Gather round bookish friends, come take a seat around this sci-fi/fantasy campfire, and prepare to get your warm-fuzzies on. This is the story of how a couple of nerd pals accidentally self-serialized the sci-fi/fantasy/time travel/romance mashup This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
As Whovians that basked in the angst of the time war, just the title of this book had us READY. Also, the cover. In technical terms: it pretty. And the one line I read inside the book jacket before running to the checkout line: “In the ashes of a dying world, Red finds a letter marked ‘burn before reading. Signed, Blue.’” I read the first 20 or so pages and stopped because this book is serving up poetic, sci-fi realness and I had to read it slowly and methodically to soak it all in. Then, like I do with all the cool books I find, I tucked it into my work bag to show my number one nerd-mate, book buddy, and co-worker, Pasquale C.
Sidebar: Look, readers, I hope you have this nerd dynamic happening somewhere in your life. I mean a few weeks ago, my office at work turned into a literal Game of Thrones (read: Jaime x Brienne, RIP) group therapy room. And I am in no way exaggerating.
He’s more like: here are 45 bullet points I’d like to discuss from last night’s episode, let’s start with the differences between book and show, firstly…
And I’m more like: here’s this semi-instrumental Jai Wolf track that says all I feel about last night’s episode, it ends on a half-cadence suggesting the unfinished nature of the relationship, let me put it on repeat for you…
Anyway, this is the nerd palace we are originating from as I try to explain how we read This Is How You Lose The Time War over the course of one week and how amazing it was.
The Set-Up and the Process
It started out innocently enough. I found a cool book, I brought in the cool book for work show and tell. I bring books to work all the time, mostly we look at the gorgeous covers, we read the descriptions, we add them to our TBRs, the end. This time though, Pasquale, who is a veritable speed reader, read up to my bookmark and that night I saved that spot and after reading another 40 or so pages, made a concerted effort to place that day’s bookmark at a natural stopping point in the story. Over the next few days, I read the book at night and Pasquale read the same passage the next day on lunch break and he made outrageous comments about the poetry of time and space, the melding of sci-fi and fantasy, and the ridiculous, beautiful, poignancy of a letter left in the rings of a tree. And I mostly said things like, “you got to that tea leaves part, holy shit right!?”
On day three, we had our holy-mother-forking-shirt-balls moment. We were passing the book back and forth and the characters were passing letters back and forth. We were like, wait a minute, are we doing this? We are aren’t we. omg, OMG, oMg. It’s not like we didn’t realize they were writing letters or that we were passing the book back and forth; we were just so deep into the poetic meta that we always knew our favorite genre was capable of that we didn’t even notice the obvious parallel. And the next night I did something I NEVER do when I’m super into a book: I stopped about 30 pages shy of the end, on a cliffhanger no less!
By the final day, we were almost too into our own heads to have a coherent discussion. It was more like, “wow, ohmigod, wow,” and “how does this book even exist?” Pasquale was throwing out some righteous Doctor/Master/Missy parallels and I was hardcore repping the Crowley/Aziraphale vibes. Mainly, we were patting ourselves on the back for creating this safe bookish nerd pocket universe where we can read and discuss.
Final Thoughts on the Book and the Experience
Pasquale: “Reading this episodically with Dana was an experience. I can’t imagine too many others will have the chance to do so, but if you can find someone to read with as we did, I implore you, do it. It was more than trying to figure out who or what the shadow was, it was exploring Red and Blue and their worlds together that really felt powerful.”
Dana: Personally, I feel like I slowly crawled into this book and this reading experience as a stoned out caterpillar and came out the other side a majestic fucking butterfly. I don’t even know what happened, but it was so beautiful.
I realize this all sounds very close to how book clubs work, but I must stress how very much we are both not book club people. Nothing at all against book clubs, it’s just very, very odd to see either of us being in any way extroverted, and also, the general population is not always ready for people who compare literally everything to Doctor Who for some reason. So, I guess the moral of the story is that it’s fine to have a book club with only two people in it and the mission statement of that club can be to compare everything you read to some form of shared pop culture and also that it’s definitely not a book club.