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Time Was

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  976 ratings  ·  250 reviews
A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it.

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presum
Paperback, 1 edition, 143 pages
Published April 24th 2018 by
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Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  976 ratings  ·  250 reviews

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Elle (ellexamines)
2 1/2 stars. This book… is not its blurb, and I am disappointed by that.
A love story stitched across time and war, shaped by the power of books, and ultimately destroyed by it. In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found. Now the two
3ish stars.

Sweet and subtly romantic. Languidly paced, but ends satisfyingly.

There's a lot I liked about this. I think one of the reasons I haven't rated it higher is because it wasn't what I was expecting. I'd hoped the romance would be a greater focus than it is; I thought it was too subtle, while other parts were a little too busy. Even the time travel aspect gets a little bogged down in its own convolution.

Overall I felt it was much more about tone and atmosphere than plot, which is the sou
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-shelf, sci-fi
Time to manage our expectations here.

I'm a fan of Ian's work and I'm generally amazed by the amount of research he puts into his novels, twisting strange stories into very creative manifestos, and there's a bit of that coming through the pages here, too, but it begs the question:

What is this?

It is a love story only if you see it through the lens of a mystery fan first, a time-paradox sleuth second, and if you like a REALLY slow burn through a deep focus on poetry and old personal notebooks from
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
!!!THIS IS NOT A ROMANCE!!! This is not about a gay couple. The book description IS A LIE. Whichever asshole at TOR wrote the cover copy should be fired. They should be on trial for crimes against Story. They may have sold a few extra copies, but they have done a huge disservice to this book, which is a damn fine book in its own right, by ensuring a huge chunk of readers who do pick it up will be very disappointed with the book they actually got.

This is like the canadian bacon of fiction. Ham is
Richard Derus
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled, quiltbag
I've left one highlight not visible because it's too much of a spoiler.

I liked this story quite a lot. More anon.


Listen to the dissatisfied bleats from MM-romance readers! This is NOT that book!

It is a fun time-travel tale, and the MM couple whose life together is really more of a life-apart treasure hunt for each other after being unhitched from Time's Arrow during a WWII experiment in quantum superposition is the animating spirit. The young straight bookhunter whose obsession with th
destiny ♡⚔♡ [howling libraries]
When I was sent an ARC of this novella by the publisher, I had never heard of the book (or author) before, but was incredibly eager to check it out once I learned it was being marketed as a hist-fic/sci-fi mashup with a sweet m/m romance! I honestly had no doubts that I would enjoy this novella, and if I were to base it just upon the writing itself - which is rather lovely - this rating would certainly be higher!

Unfortunately, I had two major problems with this novella:

1) I felt so incredibly lo
Cat M
May 11, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf-f, queerness
I would have liked this book more if it had actually been the book described in the blurb, and also if it had been rather queerer, in all meanings of the word.

The prose is beautiful, if occasionally a bit overdone, and unlike other reviewers I had no problem following the narrative; it’s a time travel story, I expect it to feel disjointed and disorienting. And the idea of the story is great. My problem is that McDonald approaches it from what is, to me, the least interesting possible angle.

I wan
Jun 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
Wonderfully crafted novella, pulling together real historical events and spinning a tale. McDonald is definitely one of my favourite authors at this point.
May 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, romance
Time Was is a quick little novella. I feel that the blurb is really misleading though, and the actual blurb on GoodReads contains a spoiler, so avoid it if you can. While this is in part Tom and Ben’s story, it’s actually more about a bookseller, Emmett, who stumbles onto their secret and becomes obsessed with finding them.

Much less exciting right? The buddies I was reading this with all agreed- we wanted more about Tom and Ben! The romance was lovely, but it was maybe 25% of the whole book.

Rachel (Kalanadi)
Jun 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novellas
The actual story is quite different from the publisher's description, which is odd. I happened to really enjoy what it turned out to be though, which is roughly a modern-day book dealer stumbling across an anonymous book of poetry with a letter inside between two WWII soldiers in love. After some digging, the book dealer realizes he's come across correspondence between time travelers who are unmoored in time, looking for each other and communicating with letters in copies of the poetry book. Can ...more
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018-read
3.5 stars

Beautifully written with many poetic phrases that caught my eye. This is an example of someone who is very comfortable as a writer. I loved the various ideas and threads interwoven into the story. My own taste would have liked the story to be just slightly less convoluted and a bit more straightforward in parts.
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A story of two men in love with each other who are lost during World War II. Moving around time, searching for each other, they leave messages in books for the other. A bookseller finds a message and becomes obsessed with the two men.
A little confusing at times, but beautiful and poetic.
Jun 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
What I thought I was getting: gay time travelers!

What I got: a story vaguely about gay time travelers, told almost entirely from the point of view of a deeply obnoxious heterosexual narrator who flirts by mansplaining; some slut shaming; Bury Your Gays.

Ugh. At least it was short.
Lauren Stoolfire
I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

During World War II, Tom and Ben were brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar. The two had to kept their growing love for one another secret. When the project they were assigned to went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished and were never seen again, presumed to be dead. Now they are lost in time, searching for one another by leaving clues in books - hoping to make their timelines overlap in o
Beautiful and poetic. Even though if won the British SF Award recently, it does not have lots of SF in it. Yet, it does not really matter. I actually wanted more romance and less research story since it gave me that The English Patient and Atonement vibes, you know.

I would have rated it higher if I was not able to guess the ending. *shrugs*
This beautifully poetic novella wasn't quite what I was expecting but it certainly resonates and it most definitely haunts. I also thought it ended perfectly. Review to follow shortly on For Winter Nights.
Just A. Bean
This was advertised as a book about a pair of WWII-era gay lovers who became unstuck in time. I've had it pre-ordered since announced it. Things that I like: romance between guys, WWII, time travel. I should have loved this book.

My friends, I hated it so much. So much.

The problem was it wasn't actually about the time traveling gay dudes? It was about some extremely boring sad sack straight dude who was trying to track down clues of their existence. I often like Possession style across-pe
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Finally! A book where I have tears in my eyes after finishing it.
Beautiful, poetic, quiet. I was longing for something like this to get swept away.

It was the first I read from this author, I will have to read more!

Note: since I don't look at blurbs before reading (they are often too spoilery for my taste), I didn't go into the novella with wrong expectations. The blurb definitely does not fit the story. The main arc is about the librarian, not about a gay relationship. The relationship is back
Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I suppose we should have made more of the time. We never do. We become so lazy in love. But love is laziness, the gift of each other’s time, to spendthrift or invest.

Well. The blurb is misleading. This is not the book described. It's like whoever was responsible for writing the blurb really wanted Time Was to be what they were describing. To be honest, so did I. I enjoyed what I got to read, but I would have loved to read what I was actually promised.
Review also on my blogTwitterBookstagram

Rep: m/m romance

Content warnings: war

Arc sent to me by publisher in exchange for a free and honest review

This was is... complicated, that's one way to put it. 

Here's my main problem with the book, it somehow made this incredibly gay premise far less gay. If the premise is a perfect 10, then this was a 3 at best. If you've read The Great Gatsby you'd know one of the worst parts of it was that it was told from the pov of some random dude who didn't exp
The story's concept is interesting, and I appreciated gay representation that was treated without the typically trophe-ish taboo and shock. There are passages that are written with almost haunting prose and vivid imagery. On the other hand, for me, some of the cultural references were confusing because there was little to no context provided from which I could gather meaning. There were large parts of the story that seemed to languish and be present for no reason other than to show the passage o ...more
Dec 27, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lgbt, 2018
Ok like... I should have listened to the reviews? lmao

Most people who've read this and didn't like it complained that the blurb doesn't accurately represent the plot of the book. The blurb advertises itself as a time travel romance but, as other reviewers have pointed out, the focus is more on the (straight) bookseller who is trying to investigate the mystery. I interpreted people's comments to mean that this was would tell the story of a more subtle romance - the reader would be able to piece t
The writing was gorgeous, but the story was a bit of a let down for me. I knew going in that it was going to be light on the SF, but I was hoping for more focus on Tom and Ben's story. I didn't find Emmett very interesting, so I was disappointed that the story spent so much time on him. I never felt very connected to any of the characters, so the attention I had to give to follow what was going on ended up being kind of frustrating. I was also hoping that there was going to be something a little ...more
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is just so lovely, such a wonderful novella about love and time travel. I usually am not a huge fan of time travel stories, which tend to spend excessive amounts of time on their own cleverness. This is a different beast, beautifully written and poignant.
Diverse Reads
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
LAPL Reads
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Anyone who has spent time in bookstores or libraries has seen them: short notes, usually handwritten, tucked away in books to be found by the latest reader of the title. Typically, they are ad-hoc bookmarks, inadvertently left behind by a previous reader. When you find one of these, what do you do? Do you throw the note away, assuming it is trash, or do you place it back in the book? If you choose to put it back, do you read it before you do so? What if you found a note, read it and discovered t ...more
Oleksandr Zholud
This is a novella that was nominated for 2019 Philip K. Dick Award and can be short-listed for Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A London’s book-dealer, who specializes in WW2 history finds a rare poetry book, titled Time was. The book is nothing special but there is a love letter, written during the war, from Tom to Ben. The WW2 aficionado, our protagonist starts to dig deeper to find more about the pair and soon gets a photo. That would be the end, but another photo of presumable the same men of the same
Abi Walton
2.5 stars. I wasn't expecting this story from the blurb and to be honest the blurb sounded so much better. It is really about a historian who finds out about these two men Ben and Tom who time travel but this is second to the life of Emmett which was a shame as I didn't find Emette's story nearly as captivating as I wanted to.
Ben and Tom weren't the focal points which was a shame as this was the reason why I wanted to read this book. I felt really lost while reading this novella and the POV was
James Harding
This is marketed as a gay time-travel love story. It isn’t. It’s about a modern-day straight man who *researches* a gay time-travel love story. We don’t see much of the couple themselves (though really they have a much more interesting story than the main character does) to the extent that they’re not even characters, and they have a gratuitously unhappy ending.

Time Was is engaging and perfectly well written (though concise to point of abstruse), but, if you’re reading for queer representation,
May 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was quite an extraordinary distillation of all the elements that make Ian McDonald such a great genre writer: pushing the boundaries of hard SF, in this case quantum mechanics; a masterful sense of place, which makes his take on the historical novel such a natural and seamless fit; pitch-perfect prose that makes you want to read entire chunks out loud to savour his rhythms; and then that unique combination of grandiloquence, langour, and searing, overblown passion that, paradoxically, turns ...more
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Norwescon: Time Was 2 5 Jan 27, 2019 09:14AM  

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Ian Neil McDonald was born in 1960 in Manchester, England, to an Irish mother and a Scottish father. He moved with his family to Northern Ireland in 1965. He used to live in a house built in the back garden of C. S. Lewis’s childhood home but has since moved to central Belfast, where he now lives, exploring interests like cats, contemplative religion, bonsai, bicycles, and comic-book collecting. H ...more

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