Two agents from two conceptually different future outcomes for the universe, range through time attempting to shape history to make the destiny of their faction the inevitable one. Stepping between worlds and alternate realities they begin a correspondence: at first taunting and bragging, then flirting and then, inevitably, declaring their love for one another. The plot is easy to sum up primarily because the details to some degree do not matter, the arc is inevitable but that’s part of why it is the perfect choice for a story about vast factions attempting to tweak history.
Of all the novella finalists this year, it is the most ambitious — an author collaboration on timey-wimey epistolary story that is happy to indulge in long flights of romantic prose. That it works at all is remarkable, whether it always works well, I’m not so sure. I’m really not sure whether I wanted a story that was longer or one that was shorter. The argument for shorter was, I’m sad to say, that I got bored with the point at which Red and Blue were just saying how much they loved each other repeatedly — it was sweet but I was relieved when the story moved towards its end game.
The argument for longer? Both the Garden and the Agency were underplayed and while the whole point is there is no real rationale for the Time War, a better sense of what the factions imagined the stakes were is something I craved. That same context was missing for Red and Blue in terms of their fellow agents or connections with other ongoing characters. Really only the Commandant existed as an additional character throughout the story. The personal isolation of both agents was part of the issue that both had and provides a reason for them to continue to reach out to each other but without any other real personal dynamic with anybody else that very passion between them lacked something.
I ended up wanting to like this a lot more than I was actually enjoying it. However, there’s some stunningly well written sections and the obsessive and baroque methods by which messages are exchanged as the characters zip between settings is delightful. The vivid imagery and use of verbal colour is compelling, as is the technique of referencing paintings (in particular Henry Wallis’s Death of Chatterton) to add to the very visual sense of the story.
I very much do like to see bold stories that take big risks and follow ideas through. I really can’t fault it by that standard, even if it didn’t quite pay off its promise for me.