in my sci-fi? What is this? Avon Romance? Carina Press? Calm down. There is nothing wrong with science fiction exploring romantic relationships.
On one side, Red, secret agent of The Agency, a post-singularity dystopian world run by machinery and binary code.
Strange? Unusual? It is a time war, not a picnic.
You should meet the other war combatant.
On the other side, Blue, secret agent of The Garden, a bio-organic consciousness world of living cells.
Mechanics versus organics. Carbon-based versus silicon (sand) made microchips. Technology versus botany. See? Nothing in common.
We do not know much. We are not given many details. Each side at war for centuries, trying to eliminate each other. How many centuries? Atlantis and Genghis Khan get name-dropped.
Time travel stories are confusing by nature. The past, future and present collide, merge, intertwine, and change. Keeping track is difficult. Time travel paradoxes exist for a reason.
And love, as usual, whether in time travel or war or both, complicates everything. Messy little thing called love.
Rivals to Lovers
If you thought Agnieska and Sarkan were complicated and Gideon and Harrow were creepy, wait until you meet Red and Blue.
Rivals-to-lovers is such an overdone trope in romance fiction. However, in science fiction, rivals are more likely to become allies than lovers.
Nonetheless, we love to see two enemies fall in love, perhaps because it confirms that love can conquer all.
Except this is war, and in war, soldiers are told what to do and who to kill, no questions asked.
And who is the mysterious Seeker following our two protagonists at a distance?
Since the best stories are shaped by conflict, no wonder people respond to This is How You Lose the Time War.
This novella has all sorts of conflicts. Rivals-to-lovers is just one of them. Although I kind of wish we would get more details about the war and how does it work.
This is a time war, after all.
Two different beings from two different worlds (definitely neither one human), different sides, different goals, different biologies, with absolutely nothing in common.
In retrospect, it makes sense this is queer romance. We, gays, love impossible challenges.
Furthermore, from the way they communicate (secret “letters” wrapped in impossible to decipher codes) to the way they long from each other in secret, there is something illicit about it.
It is illicit; they belong to opposite armies.
Again, we gays know a thing or two about loving someone in secret and hiding our feelings for fear of not being accepted. No wonder we can relate to this beautiful novel.
A Case of Erotomania?
At a simple glance, Blue and Red‘s relationship seems like a case of erotomania. Is it?
Erotomania, also known as Créambault’s syndrome, refers to a delusional disorder in which people believe someone is in love with them despite all the evidence against it.
In short, you think they love you back and they don’t even know your name.
Among the most common symptoms are:
- Misidentifying expressions of love.
- Persistent efforts to make contact with the object of affection.
- A belief someone is sending secret, coded messages just for them.
- In some extreme cases, stalking.
- Freud theorized erotomania was a defense mechanism against repressed homosexual desires.
Now let’s take a look at Blue and Red.
- They stalk each other across space and time.
- They love each other despite only meeting once.
- They send coded messages to each other.
- Those messages or letters are in weird patterns like written in the patterns of a honey beehive.
- They experience same-sex feelings.
Hmmm, lesbians afraid to be discovered, leaving each other strange messages that might be interpreted as “love letters” without explicitly saying so? Indeed, the evidence points to erotomania.
Nevertheless, I will argue otherwise.
Postcards from the Time War
Red and Blue‘s love story is convoluted and the novella makes it hard to understand. In fact, you will need to reread it to make sense of the plot. Good thing is a novella and not one of those 500 plus page novels.
Ever since Blue left a note for Red, initiating communication with the other side, their relationship started. “Burn before reading…”, said her letter. It was meant to be a challenge.
Their relationship starts like a cat and mouse game between to equally competent rivals. It was a game. A way to brag, tease, and be annoying–as you would an opponent you considered your equal.
However, it turned into a romantic relationship. Again, it does not make sense. And yet, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense.
What is love? A concept, a feeling, something else?
Their letters are full of desire and longing. Ever since they crossed paths in London in one mission, and locked eyes… It was not quite love at first sight. It was more like admiration and respect.
And yet, could you fall in love with someone you do not admire? Someone you would consider below you?
I don’t think so.
They say opposites attract. However, similar complements. Blue and Red are not opposites as much as two sides of one coin.
Their love derives from being the only person that “gets” where the other one is coming from, what they feel. Being a time-war soldier or agent is not an easy job. In effect, it is quite dangerous and solitary. Their letters to each other reveal this.
Thus, they get to know and understand each other through those letters. Is it no wonder they end up falling for each other?
Therefore, it is no erotomania. It is love, real love. And the fact Seeker exists (I am not spoiling the reveal, read the book), is a confirmation their love was mutual, not a delusion.
Reader, are you a fan of This is How You Lose the Time War? Did you enjoy the love story at the center of the plot? Are you Team Red or Team Blue?