This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal el-Mohtar and Max Gladstone (Books 2020, 15)

This has won all the awards, and rightly so. Or not quite all: it’s a finalist for the Hugo novella award. At the time of writing, we don’t know whether or not it will win.

Unless I’ve travelled downthread and found out.

It’s a novella, which may be the perfect length of story, in some sense. It’s a love story across time and space and multiple parallel existences… It’s pure dead brilliant.

The actual nature of the war, of the sides, even of the protagonists, Red and Blue, is ambiguous at best. But that doesn’t matter because the writing is so exquisite.

The Wikipedia article describes it as an epistolary novel. That’s only partly true, and not just because it’s a novella. The letters are there, and are fundamental, but I feel that to be truly ‘epistolary,’ the whole story must be told in letters, and that is not the case here. But that doesn’t matter.

One minor oddity I alluded to above: The future is referred to as ‘downthread’ and the past ‘upthread.’ That seems the wrong way round to me, but maybe it reflects the fact that, normally, we can’t stop sliding down into the future.

Go. Get. Read. VVG. They’re adapting it for TV. I can’t quite imagine what that will look like, but I’m keen to find out.


Looped

It’s six years old, but I finally got round to watching Looper. Interesting. Not sure about it. Some of the time-travel stuff didn’t make sense — or was confusing, at least. The loopers do their killing and body-disposal in the past, but by the time Bruce Willis comes into it, everyone involved is in the same time, 2044, the past of the movie.

Also I thought I had heard that it wasn’t well thought of, but Rotten Tomatoes has it at 82% from audiences and 93% from critics. That’s pretty good, isn’t it?

This review at The Mary Sue is good on the weak points. Some interesting discussion in the comments, too.

The future was unconvincing — people still driving petrol-burning cars in 2044 and 2074? And the status of women was terrible. You can be a sex worker or a farming mom in future America. I mean, OK, we didn’t see the rest of society, but it’s not great. And a major Bechdel fail. Oh yes, and: the currency is silver? Actual, metallic silver? Time travel has really messed things up.

I enjoyed it on the whole, though, and the ending is great. We could have done without the voiceover, but maybe Rian Johnson, the director, has plans to release a cut without it in one possible future. Now where have I come across that idea before?


Patience

"Would you go anywhere near a book described on its back cover as ‘a cosmic timewarp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love’?", begins this Guardian review of Patience by Daniel Clowes.

What other answer could there be but, “Hell, yeah!”? My copy arrived today.


A Line, a Loop, a Tangle of Timey-Wimeyness

The London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantastic Film, or Sci-Fi-London is in its eleventh year, and I've never been to anything in it before. That's kind of bad, isn't it?

This week, though, I’ve been to the presentation of the Clarke Award, which is held in association with the festival, and at its main venue; and last night, the whole family went to the BFI (or the NFT, I can’t quite work out what its official name is these days) to see a film.

Which was Dimensions, a low-budget British film about time travel – or maybe dimension-hopping – which doesn’t even have a distributor yet.

Which is a great shame, because despite some flaws it is a very enjoyable piece. We were still talking about it at lunchtime today.

It’s also something of a costume drama, being set in the 1920s and 30s. The Sci-Fi-London page about it likens it to Merchant-Ivory.

It did show its low-budget nature in one or two places, but nothing that destroys the overall effect. The couple who made it (Ant Neely wrote and composed the original music, and Sloane U’Ren directed and did much else) had to sell their house to fund it, so almost anything can be forgiven.

I won’t say too much more about it here, but if you ever get a chance to see it, you should take it.

There was a Q&A with writer, director, lead actor & editor after the screening, which was very interesting. I was geared up to ask a question, which would have gone something like this: “When you make a time-travel story, especially in Britain, you’re walking among some long shadows, especially Wells and Doctor Who; to what extent would you acknowledge those as influences?” I had my hand up to speak, when the interviewer asked a question touching on exactly those points. So I didn’t ask. Pity. I would also have mentioned the fact that they have a mysterious wise man know only as “the Professor”.

Anyway, lots of fun: highly recommended.


The Space Machine, by Christopher Priest (Books 2008, 8)

What a fine conceit. Take the two great science fiction works by one of the genre's defining masters, mash them up together, and use the result to tell the 'inside' story of both of them.

It’s title is an obvious allusion to The Time Machine, but this is actually much more rooted in The War of the Worlds. And why shouldn’t those two novels take place in the same fictive universe? And why shouldn’t they be linked? After all, Mr Wells wrote both the stories down, so he must have experienced some of the events of both, right?

Priest sustains the tone and style of a late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century novel admirably well, and there’s not much to fault in this novel.

Except, perhaps, for the ending. The actual climax and conclusion of the story is well expected if you know The War of the Worlds. It’s just the last page or two; the rationale for the behaviour of one of the characters (a Mr Wells, in fact) in particular is, to my mind, inexplicable. Not that it matters, that late in the story, I suppose, but it does bother me.

I wish I had known about this novel a few years back, when I read both The Time Machine and Stephen Baxter’s The Time Ships. It would have sat very well in company with them.