Quick Review: Ahistory 4th Edition


The folks at Mad Norwegian Press were kind enough to send me their preposterously monumental 4th edition of Ahistory. This now three-volume set, which began as Lance Parkin's A History of the Universe for Virgin twenty-two years ago and has been periodically and extensively revised with help from Mad Norwegian publisher Lars Pearson is... completely insane. I mean, I'm the author of a six volume and counting history of Britain through the lens of Doctor Who, but I look at these things with a mixture of trepidation and awe. They are sublimely, gloriously useless, and I absolutely adore them and recommend them to anyone for whom the admittedly considerable price tag of three large paperback volumes is not prohibitive.

What Ahistory sets out to do is simple: provide a complete in-universe chronology of every Doctor Who story. But by "every Doctor Who story" I do not mean some relatively easy and straightforward task like all of the television episodes. I mean all of it. Every television episode through Twice Upon a Time is in here along with the televised spinoffs, the Virgin and BBC Books lines, Big Finish, the comics... all of it. This is a book series that accepts the "it's all true" ethos of Doctor Who non-canon and then does the single most ludicrous thing you can possibly do with that premise, namely try to get it all to fit sensibly together. 

As a reference book, at least for what I do it's an object of occasional use, although when I need it it's amazing. When I needed to figure out the precise details of why Under the Lake/Before the Flood's dating was weird, it was an earlier edition of Ahistory that I checked to go "oh, right around Paradise Towers, that's weird all right." But its value is less as an actual reference (although it's surely of use to anyone who wants to do an inventively fanwanky work of fiction, authorized or otherwise) and more as a textual game that has been played to masterful perfection. Ruthlessly footnoted with a bevy of sidebars and appendices, Ahistory is just plain fun for any intense Doctor Who fan to dive into and be swept away in the minutiae of. Immaculately argued and thus dellightful to disagree with, this is a masterwork of sheer and unbridled ridiculous ambition.

Ahistory 4th Edtion Volume 1 and Volume 2 are currently on sale. Volume 3 is available for pre-order and will be out in March.


Spacestronaut 2 years, 1 month ago

An absolutely marvellous project. I just wish they could have kept it altogether in one book.

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John G. Wood 2 years, 1 month ago

They probably didn't want to be sued for giving people hernias when they tried to lift it!

Seriously, though, I'm a huge fan of previous editions, though I can't afford to fork out for another at the moment. If I get the money I'm probably going to plump for Unhistory first, which covers all the "too weird even for Lance and Lars to take seriously" stories. Adverts, cigarette cards, John & Gillian, that sort of thing.

My "adjacent to fame" moment: the first time I played the splendid board game Ticket to Ride was with a copy Lance had just given to a friend for Christmas. She and her family then gave me the money to get the 3rd edition of Ahistory. So some of that money cycled back to Mr Parkin...

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Daniel Tessier 2 years, 1 month ago

I’ve picked up the first volume, but volume two will have to wait till I’m a little richer.

I’d recommend UnHistory though, it’s a very silly little side project and a lot of fun.

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Allyn Gibson 2 years, 1 month ago

UnHistory is great. The "Old Tom" essay is worth the price of admission.

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AuntyJack 2 years, 1 month ago

Good review. Strange that there aren't Kindle versions of of the earlier volumes when there are for the newer ones. I'd get them all if they were in ebook format.

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MattMahdi 2 years, 1 month ago

I both agree and disagree. The Kindle version of volume 3 will always be more convenient than the huge print version, but the print version will always be more fun and simpler to randomly browse than the electronic.

So I went with the Patreon for the fourth edition print volumes. And at the same time it would be good to have the choice between the formats.

(For the more straightforward books, I've stopped buying About Time in print and am now only continuing with electronic.)

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Yonatan 1 year, 10 months ago

They held a panel about the project at GallifreyOne this year and the reason that they don't want to have kindle copies is that a kindle copy will show up on all of the torrent sites the picosecond that it is released. The publishing costs are enough that they don't want to have any missing revenue.

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Elizabeth 1 year, 10 months ago

Yeah, Lars has never been fond of ebooks. He doesn’t even send out PDF review copies.

Obviously I disagree with his approach. I’m known to leak my own books to piracy sites so they at least have decent and functional copies, sometimes with an altered introduction noting that I hope people will buy if they enjoy. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that people who pirate would otherwise buy, and I think piracy can lead to sales that wouldn’t otherwise be made.

But we also have very different business models; I’m obsessive about minimizing my up-front costs on books, so my only risk is ever my own labor. He does traditional print runs and has stock that he needs to successfully clear out. And for a small press in a fandom with an avid online presence that drives piracy, that’s a tough position to be in.

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