Much can be written about Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s powerhouse novella, This Is How You Lose the Time War—about its razor-sharp prose, the stunning romance at its center, the way it privileges language and art as the tools that connect us across time and space. There’s a reason it recently won a Hugo award: this little novella packs a punch, and it hits hard. And it’s about a war, after all, so why not call in these violent metaphors to describe its success?
But Time War offers an alternative set of figurative language in its pages: not of violence and war, but of strategy games. Blue and Red aren’t just soldiers in battles, but players of games; they aren’t just executing war tactics, but “plays” and “hands.” Poker, tic-tac-toe, and chess are the tools in El-Mohtar and Gladstone’s arsenal, used to lay out the graceful and intricate machinations of a relationship born and nurtured out of rivalry and matched wits. One strategy game metaphor stands above the rest, though: Go (or: Igo, Baduk, Weiqi). A board game that dates back to the 4th century BC, Go stands apart even from its typical western counterpart of chess. Its strategy is collaborative and aesthetic, complex and changing over time. A perfect metaphor, in other words, for lovers meeting across a time-warped battlefield.