|Author||Mags L. Halliday|
|ISBN||0 563 53854 6|
|Synopsis: Spain, 1937. In April, the small town of Guernica was razed to the ground in a firestorm that claimed a thousand or more lives. In May, Barcelona exploded into fierce street fighting as different political faction fought for control of the city. Who were the shadowy figures working behind the scenes? Who were 'the Doctor', 'Anji' and 'Fitz' and what were their objectives? And were there really monsters roaming the streets?|
A Review by Finn Clark 15/7/02
History 101 is probably the most satisfying 8DA published so far this year. It's more thoughtful and meaty than Hope and Anachrophobia. It doesn't fall apart at the end like The Book of the Still. It's not deliberately silly like Mad Dogs and Englishmen or The Crooked World (though I liked both of those books) and it's not crap like Trading Futures. I put it down thinking I'd just read an interesting, well-written, well-researched historical novel with a new slant on the genre and something to say.
...which is doubly impressive, since I hadn't been particularly taken with the first half of the book at all.
This is a story about perception and What Really Happened (If Anything), so one gets rather too many viewpoint shots of the same old stuff. Any reader in search of a story might get baffled. There are some bizarro skewed perception scenes which aren't always well handled; at times I was left feeling as if I'd turned over two pages at once. I also wasn't entirely convinced by the author's theme. Yes, people have different perceptions. That doesn't mean all history is bunk, but the narrative's chief historian is a literal-minded being which can't proceed beyond this rather basic stumbling-block. Things eventually developed further, but for quite a while both the story and its theme were apparently treading water. And to cap it all, the deliberate obfusciation meant I didn't know what was happening.
I can nail precisely where the book picked up for me. About halfway through, the Doctor explains some of what's going on and how it's a threat to him and to history. "Aha!" thought Finn. "Something to get my teeth into!" And thereafter I read along happily, waiting with interest to see what would happen next.
The characterisation of the regulars is very good. I got a powerful sense of Fitz being from 1963, which is something that the books have almost never given me. Anji comes across well too; I think she's really benefited from this influx of female authors over the past year and a half. I also liked the chemistry between them, which is well imagined and felt fresh.
Spain in 1937 is well evoked, though it felt a little fragmentary. I never got a sense of the bigger picture; who was fighting who and why. How did this conflict fit into the shape of European politics at this volatile point in history? But to obsess about such questions would be almost to miss the point; this isn't a historical so much as an anti-historical. We get a good feeling for life on the Spanish streets as the bullets fly and the bombs fall, which is what the book's trying to achieve.
History 101 pulls off the neat trick of being different without being DIFFERENT!!!, if you know what I mean. It always feels solidly and compassionately Whoish, but we've never seen the Doctor face a problem like this before. It has a fair few fantastical sci-fi elements, but never loses its grounding in solid, convincing 1937 reality.
Four of the six 8DAs published previously this year started strongly, but fell away before the end. History 101 takes the opposite tack, but its first half is perfectly readable and the rather good second half is what you'll remember afterwards. History 101 is one of the most confident, measured debut books we've seen in a while - not trying to dazzle you with its brilliance, but tackling material that could have fallen apart disastrously and for the most part succeeding with it.
Not perfect, but still pretty good.
Subjective opinions by Joe Ford 22/8/02
I am sure by now people must realise my love for the current EDA range and must be pretty sick of singing their praises. Hoping that I will churn a review of utter disgust for a novel under Justin Richards editorship. Well folks guess what... today is definitely not your lucky day! After the near flawless The Crooked World we again have another inch away from perfect novel.
I say novel instead of book because this is no ordinary Doctor Who piece. Admittedly with the Doctor Who trappings and the continuingly intruiging threads it is more edge of the seat gripping but this is one novel that would stand up on it's own despite them. Never before his history been so prominent in a DW book (except maybe The Witch Hunters) and never before has it been dealt with so maturely. There have been books with a real historical atmosphere before (Bad Therapy springs to mind) but the history of History 101 is not just there to provide a thought provoking backdrop, it is vital to the piece, it is its reason for existence, its theory, practical and conclusion. The facts ream off the page but it is never a boring essay on the Spanish civil war, it is twisted into a clever, exciting and brilliantly thoughtful novel. And who is the mastermind behind this experience (and I mean experience)...
Mags L Halliday, that's who. Following in the footsteps of Kate Orman, Lloyd Rose and Jac Rayner, she is yet another quality female author to add to the ranks of fantastic Who fiction. Make no mistake, this is a very complicated book, the plotting is extremely tight and the answers are not spoon fed to you and the only reason this isn't a complete bloody nightmare is Mags L Halliday's marvellous grip on the characters, her excellent twisty turny plot, her rich imaginative ideas and her sensitive prose. I hope to God that she is used again. Hers is not a talent to be wasted.
Her grasp on the regulars is second to none. Despite their outstanding use of late I can genuinely say (hand on heart) the three time travellers have never been better portrayed than they are here. The Doctor is, for the first time in three books, vital to the plot. His link with the TARDIS was explored a little in Nick Walters' Dominion but it is capatilised on here to superb dramatic effect. Anji is so much more thoughtful, so much more real than her first adventure it is hard to believe they are the same character. Her time investigating in Barcelona has a wonderful feel to it, her worries for Fitz, her care for the Doctor, her getting in to the spirit of the time travelling dective stuff was just so perfect.
The real coup is Fitz. People have been saying how he has seemed a little redundant recently (myself included) but we can all eat our words now. His travels to Guernica and the horror he experiences there provide the most revealing exploration of this writer-proof character yet. We still have the women obsessed, smoking drunk but they are shoved firmly into the background whilst he comes to terms with the brutality going on around him. Like Barbara in The Aztecs we see a lot of the horror through Fitz's eyes and his astonished reaction to something he just thought of as 'history' is truly gripping. Let's have more of this Fitz please. His little bitch fights with Anji are a delight.
I won't mention any of the secondary characters as any information would ruin how perfectly crafter they are. Let's just say I was drawn into the historical side of the story through some very realistic characters. Their fates were well worth following.
Did I mention Sabbath? Yep he's there too but don't worry no spoilers here as he is in the very first paragraph. After a recent book in the range his presence carries a lot of weight throughout the book despite only appearing a few times. Just what is he controlling? And who? Read and find out!
In many Doctor Who books I don't pick up on some revelations and the handy explanation in the final wrap up often proves very useful. You know what I mean... when the villain is taunting the Doctor for his insane cleverness... "AHAHAHAHA! Doctor you fool! How did you not realise I was controlling so and so and had this trick up my sleeve!" To my dismay no such luck here. Halliday's maturity is to not spell things out for you. You really have to concentrate, to pick up details, to work at it to make the book the rewarding feast that it is. I spent a good hour or so flicking back through the pages trying to figure out everything I'd missed (which to my credit wasn't a whole lot). It was all there. Perfectly paced, brilliantly told through the characters and situations. As I said, a fantastic author
The Absolute were a fascinating idea, marvellously portrayed. Just had to add that.
I am more enthusiastic about this range than ever. I wasn't just impressed by the novel's atmosphere I was absorbed into it. Once again I read in one, must finish, sitting.
Lloyd Rose and Justin Richards next. Boy are we being spoilt.
An extremely mature work. I immediately felt I was in safe hands with this book, the first chapter is a superbly judged mini mystery and paves the way for the rest of the book.
What is odd, re-reading this is how well the writers manage to wring good drama out of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji despite how they have already been through hell. With Virgin's New Adventures they resorted to having the companions shag about to give them decent characterisation (although that worked well for the time) but now just an ideal setting, some good secondary characters and presto, you have a nice, involving book.
This book isn't like The Crooked World or Trading Futures where you could switch off and laugh at the simple yet elegant plots... no this is tough work at times, re-telling the same scenes over and over from different angles. It's full of interesting twists and turns (the foundations for one huge twist was in the first chapter and I fell for it hook, line and sinker!) and horrifying detail and yet if you're willing (I was) to put in the effort you've got an extremely rewading book in your hands. History is captured with the horror and beauty that it should and the complex plot unravels around you and makes you smile/shocked/marvel (all of the above).
Remember Dominion? The Doctor at a loss because he is denied access to the TARDIS? History 101 goes one step further and it is painful to watch his cheery optimism when you know deep inside he is breaking up. Anji is positively calm in this book, at her most human. What is special here is how, even though she is trapped in Spain's past, she still manages to struggle on, to try and find answers. It is her strength of character that has made her so popular. Fitz wins this time round though with his uncomfortable (albeit extremely memorable) trip to Guernica. Lots of stones being laid towards TIME ZERO here, it is quite refreshing to actually see the books all leading into each other a second time round.
Doctor Who has dealt with history before, many times. But its never really dealt with the perception of history and how that perception can change events drastically. History 101 deals with a cornerstone of history I knew nothing about so I was doubly fortunate, I feel I have learnt a lot. It provoked a very interesting conversation with a Spanish lady I work with, she filled me in on some of the gaps. The book never shirks away from detail and we get some quite graphic passages suggesting how brutal it was to live in such times.
And of course The Absolute, another excellent book monster who I would like to see return sometime soon. It was Enrique's passages that I found most satisfying of all, the ideas are brilliant and used within this particular book makes for a satisfying and imaginative read.
So let's put our hands together for Mags L Halliday for her superb debut novel. I do hope we see more of her.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 24/9/02
Now this was a book that really appealed to me. History has always been a passion of mine and I was eager to start this History-inspired tome. Here was a book that took a period of History I was unfamiliar with and promised to tell a great story, with great characters. Not only was it another chapter in an increasingly fascinating series of books, but I would learn a bit along the way. It deposits the Doctor, Anji and Fitz in the middle of the Spanish Civil War of the mid-late 1930s. They spend a considerable time there, thus the feel of Spain at that time would be apparent. This was a book I was sure would leap off the page with its evocative atmosphere and intrigue, but would be character led.
Wonderfully my initial perceptions were justified. This is a fantastic book with a wonderful stage on which to set the action. As the Doctor, Anji and Fitz get embroiled in the Civil disputes that erupted in Spain, so their relationship is examined. This is especially true for Anji and the Doctor, who spend most of the book together in Barcelona, waiting. Fitz once again is sent off on a mission to infiltrate an organization, a role he is accustomed to - but one which he always stumbles through, just about achieving the Doctor's wishes. The contrasts of Fitz and Anji are a big part of the book. Fitz's exploits with the Soldiers are particularly interesting and descriptive. This is when Mags Halliday really gets to the heart of what it was really like in Spain at this time, and through Fitz's travels she describes the real 1930s Spain. The Doctor and Anji's waiting game is not as broadsweeping as Fitz's travels, but the Community angle is there. Both sides of the story combine to produce a fascinating whole.
The book has been researched thoroughly. It is one of those books with a Bibliography at the end, and I really am keen to look up some of these books. Off the shelf came my History of the 20th Century at the book's end, and the Spanish Civil War was studied. History 101 is, of itself, an education - bringing alive a conflict that I expect few readers will know anything about. This lack of initial knowledge actually makes this a voyage into the unknown - but one that is infinitely more fascinating and real than a trip to the stars. It's why I like an Earth setting so much, that familiarity (despite the Spanish setting) mixed with the fantastic (the TARDIS crew and alien involvement).
The title intrigued me. Was it to be a reference to Orwell's 1984, with the famous room that Michael Grade wanted to deposit Doctor Who in? A room full of things we really hate? Well George Orwell is in there, but seeing as I hadn't a clue that that wasn't his actual name, I didn't pick up on it till right at the end who he was. History 101 is a study into the vagaries of Time Travel, how all kinds of realities are possible based on decisions we make. It's quite complicated at times - the same man is killed in slightly different ways in the first few chapters, but the mass of possible outcomes of our actions is vast - and this book really strives to comment on that. It's a book about perceptions. That how we see a certain thing is individual to each of us, and we will never all see that thing in the same way. It is diversity that colours the world, and makes it brighter. That History 101 can discuss such profound concepts, and still come across as a fascinating novel is a massive credit to Mags Halliday's writing talent.
The Doctor is superbly depicted throughout. The Doctor's enthusiasm when he is explaining things to Anji is infectious. This Doctor has become totally and brilliantly fascinating through the mass of books that now exist with him in. The Caught on Earth Arc was a total revelation, re-inventing the character, making him far more interesting than he was before. Wiping the slate clean has allowed authors a free reign, uncumbered by crazy continuity that the books had got into a mess with. Now we have a Doctor who is even more fascinating than his predecessors in the books (the perfect written word Doctor), a terrific achievement for Justin Richards as Editor of the range. But it is authors like Mags Halliday who bring this character out, who take it to the level of excellence that we are so accustomed to now. In History 101, the Doctor is simply magnetic, and I was drawn towards him. As he struggles with his trauma over events described in previous books over the last 2 years, you feel sympathy. But you will him to overcome. This multi-faceted character is arguably the deepest portrayal of the character ever seen. The books are knocking spots off TV stories, character wise.
The Companions are wonderful too. Fitz benefits from his travels, as travelling always brings out the real character of a person. I have had quite a rollercoaster ride with Fitz during the course of the last few years. His introduction was excellent, but then he just lost it for me during the Compassion Arc. I didn't miss him at all during the 6 book Caught on Earth saga. But over the course of the last year or so, he has grown. I now find his character fascinating, a real likeable chap, and he has risen that Favourite Companion ladder. Anji continues to impress - a good solid character that writer's warm to. The other characters in the book are well drawn. Standouts are Sasha (Fitzs travel companion) and Eleana and Jueves (the Doctor and Anji's accomplices). There's also the continued involvement of Sabbath - which makes this current arc so brilliant. He has emerged as the very best new character from the 8th Doctor Adventures. I have rarely looked forward to the next book so much, and I couldn't wait to get hold of Camera Obscura.
History 101 tells a brilliant story first and foremost. Its cast of characters are brilliant all the way through. Very Impressive. 9/10
A Review by Andrew McCaffrey 26/9/02
History 101 is an intelligent and thoughtful novel that treats its central premise in a mature and satisfying manner. The concepts are dealt with quite interestingly and my attention was held throughout the entire story. Although I didn't quite connect with all of the characters, I was intrigued enough by the plot to read through at a very quick rate. The mechanics of the story are all handled quite well, and the book was almost perfectly paced.
As the back cover informs us, History 101 is about (you guessed it) history and how it is perceived. And this feature of the book is one of its greatest assets. Mags L. Halliday takes this relatively unambiguous notion and draws it out to some very interesting conclusions. Upon reflection, it seems strange now that a science-fiction series like Doctor Who hasn't actually dealt with this idea before; it just seems like an obvious thing to do. Rather than being just a gimmick, the perception aspect is dealt with in a very appealing way. It affects the plot, the characters, and the whole tone of the novel. It adds a fascinating flavor to a story that was already intelligent enough on its own.
The only downside in this book is that there are a handful of places where the central concept is developed a bit too clinically for my taste. The characters are noteworthy, but there are times where I had trouble connecting with them emotionally. They obviously interact with the perception of history quite a bit, but they didn't appear to be as three-dimensional as I was expecting. There are a few notable exceptions, such as Fitz who has quite an interesting subplot of his own. He comes across realistically and forcibly, which is quite notable given how much into the background he has started to fade in the series. Unfortunately, not all of these strengths are continued on into other characters and situations, but that is still a minor defect overall.
History 101 comes as a recommended course for anyone interested in either the overall story of the current EDAs, or just for someone looking for a pretty darn good standalone story. It's a thoughtful story but with enough thrills and spills to keep one's interest going for the entirety. What struck me most about the book was the feeling at how carefully structured it felt. While this might have caused the story to feel a tiny bit forced at times (rather than flowing naturally), it makes for a very well crafted tale. I look forward to reading more novels from this newcomer to the range.
A Review by Terrence Keenan 24/10/02
History 101 is all about perception being more important than reality. Perceptions of events during the Spanish Civil War are changing and the Doc, Anji & Fitz head to Barcelona in !936-37 to investigate, and find themselves more involved than they realize.
Mags L. Halliday's debut DW novel is part Orwellian nightmare and part Historical Novel, with the Whoish parts blended in at the right moments. The story builds up from the prologue, where Sabbath puts his plans into motion and the Doctor, on holiday with Fitz and Anji, gets involved after seeing a Picasso painting based on the destruction of Guernica. From there, we meet the cause of the change of perceptions, and events spiral out once Fitz splits off from the Doctor and Anji and meets Sasha, a Russian who wants to join the Communists at the front.
I've been looking forward to this book since I read the blurbs months before its release. I've been reading up on the Spanish Civil War, and although I don't count myself as an expert, I recognize how well Halliday captured the confusion and infighting among the Republican factions trying to maintain control against the Fascists. The Anarchists and Communists didn't trust each other, and the friction hinted at between these sides spills out in the third section of the novel.
The Orwellian nightmare comes about by the premise itself. In two sections, we see the variations of how events took place. What is frightening is that the event stays the same, but the how and why changes. It's similar to 1984's running theme of who Oceana is at war with. Even more impressive is how well Halliday executes this concept on the page without having it jar, or come off as unbelievable. Two events, one minor, one pivotal to the book, are shown in detail to bring the theme of changed perceptions home. Sharply done, Halliday makes each version stand alone, yet link to the others well.
It wouldn't be a Doctor Who tale without an alien, and we have in History 101 the Absolute, who wants a linear progression of opinion of events. It's Griffin from Unnatural History done right. The shifting opinions of how events occur case the Absolute to do what it can to change things, with horrific results.
Characterization is very strong all around. The Doctor, Anji and Fitz all shine, with Anji coming off best (if pressed to name one). The guests all have their moments, with Sasha, Pia, Blair and Eleana the best of the lot. Sabbath pays a visit in a few key scenes, and brilliantly rides the villain/dangerous ally line established in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street. I kind of like this polite, uber pragmatic character with his own agenda. More of him, please.
History 101 is a great book. It's probably the strongest DW debut novel of any line since Festival of Death. Mags Halliday balances character, plot and theme into a book about perception being more powerful than events themselves.
Three out of Five by Jamas Enright 4/12/02
The lesson for today is about perspective. Can history truly be known? Facts are rarely presented objectively, but instead through what people saw and think. Here, we are presented with the story of the Doctor, Fitz and Anji being stranded in 1937. Here, we are presented with the story of the attack on the town of Guernica and of street fighting in Barcelona. Here, we are presented with the idea of perspective, and how to deal with different ways of viewing the same thing.
Mags L. Halliday shows this through the simple device of telling the same events over again, but with different tellings each time. Which way is the true way? Is there a true interpretation? This is nice, but does make it rather hard to tell exactly what is going on, as in: is this a new scene, or a retelling of an old one? The chapter headings in Spanish (if that's what it was) doesn't help here either. (And Lawrence Miles, take note. This is how to do an historical investigation. Compare the blurbs, at the very least.)
Since it is people that give us perspective, we have to consider the people involved. There are a fair few main characters here, and even more auxiliary characters. This leads to losing track of who the minor characters are rather quickly, and several times I had mixed up several characters due to having them mentioned together earlier in the book. It also doesn't help when we get one person being many characters and a few people going into one character. When this sort of situation arises, here's a quick tip: don't have someone's last name being a familiar first name (Blair), and which is also similar to someone else's last name (McNair) who is also a minor character being mentioned at the same time.
That said, we do have distinctive characters here. Eileen, trying to help, but also trying to keep alive in this world. She's very much the representative of the times in the book, and as such she is very much a part of this story. I also liked Sasha, the rogue, the way he actually did good despite seeming to be a bad guy. Jueves was rather distant, though he has an important part to play. Pia also stands out, but again there was some blurring over her character and that of Eileen.
Anji is well used here. Stuck in Barcelona, she tries to create a plan and follow through with it, trying to amass a collection of information, all cross indexed, and all the time she's slowly becoming embroiled in the events around her until she gets swept up in the end. Fitz also gets involved, but here he's more in his element, smoking cigarettes and drinking bad beer and wine. Not to say that's all he does, indeed he gets caught up, forced to witness horrific events and he too gets swept up in the end.
The Doctor is the only one who doesn't get swept up. Throughout he has his eyes on the bigger picture, and it is very much through him that the more anomalous elements of the story are resolved. Which is a change from having to take sides as he normally does (although it could be said that he takes the side of human nature).
Perspective. In History 101, we learn that humans are responsible for how we see events. In History 101, we learn that the Absolute is responsible for how we see events. In History 101, we learn that perspective is entirely arbitrary no matter who is responsible for how we see events. My perspective on History 101 is: an interesting book that has trouble keeping the details straight.
A Review by Mike Morris 22/2/03
One thing about reviewing a novel is that all reviewers, in fact everyone in the world, is prejudiced. It's really not possible to be completely neutral when reviewing anything; we've all got things we like and things we don't. I mention this only because Mags' Halliday's debut, History 101, contains an awful lot of things I like.
I think one thing I have respect for is intelligence, but even more I respect honesty and hard work. This is why I don't hate Coldheart but I do hate Verdrigris; one is the work of an inexperienced writer doing his best and, slowly, getting better; the other the work of a smart and immensely talented writer not stretching himself in any way. I can't bear that sort of thing. I guess it's a stolid and conservative viewpoint, but there it is.
History 101 is a very thoughtful piece of work, and one can really sense the effort and care the author has put in. She pushes another of my 'positive' buttons by exercising restraint in all facets of the book, and just in case I wasn't quite won over she concentrates on thematic consistency throughout the novel. Given all these factors, she could have told a story about paint drying to a delicate shade of shit-brown and I'd have liked it. In truth, there are a few elements of History 101 that are routine at best, but I don't really care.
And then, a disciple of that pompous, gaudy, dated, tasteless, irrelevant and nauseating charlatan Antoni Gaudi is killed by one of his spectacularly hideous chimney-pots come to life. I don't think this was intended as a slight on Gaudi's work, in fact the opposite could be true, but it can be read that way. It made me howl with gleeful laughter, and still makes me smile wickedly right now. I think I might just want to marry Mags L. Halliday.
Architectural malice aside, this is a book that has a lot going for it. It concerns itself largely with perception of historical events, but the motif is broadened into perception generally and comes through in all aspects of the novel. It is written obliquely, confining itself to the limited points-of-view of the various characters, and hence the portrayal of the guest cast is inconstant depending on who's telling the story. The author takes the theme very seriously, and thankfully resists the temptation to turn it all into a discussion of Doctor Who canonicity, as might be the temptation in a book like this.
The way we're introduced to the setting of the Spanish Civil War is an extremely good example of this. The idea of the Guernica painting is a perfect, restrained way of discussing a topic through the medium of the plot, rather than any preachy soapboxing. I should say that I don't really agree with Mags Halliday's idea that a work of art depends on its historical context to have impact - Guernica is about much more than Guernica, just as Yeats writes about more than Maud bloody Gonne - but she argues concisely through the story, and doesn't press the point. Even when I don't agree with her, I respect the way she makes her case.
It leads to a solid, well-constructed story set in Spain, sparely but tautly written. The main adversary, and his link to the Absolute, is not particularly well conceived at first - he's written as a faceless SF concept rather than a person in his own right - but things get better later on. The idea of a creature stockpiling people's experiences gives rise to some amazing visual passages, not least the section in the telephone exchange, with thousands of visual images hanging in the air.
It's been said that the style is a little too textbook at times. This is only occasionally true, such as when the alien creature is described as leaving a trail like a mouse arrow on a Windows desktop, which gets the message across but ain't gonna win a Nobel Prize. Overall, though, I wouldn't agree. I think it has a beautifully cold edge, suggesting washed-out tones, bright cold weather, and everything the colour of morning. There's a passage from Anji's POV, when she's suffering from a headache, which is wonderful. However, the larger-scale attempts at description are less successful - the multiple bombing of Guernica, effectively the books centrepiece, doesn't inspire the emotional connection it might. That said, it's intriguing and visually impressive.
The tone of the whole book is distant, in fact, with no guest characters leaping off the page. This is part of the idea, of course, with the perception of various characters varying from narrator to narrator. I rather like this, accustomed as we are of being party to every little thought of every little character. And although we spend a lot of time party to the views of Fitz and Anji, we don't really get in too deep. Fitz worries about his lack of fags and Anji feels like she's looking after a couple of hopeless boys; this is all the insight I want, thanks very much. The Doctor is rather shunted to the background, with little enough to do, although he gets the occasional powerful scene and his final confrontation with the creature is superb.
The plot is pedestrian, and the various revelations regarding character's identities are very obvious - particularly if, like me, you're aware of the real name of a certain famous writer. But there are compensations - given the setting, the Orwellian motif is wholly appropriate (yet another of my buttons pushed there), and the Room 101 sequences at the end have a surreal, otherworldly quality to them, occurring as they do amid so much banality. There were a few elements I struggled to understand, some of which were pleasingly slippery but others were rather unconvincing. The TARDIS's incapacitation is something I couldn't swallow.
Despite these problems, and a plot that is stretched rather thin, I really loved this. However, I doubt everyone will enjoy it quite as much as I did, since it's almost coincidental that all its strengths are things I like and all the weaknesses are things that don't bother me so much. I suspect the major flaw is its distance from the characters, which leads to a lack of emotional engagement. If Henrietta Street's storytelling style annoyed you, you might have a problem here. However, should Mags Halliday manage to improve that side of things - and there's no reason she shouldn't - she will rapidly become a hugely successful writer, as other facets of her work are extremely impressive. She hangs a novel on two ideas, and grapples successfully with them, whereas other writers tend to just introduce new ideas when the original ones give them trouble. That's what I like; that's what proper novelists do.
Overall, there's certainly enough to make this worthwhile and to really please some readers - especially me. Personally, I was delighted with this book. Although there have been flashier first books (Festival of Death, City of the Dead) I think this author has more potential than any debut novelist for quite some time, and I can't wait to see what she does next.
A Review by John Seavey 8/7/03 My first thought upon reading the opening sequence of 'History 101' was, "Sabbath... I remember him!" After a long EDA-free period between Trading Futures and The Book of the Still (some five or six months), and no mentions of Sabbath in The Book of the Still or The Crooked World, it almost seemed as though they'd abandoned the character entirely. But Mags Halliday brings him back here, working on yet another of his "not actually working against the Doctor but not liking him either" agendas. If this is an arc, it's a pretty low-key one.
History 101 doesn't really advance the Sabbath arc, instead choosing to delve deeply into its main theme: History isn't an absolute state, a sequence of events; rather, it's dependent on the observers of these events and their perceptions. It's a book that relies far more on theme and atmosphere rather than plot, and in fact sometimes seems to be deliberately obfuscating its own plot in order to keep with its theme -- while an interesting idea, I can't say that this made History 101 an easy book to read.
I do get the feeling that it would read better on a second, or even a third read; on the first read, it's very difficult to get one's head around the basic events of the novel. This isn't helped by the fact that History 101 has one of the larger casts of recent Doctor Who novels, and frequently people are referred to by several different names (or not referred to at all for quite some time -- Blair, for example, gets several diary entries in before we find out who he is.) Events are described and re-described from different perspectives as history re-writes itself, something that takes quite a bit of getting used to as well. In addition, there's some confusion on some very key points of the conclusion -- what happened to Sasha? What happened to the Absolute? How did Blair get to be Burton? Do the last set of diaries mean history changed for Blair again? (The way the Doctor gets to Guernica is clever, though... albeit blatantly stolen from No Future. :) ) It all ends very abruptly and confusingly, and while I can't say that it's bad, I definitely think this book will need some time to sink in before people start to like it.
There are some bonuses: Sasha is well-written, and the first of Sabbath's agents to actually be a likeable, well-defined character in his own right. Most of the characters, in fact, are very human and very well-drawn, and I enjoyed reading about them (even if I couldn't say exactly what happened to them or how.) Anji was annoying, but I'm starting to suspect that this is a fault of Anji rather than of Halliday. She's like all the cliches about the wife/girlfriend of a sci-fi fan who doesn't understand it all and doesn't understand why anyone would care about it all... only, of course, she's living it, which puts her into "perpetual sneer" mode. Like Compassion, only without the word "obviously".
On the whole, I think I'd like another book from this author... but I think I'd also like one a little more reliant on plot, and a little less on theme.
An evaluation by Robert Smith? 31/7/03
Teaching Evaluations, history department.
Course title: History 101.
Instructor: Mags L. Halliday.
Course code: 0 563 53854 6.
How interesting did you find this course? 5
How would you rate this instructor's writing style? 9
How effectively did the instructor present complicated ideas? 4
How did the workload compare to other courses you are currently taking? 7
How well organised was this course? 3
How useful was this course compared to others at the same level? 4
Overall, how would you rate this instructor? 6
Any additional comments? You may attach extra pages:
As a first year course in the 'Doctor Who: Eighth Doctor' curriculum, I have to give History 101 a bad evaluation. The course outline was quite promising, with its send-up of The Adventuress of Henrietta Street (although that novel should have been read as part of an upper year course), but the actual material turned out to be quite lacking.
The instructor held some promise, but her obvious inexperience showed through. I really appreciated the individual lectures, some of which were very good indeed, but they simply didn't hang together. The course was ruined by poor planning and a rushed ending, which didn't bring the material together and raised yet more questions, when what we really needed was answers.
There were lots of references to other courses, but most of them were recent, which didn't intrude too much for those of us who hadn't studied them in a while. However, the gratuitous appearance of Kim Philby really detracted from the events. I don't really know why this was included if it wasn't on the test.
There were lots of mistakes made by the instructor, as well. This really made it hard to study for the course. Why should we try to get our answers right if the instructor can't? For example, on page 138 Anji sees a future version of Fitz and Jueves working together, despite the fact that they never meet in the novel.
Then there was the end of the course, which was so rushed I had no idea what was going on. On pages 228-231 Fitz and Sasha send a message back in time to von Richtofen to begin the bombing of Guernica that he witnessed. But on page 247, the bombs begin falling on the Doctor, in the present, according to his instructions to Fitz. And the Doctor can't have travelled into the past, as he says the TARDIS is down. This makes no sense. Was there a second bombing in the present, or did the Doctor travel in time in some other way? And when did Fitz gain the trust of von Richtofen?
In fact, nothing was explained at the end. Was Jeuves also an agent? Who destroyed the Hub? How did Blair become Burton? What happened to Sasha? How does sending a message through to the past cause the bombers to appear in the Doctor's present? I know that these professors are under time pressure, but I feel that basic clarification should not be sacrificed. My only explanation is that somehow the footnotes all got accidentally edited out of the coursepack, which is simply unacceptable.
I did like the fact that the telephone system was compromised, which was very good indeed. The point that perceptions had altered things without the actual painting changing was also well made. And the pace finally picked up at the end when Fitz and Anji got captured, although as this came quite late, it had to be resolved a bit too quickly for my liking. Much of the writing was quite good indeed, with individual scenes quite enjoyable when taken in isolation.
However, there were far too many characters, many of whom come and go offscreen. This made it very hard to follow and didn't give us any kind of 'hook'. Sabbath seemed entirely extraneous, not explaining anything at all when he turned up for coffee with the Doctor and nothing else. What was the point of that?
In summary, this course was very disappointing. We didn't learn very much from it and so much of it seemed incoherent or poorly planned. It had some bright spots, but without an overall structure, those bright spots didn't make for a very useful or interesting experience. I hope this instructor improves her planning if she is to teach this, or any other, course next year. With some more effort this could have been an entertaining and interesting course, but it wasn't.
Something to get your teeth into -- in the good way by David Massingham 2/10/03
Well, I'm not used to this. I'm quite the sporadic reader of the EDAs and the NAs, but when I hear that a book is "important", "weighty", or "in-depth", I generally steer clear. This is based on the fact that books I've read that fall under these descriptions include The Taking of Planet 5 (rubbish), Warchild (self important twaddle), Set Piece (all right, but with clunky, dull prose), and Revolution Man (oh my... who commisioned THAT?). There are, of course, exceptions -- Seeing I was pretty damn good, and Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible was very vivid and interesting. Of course, all of this may have something to do with the fact that I jump around the range, picking up the book that I fancy whenever I see fit; I probably should start reading them in order.
I picked up History 101. I vaguely remember reading some reviews describing it a dense and meaty. And it really is -- but this is one of thsoe times where the writer translates "dense and meaty" into "involving and interesting", as opposed to "dull technobabble pap" (see The Taking of Planet 5. Actually don't. It's horrible).
Author Mags L. Halliday has put together a truly fascinating debut, exploring a period of history I knew virtually nothing about, and painting an extremely vivid picture of this time. Through the TARDIS crew's eyes, we are given a first hand account of the destruction and tension present in Spain in 1936/37, and the lasting impression is of an all-pervading atmosphere, a sense of suspicion amoungst the various armies and factions. It really does feel like Spain is going to explode, and Halliday is to be congratulated for constructing this mood through an engaging and involving writing style.
The only place where her prose seems to fall apart is, ironically, with the most science ficiton-ish element of the story. The Absolute, at least in the first half of the book, is desribed in the most dull, clinical terms possible, rendering any interesting ideas surrounding him into a dry, uninteresting clump. As I said, the Absolute does improve throughout the novel, and once we see him interacting with other characters, he becomes a truly interesting and three dimensional character.
The most intriguing thing about History 101 is the way in which Halliday combines an historical setting with ideas of historical research. That is, the ideas of perception and how accurate they are. This slant provides some of the most interesting passages of the book, in particular the destruction of Guernica. For me this is an interesting way to retread the old "something is going wrong with time" or alternate history theme that has cropped up so often in Doctor Who. Combining the difficulties of researching events with a more straight-forward narrative is what really pushes History 101 is the realms of great story-telling.
The regulars here are on fine form. Anji, in only the second book I've read with her in it, is extremely well portrayed, and quite a nice character. She reminds me a bit of Tegan, actually, only much more practical -- this comparison is not just because she wants to go home. She is a strong character, who stands up for her opinions and doesn't take any crap. Her efforts to document the goings-ons are very industrious and, remarkably, interesting to read about. I like her, and I'm loking forward to reading more about her. The Doctor isn't captured quite as well as Anji, and maybe this has something to do with the fact that he is a sideline figure until the end of the book. Nonetheless, Halliday paints a fairly nice picture of the eighth Doctor coping with being stuck in one place for so long, a characterisation which does pay off once the Doctor leaps into action in the final run of chapters. Honestly, I just prefer to read about an action eighth Doc as opposed to a moody eighth Doc -- leave the moodiness to McCoy.
But this book is owned by Fitz. You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm deciding Fitz would be my favourite companion. He is simply the most interesting, funny, engaging and endearing companion to ever cross the TARDIS threshold, and here he really gets to shine. His interactions with Sasha are beautifully written, we really do believe the friendship building up, at least on Fitz's side. This is particularly impressive since their time together starts off with a kidnapping! Throughout the novel, Fitz is the one thing that was consistently brilliant -- from Guernica to fighting on the streets to the relationship with the Doctor, which is ever-present despite the fact that the two characters spend bearly any time together. Fitz is excellent, don't ever change him, EDA writers. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Despite all this greatness, there are some other minor flaws in this book. The incidental characters often seem rushed, as the prose introduces them as if we've known them all along -- there was a lot of flipping back through the novel to see if I'd seen this "Jueves" somewhere before, for example. Maybe because of this, only a handful of characters really grab the reader. The most notable are Sasha and Eleana, who provide the best human faces of the suffering in Spain. Noentheless, this is a very sucessful debut outing for Mags L. Halliday, and I damn well hope that she has the time to return and write us another. A flawed gem.
8.5 out of 10
A Review by Dave Roy 31/7/04
History is set in stone, yet is also fluid. While the facts of history never change, our interpretations of those facts are forever mutable. Doctor Who, being a time-travel series, has the capability of examining history that few series have. While our time-traveling heroes are always worried about changing the past, we never really hear them discuss what might happen if the past starts changing around them. Are there any such things as absolutes in history? History 101 addresses that issue with style and flair.
The Doctor, Fitz, and Anji are in 1937 Paris having a holiday. Along with the tourist attractions, they decide to visit the Paris Exposition, similar to the World's Fair and where every European country has an exhibit. Upon arriving at the Spanish exposition, they discover a vivid painting: Guernica, by Picasso. Only it doesn't quite have the passion and the effect that they remember it having. In fact, the copy of Sartre's The Age of Reason that Fitz is reading has a cover reproduction of the painting, and it has much more of an effect than the real one sitting in front of them. How can a copy have more of an effect then the original?
It seems that something strange is going on (isn't there always?). The events at Guernica don't appear to have happened quite the way everybody knows they did. But then again, maybe they did? The uncertainty of this prompts the Doctor and his companions to travel back to this horrible event. The Doctor wants Fitz to witness it first-hand so that he can report what actually happened. Is this an alternate reality? Or is somebody warping the real one? The Doctor and Anji end up in Barcelona 5 months before Fitz arrives at Guernica (isn't time-travel wonderful?) and have to wait for him. The TARDIS has decided to shut down and monsters appear to be roaming the streets. Are these linked? And will the Doctor and Anji survive to meet up with Fitz again, or will they get caught up in a bloody civil war where no side has a monopoly on the truth and all sides want to kill the other.
History 101 is Halliday's first novel, but don't let that stop you. It's a wonderful book that keeps you guessing at all levels. It's also not one that you will breeze through, as Halliday discusses all the issues mentioned above. While there have been Doctor Who books and episodes dealing with historical settings, this is the first one I can remember actually examining the whole concept of history. Is it possible to know everything about historical events? Those trying to catalogue the truth could go crazy trying to decide if it is, especially when propaganda is streaming forth from every avenue.
Halliday uses the time-honoured Who tradition of separating everybody so that each side can be shown. While the Doctor and Anji are ostensibly together, they spend a lot of time apart interacting with other characters, whether they be foreign journalists, Bolshevik agitators or Spanish Nationalists. Fitz meets up with the mysterious Sasha, a Russian who knows a lot more then he's telling. Sasha helps Fitz get to Guernica (even though Fitz is his prisoner at one point) and seems to be serving a different master then the Communists. Halliday handles the myriad characters very well, making each one at least somewhat distinctive. There were so many sides in this conflict (plus the two additions to the historical line-up), that it would normally be hard to tell who was doing what. Despite the fact that some allegiances change, I still had little trouble doing so. A credit to Halliday's work.
The main cast is also great. Anji has a couple nice asides to the Doctor about his being able to steer the TARDIS at times yet not being able to get her back to 21st century Earth. Then again, I didn't realize that she was trying to get back, and it's unclear whether she just wants to go home or go back for a visit. The asides are wonderfully portrayed but they came out of left field a bit for me. The Doctor takes more of a part in the proceedings then he has in the past. He's much less passive (though he does spend a bit too much time brooding about the TARDIS and how she's not working). Fitz is great, though. He really comes into his own, the dialogue with Sasha crackling, especially when he realizes that there's something anachronistic about Sasha's knowledge. He alternately feels offended that Sasha's lying to him and then sheepish when he realizes that he's lying to Sasha as well.
Even better is how the regulars react when events start happening around them. Barcelona explodes in factional fighting, and all three of them have to adapt and protect themselves. In the fighting, the Doctor finally has to deal with what's going on behind the scenes. It's interesting how there isn't really a "villain" in this book, especially with all the other violence going on around the characters.
History 101 is not an exciting romp, with action filling every page and keeping the reader entranced. Instead, it's a bit more introspective, its ideas keeping you wanting to read "just a little bit more." It's a fascinating take on history, and it's a great adventure for the Doctor Who fan. Give it a shot.