Review: Time Was


Ian McDonald
Tor, 2018


Man finds a letter in modern day. A gay love story during WWII is revealed. He goes on a search through bookstores and archives, gradually uncovering evidence of time travel. Strong finish with a twist ending.


Subtle love story
From the description, I expected this sweeping gay romance with a hint of sci-fi. I was excited. Instead, this book had a subtler love story that wasn’t the only focus of the book. Honestly, I liked the subtlety. With the WWII time period, I was expecting an “omg guys, they’re gay” kind of story. It’s been done many times over. This book was a “they happen to be gay and OMG guys, they’re time travelers.” There was so much more to their story, but their relationship was still important. A+ on that.

Epistolary effect
I’m a sucker for epistolary novels (it’s the 18th Century English major in me). The book did a good job of including a small epistolary aspect. It can be difficult to understand all aspects of a story when told in letters – they’re so subjective and you never know what to believe. The letters were at the center of the search, but they didn’t provide the only storytelling.

Effective use of multiple narrators
There were two narrators in this novella – one from the past and one from the present. The author did a great job distinguishing between the two, giving them unique voices without muddling the story along the way. It was very reminiscent of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, which is a favorite of mine.

Time travel style
I’ve consumed my fair share of time travel narratives. It’s typically a device of some kind and the person makes the choice to come or go by flipping a switch, turning a dial, etc. I found it so interesting that McDonald made time travel into more of an organic presence. Without giving too much away, it becomes a part of them and the method of transport has a mind of its own, which I found fascinating. The science wasn’t particularly hard, but it was very well written.

Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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