Boris Smus

interaction engineering

This is How You Lose the Time War

A stylistically beautiful novella reminiscent of Invisible cities by Italo Calvino. Written in an innovative format, this is more poetry than prose. "Time War" was certainly worth my time, but I could see how it may be annoying to some. At least it is mercifully short!


  • Well executed slow reveal (Burn Before Reading)
    • Multiverse composed of multiple forking strands and threads. They have names and numbers. Going "upthread" means back in time, "downthread" into the future.
  • Beautiful quips like:
    • “adventure works in any strand. It calls to those who care more for living than for their lives”
    • "She climbs up thread and down. She braids and unbraids history’s hair"
  • Ridiculously creative way of corresponding with one another. Letters are cleverly encoded in owl pellets (ha gross), seed sacks etc.
  • Maybe this is deliberate, but who The Seeker is remains unclear. Is it the other agent? Or is it something else, planted by capital-C Chaos?
  • If the world is a game, Blue and Red play a meta-game. But it feels like there is also a meta-meta game being played, which Blue and Red are only faintly aware of.


  • Blue and Red are agents for two opposing "shifts", led by Garden and Commandant respectively, and representing broadly speaking Nature versus Technology.
    • Maybe this is somehow the point, but the two narrators/voices of the letters were indistinguishable.
  • At some point the agents discover that they are madly in love with one another. But the letters are more clever than revelatory, and neither character arc well-defined.
    • Why did the agents actually fall in love? Pretty unclear.
  • (On the other hand, the same kinds of complaints can be leveled at Calvino, and that would not be fair.)


  • Travel Light by Naomi Mitchison is lauded as "it's the same in all strands in which it exists"
  • The classic Rolling Stones song Sympathy for the Devil came up for me multiple times while reading.

And I was 'round when Jesus Christ
Had his moment of doubt and pain
Made damn sure that Pilate
Washed his hands and sealed his fate

Stuck around St. Petersburg
When I saw it was a time for a change
Killed Tsar and his ministers
Anastasia screamed in vain